UCL Synergies podcast – Congo Citizen Science

The “UCL Synergies podcasts” is series of interviews with researchers who are working on a shared problem from two disciplinary perspective. It is part of the activities to demonstrate how UCL addresses the grand challenges. The series itself is an excellent  demonstration of the issues that come up in interdisciplinary research and you can find it here

As part of this series, Jerome Lewis and I had a conversation with Sue Nelson on our work. The podcast is about 10 minutes,  and you can listen to it here.

GIScience 2016 notes

The bi-annual Geographic Information Science conference is one of the focal point on the field. This year, it was held in Montreal. You can find my talk in a long and separate post. Here are some notes of talks that I took during the meeting.

The conference started with reasons for the location, and a tribute to Roger Tomlinson

Monica Wachwicz, which open the conference with the first keynote, explored her experience in managing a complex set of projects that deal with sensing the environment using geospatial technologies. She summarised her insights:

She aslo described the challenges of recruiting computer scientists, mathematicians, & social scientists to multidisciplinary team.

In the poster session, the work of Daniel Bégin stood out (and he later won an award for it)

Dennis Hlynsky gave the keynote on the second day. As an artist, he is using digital technologies to see the world around him, focusing on the individual and the group. We live in worlds and there are other ‘worlds’ around us – some of too fast, some too slow, some you can’t sense – from gravity to chemistry. He views the creative process as something that is based on guidelines (e.g. Warhol daily procedures), opportunity, being a resident (living in a place and taking it in). Making a playful mess. Critique (is it working, is it not? What my artwork communicate? does it need more or less?). Make sense (we are sense making creatures, telling stories, making sense of things we don’t understand). However, many times he does not know what he is doing and explore things. To witness in a place, what you are witnessing and conveying is important: verbal storytelling, narrative, science and experiments, drawing and painting, photography and film, text, maps, data analysis. We’ve tried to mechanise witness – for example perspective, which force understanding the world from a single point of view. Photography is also a form of mechanisation. There is also the issue of mechanisation in emphasising efficiency which part of industrialisation. The technology changes in photography is important. Until the 1970s, the cost of photographic equipment was limited the opportunity of what is recorded. Since then, the acceleration of sharing photos and evidence change things, with the affordability of cameras in phones. The process of taking photos with phones (which are cameras) make the recording of moments in life much more common, but also the need to switch them off in order to be at the moment. There are many opportunities to do creativity with cameras – for example, providing them to all the students in class, and created a system that allow people to share images, but explicit human intuition to link things, not an automatic tags analysis. There are subsets of the world that communicate with each other, even if they can’t understand it fully.  Interestingly, YouTube is focusing on data driven relationships, while Vimeo is about human led curation. There are different was of organising and understanding the world. The claim that an image is worth a thousand words can be turned on its head – you need to understand the context and meaning of the world, and this is not possible without it.

Helen Couclelis talked about ‘Encyclopedia Gallica of (improbable) event and the why GIScience is not like physics’. The informational standpoint, events, processes, endurance, non-event, do not have a user independent definition. Road networks look different from a perspective of a tourist and biologist, so we need to find a way to create information that support their use. Events are more complex: flood – flood can be an event, process to those in charge of evacuation, occurrences for disaster statistics, noise to everyone else. As metascience – GISCience is a framework for optimising the relation between the interests of information seekers and data in any spatio-temporal domain. She suggest a user-centred GIS with the notion of R-Events to help in search process. The empirical and informational aspects in information systems as distinct epistemic layers.

Genevieve Reid & Renee Sieber compared indigenous ontologies of time. It provide a case for inclusive semantic interoperability, and ensure representation and accessibility for indigenous knowledge. SNAP/SPAN frameworks for ontologies have a very basic notion of time in a Newtonian way and as always progressing and unilinear. In contrast, in TEK, time can be spiral, branch, triangle, cyclical, or double spiral – future that incorporate the future (in Maori culture). Eastern Cree culture see part and present leading to the future. In TEK time is not temporal but social. There are no fix – creation stories include notions of creating a river through a specific story. Time also has an agency. On the basis of these different concepts, she progress to suggest an inclusive model of relationship trough ontological representation. Time is not a simple model but into spatial temporal relations. GIScience can’t ignore the different social constructions of time – excluding indigenous concepts is ontological violence and risk of loss of indigenous knowledge.

