Notes from ICCB/ECCB 2015 – Traditional ecological knowledge, Conservation 3.0 & citizen science

These are my notes from the first day of the International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB) & the European Congress on Conservation Biology (ECCB) in Montpellier.

I’ve took notes from some of the talks in 3 sessions about traditional knowledge, ‘Conservation 3.0′ and the citizen science posters.

In the session on Traditional Knowledge and Conservation noteworthy talks include:

The role of tribal colleges in preserving traditional ecological knowledge and biocultural diversity – Teresa Newberry (Tohono O’Odham Tribal College in the US), the tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the US represent diverse communities and cultures. The Tribal Colleges has a mission to preserve the culture of the local nation, and engaged with their community, thus TEK is part of the education in them. Language is critical to understanding biodiversity: indigenous groups speak about 85% of world’s languages and take care of 80% of the World’s biodiversity (Nelson 2015) so it is important. There is a link between biodiversity and language diversity. Local languages encode local knowledge and they specifically adapted to their local area. 40% of the languages are in risk of disappearing and therefore this loss is monumental amount of TEK. Looking more closely, language encodes worldviews and traditional knowledge systems – it’s evolution of one group of people in a specific place, and also encode practices and rules. It includes many layers of meaning and relationships between living things. For example, in the Tohono O’Odham language there is a term that make you notice that you don’t collect the flower until a hummingbird collect the nectar – and it is included in the way you talk about local ecology. Teresa developed a local calendar that helps linking phenology to specific language and events. Another tool that she developed is the TOCC Plant Atlas – linking plants with audio that state the traditional name in addition to write it. There are multiple values in traditional knowledge: unique multi-contextual perpectives, time-tested adaptation and mitigation strategies to environmental change and deep, local knowledge of place.

 ‘Manngem Thapnee’: The crocodile worship ritual of an agrarian community of Indian state of Goa, and its conservation context  – Manoj Borkar  (Goa University) – Goa is coastal and crocodiles are protected by the Red List of IUCN. The current trends is for the crocodiles population to increase and they have groups in swamps and some in fresh water areas. There are also tourism activities to see the crocodiles. The contemporary scenario – pressure of overexploitation of sand from riverbed, use of canals for shipping, unregulated backwater tourism, and fishing are making it difficult to protect the population. During the Portuguese control of Goa (450 years ago) there are reports on abundance of crocodiles. Crocodiles are viewed as demonic and also as divine status. Within the indigenous tribal culture there is a crocodile worship ritual in which they create a crocodile from clay and they want to appease the crocodile to avoid inundation of fields by water (the crocodile seen as the link to water sources) – the practice is going in December. The veneration is translated to protecting the crocodiles and can be seen as an example of integrating local practices in conservation.

Augmenting survey data with community knowledge to inform a recovery strategy for an endangered species in Canada: Identifying important areas of habitat for Peary caribou – Cheryl Johnson (Environment Canada). The aim is to develop a recovery strategy for the caribou – to maintain healthy species distribution and keep their area – the are very wide ranging area species – migrating over hundreds of kilometres. The process started with identifying locations, then the amount that need to be protected, and then the very specific type of the habitat. This mean working at different scales. They collected survey information from scientists and integrated it with information from local communities of where they’ve seen the caribou. Once they’ve identified 3 main seasons in the migration, they integrated it into their spatial model. When comparing the information from survey information compared to community information – the community had much more holistic and complete view of where they’ve seen the animals. The modelling process include consulting with both scientific experts and community members with knowledge of the caribou and that helped in identifying the most relevant model. The TEK was crucial in eliminating spatial and temporal biases in survey data by scientists.

The session Conservation 3.0 was open with Alex Dehgan explaining what it is about: technology, behavioural interventions and financial innovations are changing conservations. The field of conservation biology, after 30 years, there is increase in areas that are protected, but there are very high extinction rates, and we still have major challenges. The population growth will require 70% more food and the intensity of agriculture, especially with increase in meat consumption. Wildlife trade increase and we don’t have enough financial resources. Conservation biology is sometime technophobic, but how can we used opportunities to deal with issues? Maybe we should learn from other areas – e.g. the change from ‘tropical medicine’ to ‘global health’ – by increasing the tent to more people involved from more areas of research. We can have conservation technology & engineering. 3D printing to cellphones, we can consider the connected conservation and the used of multiple sensors, or use synthetic biology. There is also need to consider how to use ideas from behaviour change, marketing & conservation – altruism doesn’t work, only as last resort. Financial innovations – maybe environmental impact bonds, conservation finance and other tools. Think of design under constraint just like with iPhone. We can also consider crowdfunding – $16.2 billion – compared to NSF total budget of $5.8 billion. There are other ways to harness the crowd- from ideas, to creativity, to funding.

Paul Bunje – XPRIZE Foundation, considering the incentivizing innovation for conservation. Problems are increasing exponentially and solution are only increasing in a linear way and try try to find solution at huge scale. Open innovation takes lots of ideas internally and externally, and trying to find tools from all sort of areas. There are also new opportunities for identifying new sources of funding. The benefits of prizes/challenges – solve important problems, set aspirational goals – a moonshot, novel partnerships, inspire with new ideas. There are all sort of methods in open innovation, from incentive prizes or just innovation networks. Prizes continue to increase – flexibility, openness, but also the new ways in which stories are being done.

