Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing – week 2 – Google Local Guides

The first week of the “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing” course was dedicated to an introduction to the field of citizen science using the history, examples and typologies to demonstrate the breadth of the field. The second week was dedicated to the second half of the course name – crowdsourcing in general, and its utilisation in scientific contexts. In the lecture, after a brief introduction to the concepts, I wanted to use a concrete example that shows a maturity in the implementation of commercial crowdsourcing. I also wanted something that is relevant to citizen science and that many parallels can be drawn from, so to learn lessons. This gave me the opportunity to use Google Local Guides as a demonstration.

My interest in Google Local Guides (GLG) come from two core aspects of it. As I pointed in OpenStreetMap studies, I’m increasingly annoyed by claims that OpenStreetMap is the largest Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) project in the world. It’s not. I guessed that GLG was, and by digging into it, I’m fairly confident that with 50,000,000 contributors (of which most are, as usual, one-timers), Google created the largest VGI project around. The contributions are within my “distributed intelligence” and are voluntary. The second aspect that makes the project is fascinating for me is linked to a talk from 2007 in one of the early OSM conferences about the usability barriers that OSM (or more general VGI) need to cross to reach a wide group of contributors – basically about user-centred design. The design of GLG is outstanding and shows how much was learned by the Google Maps and more generally by Google about crowdsourcing. I had very little information from Google about the project, but by experiencing it as a participant who can notice the design decisions and implementation, it is hugely impressive to see how VGI is being implemented professionally.

As a demonstration project, it provides examples for recruitment, nudging participants to contribute, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, participation inequality, micro-tasks and longer tasks, incentives, basic principles of crowdsourcing such as “open call” that support flexibility, location and context aware alerts, and much more. Below is the segment from the lecture that focuses on Google Local Guides, and I hope to provide a more detailed analysis in a future post.

The rest of the lecture is available on UCLeXtend.


Launching a citizen science course – week 1

Today, I gave the opening lectures of the new UCL course ‘Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing‘. In a way, it was more work than I originally thought, but I also thought that I’m underestimating the effort – so it’s not completely unexpected.

Although I am responsible for the first installation of Moodle, the virtual learning environment, at UCL in 2003, I have not used it in the context of an online course for remote learners. I have experienced the development of the Esri Survey123 module with Patrick Rickles and the excellent team at Esri that done most the work. It’s actually quite a challenge. Luckily, the e-learning support team of UCL was happy to guide us and set us on an appropriate path of developing the material for the course.

Having the course materialising is also closing a part of the original ExCiteS proposal that was left open. Here what the proposal for Challenging Engineering said: “In the fourth year, the research group will begin to consolidate the technology (with the first PhD students completing their studies) and will develop a further focused research proposal utilising the lessons from Adventure 2… In this year, a module on Citizen Science will be offered for MSc and PhD students at UCL.”. The project officially started in September 2011, so the fourth year was 2016 – so launching it in early 2018, within the 2017/2018 academic year should be considered to be on time in academic proposal terms!

Compared to things that I’ve done in the past, I have to note that the evolution of what is considered as boring technology – e.g. Microsoft PowerPoint (MSPP) – is instrumental to the ability to put this course together. Below you’ll see the opening segment. In actual terms, the extra effort to turn it into online teaching material was not huge – record voice over in MSPP, save as a video, upload to YouTube, link to Moodle (or here). I do hope that we’re getting it right with the course, but I’ll see as we develop it.

The rest of the lecture is available on UCLeXtend.

Online course – Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing

It’s a new year, and just the right time to announce that starting on the 11th January, UCL will run an 11 weeks hybrid (online and face to face) course called “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing“. This course aim is to introduce students to the theory and practice of citizen science and scientific crowdsourcing. The module will explore the history, theoretical foundations, and practical aspects of designing and running citizen science projects and it will be mostly taught by members of the Extreme Citizen Science group (we have some guests from other organisations!)

The course is run for the first time as part of the M.Sc. programmes at the Department of Geography at UCL, with face to face lectures and practical work. In the spirit of citizen science, we’re opening the course, and it is available on the UCLeXtend website.

The course will run as a hybrid – the material was designed to develop the learning of the students in the class, but then organised in a way that anyone who wants to join the course remotely can do so. For example, you will be able to follow the lectures online all the slides and the audio is available on UCLeXtend. The reading material and class preparation videos are all open access, and in the practicals, we are using open source software or websites that you can access regardless of your registration. Of course, you can’t get UCL credits for attending the class if you are just joining remotely – and those that attend the class will be assessed through two assignments that will be marked, but there are plenty of reflection questions and discussions in the online course for you to assess your progress and to provide us with feedback on how the course is going. We will dedicate some effort to support our distance learners and you will be able to interact with the students who take the class at UCL as you will be using the same material and system that they use.

Each week, there will be two lectures and a practical session that will demonstrate some aspects of the issues that were covered during the lectures. Each lecture and the activities that are linked to it are planned to last about an hour.

As a preparation for class, we will provide a video or two to watch and 2 or 3 pieces of text to read. These are necessary since the lecture assumes this preparation. The necessary readings are marked “Core Reading”. We also provide “Additional Reading” – these are usually pieces that were discussed in class. Finally, the “Deep Dive” reading are expanding on the class material and might be used in assignments (if you take the face to face course), or to expand your understanding (if you are taking the course remotely).