Lex Comber et al. talked about “A Moan, a Discursion into the Visualisation of Very Large Spatial Data and Some Rubrics for Identifying Big Questions”, while looking at trends in anti-depressant. Databating meaning manipulation of database. There is an increasing amount of data, and demands (experiences of changing title from GIScience to Data Analytics, create challenges). There is a lack of asking serious questions or knowing what is it for, and ‘letting the data talk for itself’. There is opening of data – for example, GP practice prescription: the practice, the drug, the postcode of the patient. The Postcode can be linked to geography. Demonstrate that it’s possible to producing stupid results by only going data fishing. If we have a plan, on the other hand, we can see urban/rural areas. Need to use: view, refine, and zoom. If you are looking for a needle in a haystack, then making the stack bigger is not making it easier.

Jim Tatcher et al. (delivered by David O’Sullivan) ‘Searching for a common ground (again). Mentioning Golledge et al. 1988 A ground for Common Research. Need to identify common terms and how they are used.  The model of seeing the world as layer cake, is still significant. Harvey Miller mentioned it in 2003 that Euclidean space can be problematic, and it is associated with the quantitative geography. However, in old books that are all sort of representations that look different. From Bunge to Haggett, there are representations that are not Euclidean. The paradigm of GIS caused the adoption of this model. Tobler’s first law actually appeared as ‘throwaway remark’ and travelled through geography in different ways. Need to consider why Euclidean is accepted for granted when in earlier period there were many experimentation.

Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?

The GIScience conference is being held every two years since 2000, and it is one of the main conferences in the field of Geographic Information Science (GIScience). It is a special honour to be invited to give a keynote talk, and so I was (naturally) very pleased to get an invitation to deliver such a talk in the conference this year. The title of my talk is ‘Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?’ and I’m providing here the synopsis of the talk, with the slides.

My own career is associated with GIScience very strongly. In 1992, as I was studying for my undergraduate studies with a determination to specialise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by combining computer science and geography degrees, I was delighted to discover that such studies fall within a new field called GIScience. The paper by Mike Goodchild that announced the birth of the field was a clear signal that this was an area that was not only really interesting, but also one with potential for growth and prospects for an academic career, which was very encouraging. This led to me to a Masters degree which combined environmental policy, computer science, and GIS. During my PhD, I started discovering another emerging area – citizen science, with two main pieces of work – by Alan Irwin and Rick Bonney marking the beginning of the field in 1995 (I came across Irwin’s book while looking into public understanding of science, and learn about Bonney’s work much later). According to OED research, the use of citizen science can be traced to 1989. In short, GIScience and citizen science as a recognised terms for research areas have been around for about the same time – 25 years.

Over this period, I have experienced an inside track view of these two interdisciplinary research fields. I would not claim that I’ve been at the centres of influence of either fields, or that I’ve analysed the history of these areas in details, but I followed them close enough to draw parallels, and also to think – what does it mean to be involved in an interdisciplinary field and what make such a field successful? 

The use of terms in publications is a good indication to the interest in various academic fields. Here are two charts that tell you how GIScience grown until it stalled around 2010, and how citizen science have been quiet for a while but enjoying a very rapid growth now.

First, from Egenhofer et al. 2016 Contributions of GIScience over the Past Twenty Years, showing the total number of publications with the keywords GIS or GIScience, based on a Scopus query for the years 1991 through 2015, executed in July 2015. Notice the peak around 2009-2010.


And here is Google Trends graph for comparing GIScience and Citizen Science, showing that in the past 8 years citizen science has taken off and increased significantly more than GIScience:


I think that it’s fair to say that these two fields as inherently interdisciplinary.

In GIScience, as Traynor a Williams identify already in 1995: “Off-the-shelf geographic information system software is hard to use unless you have sufficient knowledge of geography, cartography, and database management systems; are computer-literate” and to these observations we need to add statistics, algorithms development, and domain knowledge (ecology, hydrology, transport).