Asher Jay – creative conservationist. She explore the linkage between science and stories. Humanize science – not introducing a bias, but need the link those in the know and other poeple. Content need to be contagious, and enable the individual – making the individual impact about conservation. Looking at facts and figures, and then thinking how the story evolve – what is the point, how to create protagonist/focus, which elements will be included, emotional triggers – need to think about consuming the science and then acting on it. That can be done through using existing signs, symbols, icons. There is also the issue of foreground and background to help structure the understanding. A lot of the campaign that she created are about ‘stating the obvious’ that people as they are not always aware of it. The design for the digital age is that they need to be shared – open source images mean that they are used in many ways (including tattoos).

Ted Schmidt – covered Paul Allen philanthropy through ‘Vulcan’ and trying to bridge technology and conservation science. Some of the focus areas includeillegal fishing, wildlife monitroing and management, but also wildlife surveys and database. They carried out a great elephent survey – flying over 20 countries to count elephents. The data is working with IUCN to ensure that the data live on. Shah Slebe suggested the idea of the ‘internet of Earth Things’ – ability to understand how things changes in real time. Technology is a tool that can help but there are no silver bullets. We need to have be aware not about the drone but what the data is used for. The SMART – spatial Monitroing and Reporting Tool created a tool to understand conservation areas. SMART is a good model to solve problems. Technology need to be designed for the context – need to show that it can be deployed over time and in a reliable area.

Lucas Joppa  – the impact that people have on the planet is the anthropocene and the information age – we have a combination of having 50 billion objects linked. Levereging information technology for conservation biology is seem obvious to those who are interested in technology areas. Empowering the crowd to collect information and identify (iNaturalist), or instant wild to work with camera traps, and GPS tags on the environment – animals also involved in sensing the environment for people. Mongabay – got a section on Wildtech area. Engaging with industry – there are different partnerships with technology industry and conservations – questions for help are backward – people don’t ask for the resources of working with the talented engineers that are part of the organisation. If asking in the right way, we can get donation of time and money from the engineers.

In the Poster session, there was a set of posters about citizen science, and some of the one that I’ve explored are

Understanding the environmental drivers of recording bias in citizen science data across Sweden Alejandro Ruete looking at biases in the data that was collected, and developing an ignorance index that let you evaluate how much you would know about a location.
Earning your stripes: Does expertise aid the ability to match bumblebee images in identification guides Gail Austen-Price compared the identification abilities of experts and non-experts, showing that the ability to match is good regardless of expertise, but that experts are more careful and are willing to say that it’s not clear how to differentiate.
 Utilizing citizen science and new technology to improve the Palau national bird monitoring program Heather Ketebengang showed how in Palau they’ve used information from experienced and trusted birdwatchers (through systems such as eBird) with experts’ survey to create a more comprehensive picture of their bird population.
Maximizing mangrove forest conservation through multi-scale stakeholder engagement in citizen science Jenny Cousins showed a long running project that have yield many benefits to all sides involved – including better local skills, academic publications and more.
The microverse citizen science project: Collaborative microbiology research with UK secondary schools Lucy Robinson describe the work of UK NHM work which I’ve covered in the ECSITE post.
Online participatory mapping of ecosystem services and land use preferences in the Polish tatras – experiences and challenges Barbara Peek describe an online PPGIS that ask people to identify values, positive and negative activities in an area of Poland. The project had it’s own participation inequality (2% of participants putting 25% of the information) and fairly few qualitative comments, but they were useful.
Population census of house martins in Switzerland: A web based citizen science project Stephanie Michler is an interesting project with species that people are already interested in and provided many artificial nest, so the level of engagement and activity in the project seem to be good. Within 3 years, the project presented good growth.
Dealing with observer bias when mapping species distributions using citizen science data: An example on brown bears in Greece Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun show that a model that takes only roads as a proxy for where people will collect information is not good enough, so there is a need to understand where are the tourist area.
Using citizen science to map geospatial and temporal trends in human-elephant conflict Cheli Cresswell show the progress in her app development to engage people in reporting on human-wildlife conflict.

Esri survey123 tool – rapid prototyping geographical citizen science tool

There are several applications that allow creating forms rapidly – such as Open Data Kit (ODK) or EpiCollect. Now, there is another offering from Esri, in the form of Survey123 app – which is explained in the video below.

Survey123 is integrated into ArcGIS Online, so you need an ArcGIS account to use it (you can have a short experiment if you register for a trial account, but for a longer project you’ll have to pay). The forms are configured in XForms, like ODK . The forms can be designed in Excel fairly quickly, and the desktop connection package make it easy to link to the Survey123 site, as well as testing forms.  I tried creating a form for local data collection, including recording a location and taking an image with the phone. It was fairly easy to create forms with textual, numerical, image and location information, and the software also supports the use of images to items in the form, so they can be illustrated visually. The desktop connector application also allow use to render the form, so they can be tested before they are uploaded to ArcGIS Online. Then it is possible to distribute the form to mobile devices and use them to collect the information.

The app works well offline, and it is possible to collect multiple forms and then upload them all together. While the application still showing rough edges in terms of interaction design, meaningful messages and bug clearing, it can be useful for developing prototypes and forms when the geographic aspect of the data collection is central. For example, during data collection the application supports both capturing the location from GPS and pointing on a map to the location where the data was collected. You can only use GPS when you are offline, as for now it doesn’t let you cache a map of a study area.

As might be expected, the advantage of Survey123 is coming once you’ve got the information and want to analyse it, since ArcGIS Online provide the tools for detailed GIS analysis, or you can link to it from a desktop GIS and analyse and visualise the information.

Luckily for us, Esri is a partner of the Extreme Citizen Science group and UCL also holds an institutional licence for ArcGIS Online, so we have access to these tools. However, through Esri conservation programme can also apply to have access to ArcGIS Online and use this tool.

NightScience 2015 – CRI Paris

NighStcience 2015 in CRI-Paris, 10-11 July –  Night Science is a mode of exploratory, innovative science, and as in previous years, it is an event that mixes talks with active hands-on experience. The event this year was marked by linking open innovation, social responsibility and entrepreneurship to science. The event was opened by as Francois Taddei highlighting the important of open ecology for sharing knowledge and solutions for problems that we face today. He also set the theme of the day by pointing to the need to link open science and social entrepreneurial ideas together.

The first session explored frugal research and responsible innovations

Melanie Marcel – SoScience – linking responsible research and innovation for social entrepreneurs. She provided an example of two social entrepreneurs from Burkina Faso who want to deal with malaria by developing a soap that include mosquito repellent to allow use without changing behaviour, but they had problems in making the ingredient in the soap stable, so through SoScience, they are linked to a laboratory who research how to make it happen. SoScience seeing themselves as part of responsible research and innovation, and have links with universities, and with companies (such as GE Healthcare). There is a chance to change the system in terms of relationship between society and science – who is it done for, and what problems are addressed. She also emphasised the examples of frugal innovations and science as part of the way to solve the challenges that she is dealing with it.

Marc Chooljian – Tekla Labs – volunteer organisation, run by PhD students in UCB UCSF. They are creating a network of building or using scientific equipment to allow more people to be involved in science. The access to the devices themselves is a major obstacles, and some scientific instruments can be made much cheaper than they are now. He noted that everybody should be a maker – building something help to understand the process, and how things work. But there are obstacles that they need to know – technical, safety, so there is a need for detailed information from other people who are familiar with the equipment. Tekla Labs trying to provide information that can be used within scientific processes. Unlike general DIY, there is a need to set standards of posting information to make scientific tools valid and suitable for producing results that will be accepted in publications. The process is to assess needs for some tools, then gather ideas (e.g. “build my lab” contest on Instructable), then test and edit, and provide designs to users. Design includes a lot of engineering experience, but once someone tried to build an equipment, they can share information back to those who are designing so they can change and update the design. A survey that was carried out in Argentina/Peru – there are many scientists who are willing to create their own equipment if the information is given. An example of contest included different pieces of equipment in instructable. Testing the devices and seeing how they are being used as to close the loop is currently a challenge. Need to happen by users who are not the developers.

David Ott – Red Labs: humanitarian Fab Labs by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). One of the oldest humanitarian organisations, focusing on victims of armed conflicts. The ICRC was inspired by the Fab Labs from MIT, taking the ability of maker/DIY culture in humanitarian action, seeing it as support operations and empower beneficiaries, allowing the ICRC work with the crowd to solve problems that they encounter. There are challenges in how to transport such a lab or use existing equipment in the place, securing the lab (ICRC suffered from looting of their stores in the past). Potential use is for prosthetics although making it work can be challenging in terms of specifications. There are stringent requirements on medical devices in terms of quality and certifications. Another issue is scaling up in terms of speed and quantity – what happen if you need thousands of objects?  He suggested an ‘ideal humanitarian thing’ with the following qualities: Do no harm, functional, parametric (you can change it easily in size and other properties easily to change design), editable, scalable, tool independent, material independent. They are looking for more use cases, and start with a ‘mini Red Lab Kit’ and then consider collaborations with national RCs.

The second session focused on the pursuit of Open Science

Michaël Bon covered the ‘Self Journal of Science‘. Scientists are forced to publish in ‘impact factor’ journals – there is a need to free ourselves from this tyranny. Science is defined as unambiguous, transparent, falsifiable, need to be based of well-defined statements that are then tested in experiment, but all this need to lead to a publication that is therefore central to the process. The idea of the Self-Journal of Science is to try and create a repository of scientific information that allow people to collaborate. People put their papers, and each user can vote on the paper and its significant. There is also potential to make comments on specific parts of the articles and have a debate and discussion about the different parts of the paper. The interface will change the nature of the article, the people who comment have the same authority/importance as the article itself. The aim is to create a new logic of scientific process of sharing information and knowledge.

Samir Brahmachari (CSIR-OSDD) described his experience in Open Source Drug Discovery – for 50 years TB drug discovery was neglected, and there is a very small effort through bodies like the Gates foundation to create new drugs. When you don’t have resources you are focusing on frugal innovations and that was what he focused on. OSDD is crowdsourcing with a difference – started in 2007, collaboratively aggregate the available information (biological and genetic) on TB with the aim to create a computer model that will allow drug discovery. An attempt to follow the model of aircraft design in which the model allows a lot of experimentations in the computer and then to go to production only with the most promising drugs. To make a community, they created training, open web 2.0 platform, and communication. The platform doesn’t allow people to know the position in society (teacher/students) so all ideas are taken seriously. They put effort into making functional self-organising groups (manual created by students). Thousands of papers were read by students and used to annotate genes. When the most active students received computers as a prize, the advertisement on the back of the laptop brought more volunteers when they went to college. Infosys supported a full open source stack. People that contributed more than 1% became authors (45). OSDD education value was that some continue to a PhD. Within the participants on 5% had PhD, and many people came from less endowed institutions.