Citizen Science also includes merging knowledge from public engagement, education, science outreach, computer science, Human-Computer Interaction, statistics, algorithms and domain knowledge (e.g. ecology, astrophysics, life science, digital humanities, archaeology).

Both fields are more than a methodology – they are contributing to scientific research on different problems in the world, and only a very reductionist view about what they are will see them as ‘a tool’. They are more complex than that – which is why we have specific scholarship about them, periods of training, dedicated courses and books, conferences and all the rest.

A very shallow comparison will note that GIScience was born as an interdisciplinary field of study, and experience consolidation and focus early on with research agendas, core curriculum which was supposed to lead to stability and growth. This did not happen (see Patrick Rickles comments, from an interdisciplinary research perspective, on this). Take any measure that you like: size of conferences, papers. Something didn’t work. Consider the Esri UC, with its 15,000 participants who are working with GIS, yet only a handful of them seem to be happy with the identity of a GIScientists.

In contrast, Citizen Science is already attracting to its conferences audience in the many hundreds – the Citizen Science Association have 4000 (free) members, The European Citizen Science Association 180 (paid) – and that is in the first 2 years since they’ve been established. It doesn’t have an explicit research agenda, and have an emerging journal, but the field also benefits from multiple special issues – there is almost a competition among them.

As a GIScientist this is a complex, and somewhat unhappy picture. What can I offer to explain it? What are the differences between the two fields that led to the changes and what we can learn from them? It is worth exploring these questions if we want the field to flourish

Engaging with Interdisciplinary research

The wider engagement with these fields is also linked to my personal and direct engagement in GIScience research that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries. Over the years, I was also involved in about 20 multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary projects. I also found myself evaluating and funding x-disciplinary projects (where cross, inter, multi or trans  stand for x). The main observations from all these is that many times, projects that started under the interdisciplinary flag (integrating knowledge from multiple areas), ended with mostly multidisciplinary results (each discipline addressing the issue from its own point of view). However, here are nine lessons that I’ve learned, which can also help evaluating the wider fields of GIScience and citizen science.

First, Get them young & hungry – when established professors are joining an interdisciplinary project, usually they have a clear personal research agenda, and the likelihood that they will be open to radically new ideas about their area is low. You can get excellent multidisciplinary projects with experienced researchers, but it is much harder and rarer to have interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary project – there is too much to lose. That mean that early career researchers are the most suitable collaborators who can develop new directions. At the same time, in terms of job potential and publications, it is very risky for PhD students to get into interdisciplinary research as this can reduce their chances of securing an academic job. With appropriate funding (as we done in Bridging the Gaps) and specific support to people at the more secured stage of early career (after securing a lectureship/assistant professor position), we’ve seen interdisciplinary collaboration evolve.

Second, in x-disciplinary projects, you’ll find yourself being undermined, unintentionally which will hurt. Disciplines have different notion of ‘truth’ and how to get to it (in philosophy: epistemology and ontology). What is considered as an appropriate methodology (e.g. fixation with randomised control trials), how many people need to participate, how they are selected and more. When people from another discipline use these concepts to question your practice it can feel as undermining the expertise, and the disciplinary knowledge that you are offering to the project…

logo-ercThird, there are also cases of being undermined, intentionally. Interdisciplinary proposal are evaluated by experts from different fields, and no matter how much they are told to focus their comments on their discipline, they will comment on other aspects. Moreover, proposal evaluators can assess the novelty in their area, not the overall innovation, reducing the likelihood of ‘outstanding’ mark that make it more likely to get funded. For example, in an early version of what was now funded by both EPSRC and ERC, a Research Challenges Board rejected the proposal because it “seemed so high risk to us is that there are many links in the chain… is it clear that even if everything works there would be real value from these sorts of devices? You use the example that the forest people might be able to tell if there were poachers in the area. Yet can that really be shown? Do forest people understanding probabilistic reasoning? If there any evidence that illiterate people can use maps, digital or otherwise?“. It’s important to note that both ERC and the EPSRC programmes were aimed at risky, interdisciplinary projects, but in more standard programmes, it is difficult to get funded.