Denisa Kera talks about “Subalterns” laboratories – she looks at DIYbio in Singapore – her interest is from philosophy and designer, from an STS perspective. Science can be done differently in places like Indonesia, potentially creating new forms of laboratories that are looking somewhere between kitchen, lab, party, gallery and workshops and were all sort of stuff happening. People hacking coconuts,  with participants that from Indonesia, Taiwan, ex-Yugoslavia, Nepal, Singapore, Switzerland, Japan and other places. Such labs are happening at the edge of the system – Georgia, Indonesia, Thailand etc. There is ‘epistemic violence’ in R&D – it is transferred & applied in the South, adopted by the public by forcing it to society. It heavily dependent of material donation or through Corporate Social Responsibility to make it happen. There are also issues with researchers from the North interpreting ‘Local Needs’ and finding solutions. Instead we can think of open science, open access and open hardware. Open can also mean ‘post-colonial’ science. She also look at how open hardware travel between North and South, how it is used after the first build, as objects have longer life.

Jason Bland covered the Citizen Cyberlab activity SynBio4All. It aims to open the world of synthetic biology to the public and allow people to learn, support and study. They aim to create a SynBio community, started by design a community platform that will support learning and engagement. SynBio takes an engineering approach to DNA manipulations. SynBio has many applications – drug production, food, material and fuel, and potential synthetic organisms. He used an example of the project ‘The Smell of Us‘ which was part of iGEM competition. This year there is also development of a MOOC, for high school students, about SynBio.

Joel Chevier – a lab in your pocket. He thinks of the smartphone as a lab tool, to play with children. Smartphone is a great pocket lab. If you look at the smartphone and what is does in daily life make it very accessible – you want real-time, interactive, fit everybody perception, networked and sharing information. Will play science with it, and the game is to see the world around you, and see what is happening around you and also other people. Game such as draw a large circle on the floor, and see the blue point on the screen – the person outside look at what people do and see how the point is moving in space. He created a website for these activities.  Possible to also consider more sensors – e.g. thermodynamics through pressure & temperature.

The third session looked at the combination – frugal and digital education 

Guy Etienne discuss the activities in Haiti, how it is used for community development and learners empowerment. He noted that the world is fast-moving, and is very complicated. We need to adapt our strategy to different places. Society too often penalize young brains in terms of disadvantaged groups in society by depriving them of opportunities. Everything that student learn need to think how they use it to change their community for the better. The goals: critical thinking, rational judgement, strength of character, empathy (very important between religious groups and other divisions in society), operational leadership and change-maker skills. There are big political and economic risks – so need to have support of parents, community, government and students. The government resist change, but because the school is funded through tuition fees from the students, it allow the school to become a social enterprise, and to aim to generate funds to modernised the space, and use non-traditional sources (soap / acid from batteries for chemistry) to deliver education. The school is using sensing as part of direct engagement with science – using weather stations, seismographic stations to educate the students about the measurements that are direct to them. Instead of final exam in science, they are running a science fair that is aimed at teaching science for change-makers citizens, which mean demonstrating how science is relevant for their community. The school now have a robotics laboratory – so every student in the school will have to learn what they are and how to create them. In science fairs, they have 4000-5000 visitors. They aim to change the teachers of the future – change the mentality of students, attitude and abilities.

Ange Ansour – see teachers as constant tinkerers. The programme of the CRI that emphasise learning through research.

Celine Nartineau and Vanessa Mignan explored e-Fabrik, focusing on digital problem-solving initiative for youngsters and disabled people (I’ve seen that in ECSITE 2015). Linking young people from disadvantaged communities with disabled people in a fab lab, to consider solutions together. The lessons: working outside the comfort zone is rewarding.

Barbara Schack – access to education and culture with mobile media centre. Setting a media centre in Haiti after the earthquake helps in strengthening communities. Refugees spend on average 17 years in refugee camps and there are 50 million people in such status, so we need a new staple for these people – as part of humanitarian support we need to think of reading. Learning and access to information, playing. They work with UNHCR – they create with Philippe Stark an idea box that unfold to everything that you need to learn, play and create (video below, and the website is  They would like to work more places, and a priority is to support refugees from Syria and Iraq in Jordan and Lebanon.

Yogesh Kulkarni, (Vigyan Ashram – a center of Indian Institute Of Education (IIE) Pune). – talks about energetic schoolchildren in India. Need to teach students to identify development need of the community. Example is lack of social space in a village, and through participatory design and building the garden was built. It was design with Google Sketchup plan and use a lot of recycled materials. The students learn through ‘Socrates method of questioning’ after every task and linking that to the curriculum area. Questions on food, energy, engineering. Fab Lab provide the space to mix traditional tools and skills (e.g. carpentry) with recent tools (3D printer, Google Sketchup)

The fourth session was Innovation, Agoras and Citizen Empowerment

Cindy Regalado (ExCiteS, Citizens Without Borders) – describing the development of Barney, a kite that was developed in the Public Lab Barn Raising. DIY for her is about ‘for whom, by whom and for what?’ DIY is about critical making – the possibility to intervene substantively in systems of authority and power, and reflecting on infrastructure, institutions, and communities. She emphasised the importance of communicative spaces – they are allowing people to create a social process and the meaning of something can be only understood when it is used. creating communicative spaces is challenging. We need to consider to what lead people to frugality and need – not to assume that it’s all positive. Also need to consider privilege, acknowledge the technology hype and consider the true potential. She used examples from Public Lab to demonstrate her concepts. The DIY itself will not solve problems, but only expose the systemic and structural issues with society?

James Carlson talks about the ‘Bucket-works’ in Milwaukee (the School Factory) – they now have 100s of members, 90 start-ups, and 2 weddings from their original organisation! He see 8 varieties of collaborative spaces – hackerspace, makerspace, co-working incubator, arts collab, project collab, open democracy areas, citizen science and open health space, and community kitchen and open food. These types have things in common – models of resources and business. They become active through community interaction. All these are having bias towards lots white men, they are not linked to communities nearby them, individual transformation focus, trends to wards engineering science skill-sets not social, emphatic skills. The door is the most important technology, and need to convince people to join in and to go through the door. Need to help people to go through transition, learning how to participate in the context of collaboration, practice experimentation and failure and learning how to self-direct learning – and even the social interaction. How do we map the learning process for participants? How to we help to bring it to small places. There is too much economic focus in terms of driving, and need to have a more emphatic approach that highlights society. James’ presentation is available here.

Amber Griffiths (Foam) – Connecting Society with Science. Everyone funds science through their taxes, and science is better when more people contribute, there is an overwhelming lack of scientific literacy (from minorities -> to the educated pale/male/stale politicians), and science matters to people’ life. Within this context, scientists have love-hate relationships with citizen science. Examples from exploring frog disease, or mapping magpies which follows just the patterns of population. Can we move beyond the unidirectional model of citizen science and encourage people to develop their own ideas? There are ways to help – physical space to do the work, nudge to start and support, and access to existing knowledge. The London Biohackspace is an example for a community space and there are also Foam lab in Cornwell where people can create open spaces. One problem with physical spaces is that they are intimidating – male, already established social relationship, but they can be more collaborative. Access to existing knowledge is increasing with open access, that you still need to know that it exists, where to find it, and how to judge it.

Eleanor Rusack describes UNITAR GeoTag-X. GeoTag-X allow to harvest media (photos/video/audio) about disaster and then analyse media collaboratively and then share it. The process is all with volunteers, and identifying experts volunteers. Photos that are collected are set into categories and are then classified. They also provide outputs that can be used by the Humanitarian Data Exchange.

Nicoals Huchet talked about ‘bionicoHand – a prosthetic arm created in a Fab Lab.  Started in 2002 when he lost his hand and started using prosthetic hand. The personal interest and exposure to fab labs he started developing a new type of prosthetic hand based on Arduino. He feel much more confidence with disability, and not about creating a business or making it cheep. In 2014 started sharing the information on websites and it started to be replicated. MHK – My Human Kit is based on technology and open source, social and educational involvement, social entrepreneurship,  linking disability and art and also contribute to humanitarian goals. He is working with INSA, fab labs and companies – working with geeks, disabled people and medical professionals.

Jaykumar Menon (McGill) closed with discussion on open innovation, humanitarian issues and human rights. He started with the Pasteur Quadrant set the basic research and applied research – according to human needs and interest. He had experience in the area of human rights and moved to the innovation world – and working to develop a network called Zakti, which is an innovation think-tank. He is interested to look at planetary scale issues and think of how to address them. The methods are suitable for open innovations: prizes, crowdsourcing, open innovation and complex collaboration. Used example of iron which is the biggest deficiency and impact 3 billion people – thinking about mixing it in salt as a way to double fortified salt (in addition to iodine). There are also issues with pharma, with a broken system in terms of R&D, development and production that OSDD demonstrate new ways of solving, so there are new ways of solving problems.

Final thoughts: As in the previous events, NightScience is a great event to hear about fascinating achievements and ideas from across the world that bring together science, society, innovations, education and technologies in a very helpful way. You leave such event with the spirit lifted.

Yet, a thought that was running in my head is that many of the issues are partially coming from desperation with the current systems in the world – inequalities, market fundamentalism, cutting public spending and expectations that individuals and groups in society will fend for themselves or else they are left without help. The solutions are mostly tinkering with the existing system and are very gentle in exposing its failures or trying to cause proper disruption that can change the state of things. My work included in this same critique.

Call for papers – special issue of the Cartographic Journal on Participatory GIS

Call for papers for a special issue of The Cartographic Journal on past, present and future of
Participatory GIS and Public Participation GIS.

DSC01463In the 1990s, participatory GIS (PGIS) and Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) emerged as an approach and tool to make geospatial technologies more relevant and accessible to marginalized groups. The goal has been to integrate the qualitative and experiential knowledge of local communities and individuals, thereby empowering local peoples and non-profit organizations to participate in political decision-making. By enabling the participation of local people from different walks of life, P/PGIS has provided a platform where these people can share their viewpoints and create maps depicting alternative views of the same problem, but from a local perspective.

Over the years, numerous applications integrating GIS and social and spatial knowledge of local groups have been developed. P/PGIS appears well articulated as a technique. With the growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), from an epistemological view point the relationship of P/PGIS constructs (society, technology and institutions) and the use of components (access, power relations, diverse knowledge) in P/PGIS necessitates an exploration of what P/PGIS means in 21st century.

A related field, Citizen Science a.k.a. public participation in scientific research is a research technique that allows participation of public in the discovery of new scientific knowledge through data collection, analysis, or reporting. This approach can be viewed to be somewhat similar in its implementation to P/PGIS, which broadens the scope of data collection and enables information sharing among stakeholders in specific policies to solve a problem. The success of all three concepts, citizen science, PGIS and PPGIS, is influenced by the Geoweb – an integration of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (e.g., social networking sites) and geospatial technologies (e.g., virtual globes like Google Earth, free and open source GIS like QGIS and location enabled devices like the iPhone) – that allows a platform for non-experts to participate in the creation and sharing of geospatial information without the aid of geospatial professionals.