Fourth, look out for the disciplinary scrounger. They might not be aware that they are disciplinary scrounger, but this is how it happens: Interdisciplinary research open up new tools and methodologies and people who know how to use them for the research team as a whole. While there is a supposed shared goals that will provide benefits to all sides, a savvy researcher will identify that there is an opportunity for using resources to advance their own research in their discipline, and find ways to do that, even if there are no apparent benefits to the side that give the resources. This act is not necessarily malicious – from the researcher perspective, it is exactly a demonstration of interdisciplinary contribution.

Fifth, in an interdisciplinary research it is critical to develop a common narrative, early. As the project progresses, it will shift and change. Because of the disciplinary differences, it is very easy to diverge and work on different issues, with some relationship to the original proposal. Especially in case where the funder evaluate the project against the proposal (e.g. in Horizon 2020), it’s critical to have a common story. The project can be harmonious and show good progression, but without a common narrative that is shared across the team, there can be troubles when it come to evaluation by external people as the outputs do not all fit neatly to their idea of what the project is about. In another project, Adaptable Suburbs, we deliberately shared reading lists between teams to help understanding each other, which bring us to…

Sixth, highstreetconsider the in-built misunderstanding. Terminology is an obvious one. For Anthropology, scale, from small to large is individual, household, community – and for cartography city is small scale, while house is large scale. However, these are easy – it can take time, and long discussions to discover that you’re looking at the same thing but seeing something completely different. As Kate Jones suggested when she worked on the Successful Suburban Town Centres project. In the image above urban designers see the streets, but not the people, while human geographers who look at census data will tend to see the people, but not the urban structure that they inhibit. There are many other examples of subtle, complex and frustrating misunderstanding that happen in such projects.

Seven, there will be challenges with publications – those that are written. Publications are critical academic outputs, and important for the individuals, teams, and the project as a whole. Yet, they are never easy – different disciplines have very different practices. In some, the first position in the author list is the most important, in another, the last. Some value single author monograph (Anthropology), other conference paper with multiple authors (Computer Science). This creates tensions and a need for delicate discussions and agreement. Moreover, and linked to Six – writing joint publications is an opportunity to expose interdisciplinary misunderstanding, but that make the writing process longer.

Eight, it is important to realise that many times interdisciplinary publications will never be written  – because academic careers, promotion criteria, visibility, and recognition depends on disciplinary practices, within projects disciplinary papers and outputs are written first. The interdisciplinary outputs left to a later stage – and then the project end and they never get written. They are actually dependent on voluntary investment of multiple contributors, which make it very difficult to get them done!

Finally, nine, is the importance of coffee and lunch breaks (and going out together). Team members in interdisciplinary projects are usually coming from different departments, and it is challenging to organise a shared space. However, by putting people together – computer scientists sitting next to a geographer, designer, anthropologists – it is possible to achieve the level of trust, relationship and the development of new ideas that are needed in such projects. In ExCiteS, we have a designated ‘social officer’ for the group.

On the basis of these experiences, I’d argue that Interdisciplinarity is always hard, risky, require compromises, accommodations, listening, and making mistakes. The excitement from the outputs and outcomes does not always justify the price. Frequently, there is no follow-on project – it’s been too exhausting. The analysis that Patrick Rickles done across the literature can provide you with further information on challenges and solutions.

From projects to research fields

Considering the project level challenges, viewing interdisciplinary areas of studies emerging is especially interesting. You can notice how concepts are being argued and agreed on. You can see what is inside and what is outside, and where the boundary is drawn. You can see how methodologies, jargon, acceptable behaviour, and modes of operations get accepted or rejected – and from the inside, you can nudge the field and sometimes see the impact of your actions. Here are some observations about GIScience and citizen science evolution.

First, citizen science seem to be growing organically, without a deliberate attempt to set a research agenda, define core curriculum, or start with nationally focused research centres, in contrast to GIScience, who had all of these. There is an emergent research agenda: data quality, motivations & incentives, interaction design, management of volunteers, and more. These are created according to views of different people who join the research area, opening opportunities for new collaborations. It is noted that GIScience, in practice, allowed for many other areas to emerge – for example crowdsourcing, which was not in the last version of the research priorities that are listed on UCGIS website, and also seemed to stop doing these exercises.