Following a successful session in the AAG 2015 Annual Meeting, this call is for papers that will appear in a special issue of ‘The Cartographic Journal’ ( We are calling for reflections on PPGIS/PGIS and citizen science that address some of the questions that are listed below.

  1. What social theories form the basis for the current implementation of P/PGIS? Have these theories changed? What remains persistent and intractable?
  2. What role do spatial theories, such as Tobler’s law of spatial relations or issues of spatial data accuracy, have in P/PGIS, Citizen Science or crowdsourcing?
  3. Since Schlossberg and Shuford, have we gotten better at understanding who the public is in PPGIS and what their role is in a successful deployment of PGIS?
  4. Which new knowledge should be included in data collection, mapping and decision-making and knowledge production? To what extent are rural, developing country, or marginalized communities really involved in the counter-mapping process? Are they represented when this action is undertaken by volunteers?
  5. What role do new ICTs and the emergence of crowdsourcing plays in the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge? Do new tech and concepts hinder the participatory process or enable empowerment of local communities? Do we have new insights on what could be considered technological determinism?
  6. Do we need to revisit P/PGIS in light of any of these shifts? How often do P/PGIS projects need to be revisited to address the dynamic nature of society and political factors and to allow future growth?
  7. How effective have P/PGIS and Citizen Science been in addressing issues of environmental and social justice and resource allocation, especially, from a policy-making perspective?
  8. Are we any better at measuring the success of P/PGIS and/or Citizen Science? Should there be policies to monitor citizen scientists’ participation in Geoweb? If so, for what purpose?
  9. What should be the role of privacy in P/PGIS, for example, when it influences the accuracy of the data and subsequent usability of final products? How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?
  10. How has the concept of the digital divide been impacted by the emergence of the Geoweb, crowdsourcing and/or neogeography?
  11. What is the range of participatory practices in Citizen Science and what are the values and theories that they encapsulate?
  12. What are the different applications of Citizen Science from policy and scientific research perspective?
  13. To what extent do the spatial distribution of citizens influence their participation in decision making process and resolving scientific problems?
  14. How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?

Editors: Muki Haklay (, University College London, UK; Renee Sieber (, McGill University; Rina Ghose (, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Bandana Kar (, University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg. Please use this link to send queries about the special issues, or contact one of the editors.

Submission Deadlines
Abstract – a 250 word abstract along with the title of the paper, name(s) of authors and their affiliations must be submitted by 15th August 2015 to Muki Haklay (use the links above). The editorial team will make a decision if the paper is suitable for the special issue by 1st September
Paper – The final paper created following the guidelines of The Cartographic Journal must be submitted by 30th October 2015.
Our aim is that the final issue will be published in early 2016

Citizen Science and Policy – possible frameworks

Back in February, my report ‘Citizen Science & Policy: a European Perspective‘ was published by the Wilson Centre in the US. As I was trying to make sense of the relevance of citizen science to policy making, I used a framework that included the level of geography, area of policy making and the type of citizen science activity. This helped in noticing that citizen science is working well at the neighbourhood, city and national scales, while not so well at regional and international level. The reasons for it are mostly jurisdiction, funding and organisational structure and scale of operation.

Later on, at a workshop that was organised by Prof Aletta Bonn on Citizen Science and Policy impact, the idea of paying attention to the role of citizen science within the policy cycle was offered as another dimension of analysis.

Last week, at a workshop that was organised by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as part of their work on coordinating the European Protection Agencies (EPA) Network, I was asked to provide an introduction to these frameworks.

The presentation below is starting with noting that citizen science in an EPA is a specific case of using crowdsourced geographic information in government and some of the common issues that we have identified in the report on how governments use crowdsourced information are relevant to citizen science, too. Of particular interest are the information flows between the public and government, and the multiple flows of environmental information that the 3rd era of environmental information brought.

After noticing the individual, organisational, business and conceptual issues that influence use in general, I turn to the potential framing that are available – geography, stage in policy formation and mode of engagement, and after covering those I’m providing few examples of case to illustrate how specific cases fit into this analysis.

It was quite appropriate to present this framework in the EEA, considering that the image that was used to illustrate the page of the report on the Wilson Center site, is of the NoiseWatch app which was developed by the EEA…

Making participation in citizen science interesting & useful – survey

The Citizen Cyberlab research project is asking for your help in understanding how citizen science projects can be designed to help you learn more about their scientific topic of the project, and making participation more interesting and useful for you. In addition to general understanding of why and how people take part in citizen sciences projects, we are especially interested in what you get out of the experience. To do that, we are conducting a large scale general survey.

To thank you for your participation in this 15 minute survey, you will be entered into a free prize draw: First price is either a 500€ gift voucher for or free participation and travel subsidies for the Citizen Cyberlab Summit this coming autumn (up to 800€ total). 20 other participants will receive a 32 GB USB3 key.

To participate, follow the link below:

This survey is being conducted by the Citizen Cyberlab research project. Participation is completely voluntary. All information provided will be treated confidentially, as specified by the Swiss Federal Act on Data Protection 1992 and the British Data Protection Act 1998.

ECSITE 2015 – Citizen Science & Participatory Practices

MUSE, TrentoOn the last day of ECSITE 2015, the first session on the Future of Citizen Science focused on exploring citizen science with reference to Socientize White Paper on Citizen Science. Paulo Gama Mota started by covering the Socientize project. The project created a platform for citizen science projects, with the science museum of Coimbra providing outreach to different groups. The infrastructure supported projects in cancer research, brain research, physics, meteorology, and ecology. The Cell Spotting project asked people to analyse images from cancer research, and engaged 2000 participants in 50 schools. This was followed with evaluation – interaction with students, teachers and scientists – the project reached out to Japan with students using it at a university, unexpectedly. They also worked with 3 senior academies in the Sun4All project, and they felt engaged, learning things and being ‘useful’. There was interaction directly or through Skype with the scientists in the project – people felt that it’s important. The White Paper on Citizen Science for Europe was covering the range of models – there are potential in the future to create experiments that were impossible in the past. Socientize involved 36,000 volunteers in over 20 projects with scientific outputs. Open questions by scientists are what do I gain by working with volunteers? while for citizens, the question is What do I gain by working with scientists?
Claudia Gobel covered ECSA’s perspective. It provided an overview of the range of activities in Europe. Challenges: funding, link to education and training and provide training in the area, evaluation of projects, engagement; access to technology since citizen science is based on it; data policies are important for collaboration; dissemination and engagement. There are many bottom-up initiatives grown in many places – there are also top down projects that started by museum or science bodies. There are now networks of practitioners  in different parts of the world: CSA, ECSA, ACSA. She explained what ECSA is about – working with the practitioners of citizen science projects. ECSA focus on the fostering activities in the area. Starting to formalise the organisation and what it should do. ECSA’s goals – promoting sustainability through Citizen Science, share knowledge about citizen Science and developing participatory methods for cooperation, empowerment and impact. The role of association is to provide network of contacts, especially in narrow fields, learning and sustainability of the area – much of the investment is project based so can maintain knowledge, advocacy and set standards and quality among practitioners, as well as knowledge on tools and resources – it’s a process of professionalisation of the field.
My talk put in extreme citizen science as an example of community led activities and the potential of using it to increase what citizen science can achieve. I noted that there is a need to understand science differently, in a way that make it more accessible and open.
Lucy Robinson from NHM explored the scientific benefits of engagement outcomes. NHM experimented with many citizen science approaches – from small to large scale, online and offline, and also in mobile apps. They are also mixing modes of citizen science -for example mixing field observations and online citizen science in . People take pictures of orchids while others help in classifying them. Citizen Science is on the boundary between scientific research and public engagement. The microverse project tried to maximise the scientific outputs and engagement outcomes – with effort in the design and working with schools, it is valued as something interesting and different that is worth while. The future is to have citizen science integrated in NHM galleries. Some of the question are: what are the trade off between scientific and engagement outcomes? How to design it this way? How to connect visitors to citizen science?
The discussion that followed explored several topics. First, asking about the difference between running citizen science in a university or in a science centre? The science centres have advantage in having access to audience and knowledge of how to carry out engagement. Next, regarding the evidence based on citizen science there was question about having not only scientific outcomes (good data, important data & analysis etc.) but also about the process, learning outcomes and what are the long term results. Another question was about the history of citizen science, especially the period where amateurs were ignored or less included – and the Constructing Scientific Communities project was noted. Problems and negative aspects of citizen science can be in not taking into account quality measures in projects and also potential problems in online environments of hacking (e.g. in gamed project where there are scores). Translation of mobile apps was noted as an issue, but there are emerging cases of open to translation citizen science projects. Finally, the opinion of the panel about peer-to-peer science that actively exclude established science from scientific activities. The general opinion was that it is a positive development and professional scientists don’t have to be involved in every project.

The session Participatory practices in science centres, with Justin Dillon, Merethe Froyland, Julie Bønnelycke, Catharina Thiel Sandholdt, Mette Stentoft Therkildsen, and Dagny Stuedahl. They cover the EXPAND and PULSE projects. The PULSE was about the increase in non-communicable diseases and improving health lifestyle. Movement was use as the health factor – co-designed the exhibition with future visitors. Started with wide and open brief and slowly progressed towards the exhibition. A big challenge in the research and development was the issue of time – how to do the project planning. Researcher who work in a participatory way need more time. The issues of recruiting suitable representative are important. Issues of co-design can also include noticing small changes that can help the process of learning. New ideas about the role of education, such as connected learning. Interestingly, some of those who are interested in science wonder why they should be engage with science centre – since they already know about the science. Another interesting point from the session was defining youth as experts – the framing can help in rethinking their role and how to work with them.