Second, there is an interesting difference in inclusiveness. Although there are different variants of citizen science, across events, conferences and projects, there is an attempt to be inclusive to the different variants (e.g. volunteer computing or ecological observations) though tensions remain and need maintenance. In GIScience, there have been inclusive activities, of workshops that brought together people from Human-Computer Interaction in the late 1980s, or the excellent series of meetings about GIS and Environmental Modelling. There is clear separation, for example in spatial analysis, where different methods are now appearing in ecology, but they are not shared back with the general GIScience. It is worth considering how to make such events and consider active inclusiveness, where researchers from different areas will find their place and reasons to participate.

It might be that citizen science is also more inclusive because of the interaction with people outside academia (participants) and the need to focus on things that matter to them, whereas GIScience has largely been for/by scientists. However, citizen science gets backlash for “not doing REAL science”, but it’s still grown. Maybe, in the process of GIScience trying to validate itself, it’s cut itself off from other research areas (even though GIS use continues to grow)?

Third, there is a sharp difference in the relationship with practitioners – GIScience decided to focus on fundamental questions and laws, while citizen science is a deliberate integration between researchers (the science of citizen science) and practitioners who are running volunteering programmes. The interaction between practice and science is bringing research questions to light and provide a motivation for addressing them with interdisciplinary teams. It might be that separation between science and systems in GIScience need to be blurred a bit to open up new opportunities.
bookcoverFinally, GIScience benefited from having a disciplinary name, and attention by a growing group of researchers who are committed to the field – job titles, positions, journals and conference do matter in terms of visibility and recognition. Citizen science, on the other hand, is only now starting to have a proper home and networks. There are ongoing discussions about what it is, and not everyone in the field is using the term ‘citizen science’ or happy with it. The actual conference that led to the creation of the Citizen Science Association was titled ‘Public Participation in Scientific Research'(!). The coherence and focus on understanding how important key phrases are, more than dislike of their potential meaning is valuable for the coherence of a field and stating that you have knowledge that can be shared with others.

New areas for Interdisciplinary research

To complete this discussion, I point to the opportunities that citizen science open for interdisciplinary collaborations with GIScience – It provides examples for longevity of VGI data sources, that can be used to address different research questions. There are new questions about scales of operations and use of data from the hyper local to the global. Citizen science offer challenging datasets (complexity, ontology, heterogeneity), and also a way to address critical issues (climate change, biodiversity loss). There are also usability challenges and societal aspects.

In final account, GIScience got plenty of interdisciplinary activity in it. There are actually plenty of examples for it. In terms of ‘mojo’ as being attractive for researchers from other area to join in, there are plenty of opportunities – especially if the practice of using GIS within different research and practice problems is included in the framework of GIScience.

This post benefited from discussions and comments from Patrick Rickles, who is our local expert in GIS use in an interdisciplinary settings. You should check his work.

Leveraging the power of place in citizen science for effective conservation decision making – new paper

During the Citizen Science conference in 2015, a group of us, under the enthusiastic encouragement of John Gallo started talking about a paper that will discuss the power of place in citizen science. John provides a very detailed account about the way that a discussion and inspiration during the conference led to the development of the paper. Greg Newman took the lead on the process of writing, and the core analysis was based on classifying and analysing 134 citizen science projects.

My contribution to the paper is mostly in exploration of the concept of place including the interpretation within Human Geography of places as spaces of flows (so the paper cites Doreen Massey). I was also involved in various discussion about the development of the dimensions of place that were included in the analysis, while most of the work was done by Greg Newman, Bridie McGreavy  & Marc Chandler.

The paper is now out and free to read and reuse.

Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.
Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.








While it is, for me, expected that place will have an important role in citizen science, it is excellent to see that the analysis supported this observation through consistent classification of citizen science projects across three collections. The model above suggest how it can be used.

The paper development process, however, demonstrate the power of cyberspace, as the team met regularly online and shared documents, details and drafts along the way, with important regular online meeting that help it to come together. The paper started with all of us at the same place and at the same time, but this interaction was enough to sustain our team work all the way to publication.