ECSITE 2015 sessionThe session Citizen Science –  Reflecting on processes was organised by Carole Paleco (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium) with Anna Omedes (Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain) and Henrik Sell (Natural History Museum, Aarhus, Denmark). Carole opened, noting how citizen scientists are involved in all stages – from data collection, to preparation to publication, and therefore modern citizen science is an extension of existing practices. Anna Omedes described the experience in Barcelona of carrying out Bioblitzes over the past 5 years. The Bioblitz is to discovery and deepen nature knowledge, improve biodivery census and celebrate nature. They started the Bioblitz with the university coordinating, but in the past 3 years the museum is coordinating with the city and other organisations. To be successful, Bioblitz requires a lot of organisations to be involved. They have now 880 participants in this year. lots of areas covered. They create tents for different organisation to set the area, and then start working with different groups in the botanical gardens. People are not just collecting, but also taking pictures and sharing them. People learn to analyse the samples – e.g. working with microscopes. They also have activities for children. They collected over 1627 species. For communication they have a dedicated website. They evaluate the participants’ experience in survey and people had a positive experience. Important  aspects that she identifies include fun, making it local, provide opportunities to identify rare or unusual species, and provide opportunities for new collaborations. Awareness and curiosity in citizens triggered by working in scientist, and new dialogues. A question about the experience of people who are trying to provide false information deliberately – they are checking the data that they are getting. Don’t believe in a single observation report. In project that people go unsupervised, are suitable to monitor how areas are evolving after reclamation where the needs are fairly simple. Henrik Sell talked about rethinking urban habitats – the vision is to think of the city as areas of biodiversity. They do it by physical change, interpretation, and knowledge (mapping and collecting evident). The physical aspect is done with local authorities, the interaction work through ‘Naturbasen’ app that allow people to add information about their area. If people want to help in identification, they can take a picture and have help in identification by volunteers (30,000 registered users) – usually within 2 minutes (like iSpot). They also provide a field guide in the application. In a day they get 2000 records a day, and can get 1,000,000 points across the country. They have lots of information about citizen science activities. To provide feedback to the public, they have a website ‘rethink urban habitats‘ that provide distribution maps that was created from the contributions. They use local grids of 200x200m. They allow options of seeing specific divisions of information. The system is also use for education with schools using the tool and seeing what is relevant in their area. The museum maintain the data for the school so they can go with the activities over the years.
The session continued with 2 questions to discuss in groups. First, what is citizen science for you and how does it apply to your institution (museum or science centre)? Some of the points that came up is a range of involvement in citizen science – from plenty of experience to just starting. Thinking about those that are already engaged (amateur naturalists) and those who are not and can be invited to join. There is value in learning from other projects and sharing methods and resources. Linked to activities that are already happening. Don’t assume that ‘built it and they’ll come’. Some discussion about what is citizen science – between citizenship and participation in science. Potentially constructing the identity of the institution collaboratively. Not using citizens as guinea pigs, involving people in the process as possible. Involving school children in using data for their studies.
The next question – how can we measure if a citizen science project is successful? a possible success – showing scientific outcoemes (quality, rigour), use in policy, social impact, number of people and other engagement goals, behaviour change. There are different objectives and decide which ones should be taken into account. Informed by other participatory projects that are out there – Knowing who else is doing what in other disciplines. Risk of over-promising what has been achieved. Not suggesting one methodology but to offer a range of topics and evaluations and decide what to measure. Consider what you want to achieve. Must consider the time frame of the project.

The final session of the conference was Transforming science centres through responsible innovation with Sheena Laursen, Mai Murmann, Carlos Catalão Alves, Anne-Marie Bruyas, and Marzia Mazzonetto. People work on Responsible Research and Innovation and the role of science centres within that. RRI is about bringing and defining all the different stakeholders – and expectations that exhibitions and programmes are becoming better. Responsiveness and Adaptive Change. Carolos Alves started and try to understand what science centres should do ? There is no ‘science’ explicitly in RRI instead of science and technology. Science is the knowledge that allow us to change the world, and technology is how we do it. The issue of ‘responsible’ is challenging? Are there science and technology that are not-responsible? Need shared meaning of ‘being responsible’. First, ethics – acceptable ethical way. You can also be responsive, listening to stakeholders. RRI questions the sense of responsibility of scientists. There no programme for scientists or policy makers to open science for discussion, but there is an opportunity in science centres. The Cafe Scientifique at the parliament in the past 10 years was a way to introduce responsible research and innovation. The coffee should be good and space should be well organise. Need to give information to people about what it is. A public debate about scientific issues. Lively debate between scientists, public and political representatives. Covering issues fas geology, biodiversity, air quality and more – up to two sessions a year. Issues that matter to people, and having a range of participants. Having a clear information about what is going to be discussed – setting the tone in keynote flashtalk format (5 min), then 1 min pitches, also live streaming and broadcasts, small exhibits also help. Mai Murmann covered the RRI tools – responsible exhibition development. She highlight the important of mindset. Taking cultural practices, norms and interest into account – making science in context. Exhibition for and with people. The exhibition PULS was about health promotion and behaviour change. The involvement was done by working with different families. It is difficult to get into the mindset of RRI – they had to run special sessions to make people thing about involvement and responsiveness, with people making statements and being pictures with it. Anne-Marie Bruyas – using participatory methodologies to introduce RRI in the exhibit, the museum is based in Nepal and the mission is also with a mission to encourage jobs development. They have a science centre with an incubator. They resumed quickly after criminal fire in 2013, and they focus on marine research (relevant to the place). The development of the exhibition was carried out collaboratively, and brought up issues that the organisers didn’t expected. The way they’ve integrated responsiveness is to identify seven characters as special advisers that guide people through the exhibition.  Visitors can compare their reflections to these personas. They also demonstrated some results of scientific research. There are plenty opportunity to find information on the web, so science centre should provide ways for visitors to develop critical thinking. Need to consider continuous challenge – need linking science clubs and science centres. There are opportunities in social media and in citizen science. Marzia Mazzonetto, who is from ECSITE completed the session with reflections on RRI. She noticed 3 aspects: bringing science and scientists closer to the public (exhibition, researchers night etc.) secondly, dialogue and discussions on hot topics of science (PlayDecide; thirdly, introducing participatory exhibitions with and for visitors. All that is falling in ‘public engagement’. However, RRI is more than that – it’s a cycle and require more involvement in other areas. The unmet challenges is how science centres become RRI oriented in their functioning? That require structural change – moving beyond box ticking gender approach for example (inside the science centres management and not only in exhibitions) or some people are committed but find it hard to convince colleagues. Science centres play an important role in equipping citizens to understand that they can play a role and become part of the process.