The paper is open access and the abstract for it is:

Many citizen science projects are place-based – built on in-person participation and motivated by local conservation. When done thoughtfully, this approach to citizen science can transform humans and their environment. Despite such possibilities, many projects struggle to meet decision-maker needs, generate useful data to inform decisions, and improve social-ecological resilience. Here, we define leveraging the ‘power of place’ in citizen science, and posit that doing this improves conservation decision making, increases participation, and improves community resilience. First, we explore ‘place’ and identify five place dimensions: social-ecological, narrative and name-based, knowledge-based, emotional and affective, and performative. We then thematically analyze 134 case studies drawn from CitSci.org (n = 39), The Stewardship Network New England (TSN-NE; n = 39), and Earthwatch (n = 56) regarding: (1) use of place dimensions in materials (as one indication of leveraging the power of place), (2) intent for use of data in decision-making, and (3) evidence of such use. We find that 89% of projects intend for data to be used, 46% demonstrate no evidence of use, and 54% provide some evidence of use. Moreover, projects used in decision making leverage more (t = − 4.8, df = 117; p < 0.001) place dimensions (View the MathML source= 3.0; s = 1.4) than those not used in decision making (View the MathML source= 1.8; s = 1.2). Further, a Principal Components Analysis identifies three related components (aesthetic, narrative and name-based, and social-ecological). Given these findings, we present a framework for leveraging place in citizen science projects and platforms, and recommend approaches to better impart intended outcomes. We discuss place in citizen science related to relevance, participation, resilience, and scalability and conclude that effective decision making as a means towards more resilient and sustainable communities can be strengthened by leveraging the power of place in citizen science.

Patterns of contribution to citizen science biodiversity projects increase understanding of volunteers’ recording behaviour

One of the facts about academic funding and outputs (that is, academic publications), is that there isn’t a simple relationship between the amount of funding and the number, size, or quality of outputs. One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that a fairly limited amount (about £4000-£10,000) are disproportionately effective. I guess that the reason for it is that on the one hand, it allow a specific period of dedicated time, but the short period focuses the mind on a specific task.

A case in point is the funding through the UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants programme. In 2014, together with Dr Elizabeth Boakes and Gianfranco Gliozzo, I secured funding for a short project on ‘Using citizen science data to assess the impact of biodiversity on human wellbeing‘. We have enlisted other people to work with us, and this has led the analysis of citizen science contributions across London. On the basis of this work, and in collaboration with researchers in ExCiteS (Gianfranco Gliozzo, Valentine Seymour), GiGL (Chloe Smith), Biological Records Centre (David Roy), and the Open University (Martin C. Harvey), we have developed a paper that is now published in Scientific Reports. The paper experienced a rejection and subsequent improvements along the way, which have made its analysis more robust and clear. Lizzie’s perseverance with the peer reviews challenges was critical in getting the paper published.

At the core of the paper is examination of the information from citizen science projects, and using this information to understand the behaviour of the volunteers, and what we can learn from this about biodiversity citizen science projects in general.

The paper full citation is: Boakes, E., Gliozzo, G., Seymour, V., Harvey, M.C., Roy, D.B., Smith, C., and Haklay, M., 2016, Patterns of contribution to citizen science biodiversity projects increase understanding of volunteers’ recording behaviour, Scientific Reports

The abstract of the paper reads:

Citizen science has become a well-established method of biological recording but the opportunistic nature of biodiversity data gathered in this way means that they will likely contain taxonomic, spatial and temporal biases. Although many of these biases can be accounted for within statistical models, they are usually seen in a negative light since they add uncertainty to biodiversity estimates. However, they also give valuable information regarding volunteers’ recording behaviour, thus providing a way to enhance the fit between volunteers’ interests and the needs of scientific projects. Using Greater London as a case-study we examined the composition of three citizen science datasets – Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL), iSpot and iRecord – with respect to recorder contribution and spatial and taxonomic biases. We found each dataset to have its own taxonomic and spatial signature suggesting that volunteers’ personal motivations for recording may attract them towards particular schemes although there were also patterns common to all three recording systems. We found most volunteers contribute only a few records and are active for one day only. Our analyses indicate that species’ abundance and ease of identification of birds and flowering plants are positively associated with number of records, as was plant height. We found clear hotspots of recording activity, blue space (waterbodies) being associated with birding hotspots. We note that biases are accrued as part of the recording process (e.g. species’ detectability, media coverage) as well as from volunteer preferences.

Published: Why is Participation Inequality Important?

bookcoverI’ve mentioned the European Handbook for Crowdsourced Geographic Information in the last post, and explained how it came about. My contribution to the book is a chapter titled ‘Why is Participation Inequality Important?. The issue of participation inequality, also known as the 90:9:1 rule, or skewed contribution, has captured my interest for a while now. I have also explored it in my talk at the ECSA conference on ‘participatory [citizen] science‘ and elsewhere.

In this fairly short chapter what I am trying to communicate is that while we know that participation inequality is happening and part of crowdsourced information, we need to consider how it influences issues such as data quality, and think how it come about. I am trying to make suggest how we ended with skewed contributions – after all, at the beginnings of most projects, everyone are at the same level – zero contribution, and then participation inequality emerge.

I have used the iconic graph of contribution to OpenStreetMap that Harry Wood created, but the chapter is discussing other projects and activities where you can come across this phenomena.

Here is a direct link to the chapter, and I’ll be very happy to hear comments about it!


New book: European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information

COST EnergicCOST ENERGIC is a network of researchers across Europe (and beyond) that are interested in research crowdsourced geographic information, also known as Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). The acronym stands for ‘Co-Operation in Science & Technology’ (COST) through ‘European Network Researching Geographic Information Crowdsourcing’ (ENREGIC). I have written about this programme before, through events such as twitter chats, meetings, summer schools and publications. We started our activities in December 2012, and now, 4 years later, the funding is coming to an end.

bookcoverOne of the major outcomes of the COST ENERGIC network is an edited book that is dedicated to the research on VGI, and we have decided that following the openness of the field, in which many researchers use open sources to analyse locations, places, and movement, we should have the publication as open access – free to download and reuse. To achieve that, we’ve approached Ubiquity Press, who specialise in open access academic publishing, and set a process of organising the writing of short and accessible chapters from across the spectrum of research interests and topics that are covered by members of the network. Dr Haosheng Huang (TU Wien) volunteered to assist with the editing and management of the process. The chapters then went through internal peer review, and another cycle of peer review following Ubiquity Press own process, so it is thoroughly checked!

The book includes 31 chapters with relevant information about application of VGI and citizen science, management of data, examples of projects, and high level concepts in this area.

The book is now available for download hereHere is the description of the book:

This book focuses on the study of the remarkable new source of geographic information that has become available in the form of user-generated content accessible over the Internet through mobile and Web applications. The exploitation, integration and application of these sources, termed volunteered geographic information (VGI) or crowdsourced geographic information (CGI), offer scientists an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research on a variety of topics at multiple scales and for diversified objectives.
The Handbook is organized in five parts, addressing the fundamental questions:

  • What motivates citizens to provide such information in the public domain, and what factors govern/predict its validity?
  • What methods might be used to validate such information?
  • Can VGI be framed within the larger domain of sensor networks, in which inert and static sensors are replaced or combined by intelligent and mobile humans equipped with sensing devices?
  • What limitations are imposed on VGI by differential access to broadband Internet, mobile phones, and other communication technologies, and by concerns over privacy?
  • How do VGI and crowdsourcing enable innovation applications to benefit human society?

Chapters examine how crowdsourcing techniques and methods, and the VGI phenomenon, have motivated a multidisciplinary research community to identify both fields of applications and quality criteria depending on the use of VGI. Besides harvesting tools and storage of these data, research has paid remarkable attention to these information resources, in an age when information and participation is one of the most important drivers of development.
The collection opens questions and points to new research directions in addition to the findings that each of the authors demonstrates. Despite rapid progress in VGI research, this Handbook also shows that there are technical, social, political and methodological challenges that require further studies and research