Below you’ll find an outline of the course and its content:

Date Content Lead
11 Jan Lecture: Historical citizen science, current trends that influence citizen science, and an overview Muki Haklay
Lecture: Landscape of citizen science – Typologies Muki Haklay
Practical: experiencing citizen science – PenguinWatch, Gender and Tech Magazines, and GalaxyZoo Alex Papadopoulos
18 Jan Lecture: Crowdsourcing principles and practice Muki Haklay
Lecture: Scientific crowdsourcing examples (guest lecture TBA) Muki Haklay
Practical: More complex crowdsourcing – OpenStreetMap and EyeOnAlz Alice Sheppard
25 Jan Lecture: User-centred design principles for citizen science technology Artemis Skarlatidou
Lecture: Online volunteer engagement, management, and care Alice Sheppard
Practical: Volunteers engagement scenarios Alice Sheppard
1 Feb Lecture: User-Centred Design methods for citizen science technology Artemis Skarlatidou
Lecture: User-Centred Design Methods for citizen science technology (guest lecture TBA) Artemis Skarlatidou
Practical: Usability evaluation of citizen science application – cognitive walkthrough and heuristic evaluation Alex Papadopoulos
8 Feb Lecture: Dealing with data in citizen science – quality, management, and sharing Muki Haklay
Lecture: Practical aspects of data management – technologies and existing systems Muki Haklay
Practical: using and analysing citizen science data with OPAL Data Explorer Alex Papadopoulos
15 Feb — No Class — Reading week
22 Feb Lecture: Citizen Science in environmental management and monitoring Muki Haklay
Lecture: Scales and types of environmental citizen science (guest lecture from Earthwatch TBA)
Practical: developing data collection tool with Esri Survey123 Alex Papadopoulos
1 Mar Lecture: Ethics and legal aspects of citizen science Muki Haklay
Lecture: Introduction to data collection for non-literate participants, Sapelli Julia Altenbuchner
Practical: Developing data collection app with Sapelli Julia Altenbuchner
8 Mar Lecture: Evaluation of citizen science activities – types and approaches Cindy Regalado
Lecture: Tools and methods of evaluation and demonstration on projects Cindy Regalado
Practical: Developing an evaluation framework and plan for a project Cindy Regalado
15 Mar Lecture: Policy and organisational aspects of citizen science Muki Haklay
Lecture: Understanding terminologies and definitions of citizen science Muki Haklay
Practical: Data collection with Sapelli and evaluation of results Julia Altenbuchner
22 Mar Lecture: Theoretical frameworks for citizen science – from Actor-Network Theory to Post-Normal Science Christian Nold
Lecture: Science and society framing of citizen science – from Alan Irwin to Responsible Research and Innovation Muki Haklay
Practical: Using iNaturalist or iSpot to collect data in the wild, and preparation to City Nature Challenge 2018 Muki Haklay


Part of the reason that we can open the course is through the support of UCL Geography department, with additional support from the following bodies:

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project “OPENER: Scoping out a national cOmmunity of Practice for public ENgagement with Environmental Research” (NE/R012067/1)

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) projects “Extreme Citizen Science” (EP/I025278/1) and “Challenging RISK: Achieving Resilience by Integrating Societal and Technical Knowledge” (EP/K022377/1)

EU Horizon 2020 projects “Doing It Together science (DITOs)” (Project ID 709443) and “WeGovNow” (Project ID 693514).

European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant “Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation” (Project ID 694767)

Citizen Science Inquiry event and book launch at the Open University

Citizen Inquiry is a new book, edited by Christothea (Thea) Herodotou,‎ Mike Sharples,  and Eileen Scanlon – all are education technology experts at the Open University. To celebrate the book, the Institute of Education Technology organised a citizen science impact symposium.  These are my notes from the day.

The day opened with Eileen Scanlon covered Citizen Science at the Open University. Eileen provided context about the role of the Open University in providing an alternative way of learning science. Concepts about teaching science and how to understand the experience of the learner. There is a series of innovating pedagogy reports – the 2017 report will come out soon. Eileen examined how the introduction of technology change science learning and teaching. Technology should be understood more widely: development of experimental kits that were created to allow students to explore science at home, with thousands of students joining in the 1970s. The OU has used television as a way of linking learning to the courses that they lead, and today they link to other popular programmes, with a lot of interactions on the web and using online technology. They’ve done the SO2 pollution national experiment from 1971-1979 with acknowledgement to the contribution of the volunteers in a paper by Rose and Peare 1972 (p378). The work involves teaching science in a social experiment and carried out with first-year students. Further work was carried out by Peggy Varley – drosophila that were captured in matchboxes with insects. Later versions of the introductory course included moths traps. The aim was to engage students with science. In 2007-2009 another activity at the OU is iSpot that focused on geographical aspects of species distribution and developed by Jonathan Silvertown. The OpenScienceLab is to open science to people across the spectrum of learning. There is a journey between informal and formal learning and can travel in both directions (e.g. iSpot evolved into supporting a MOOC in ecology). There are massive challenges for new learning – informal to formal, passive to active, solitary to sharing and from learner to teachers.

I was asked to provide a keynote, and provided a talk about learning in contributory, collegial and co-created citizen science, drawing especially on the experience of the ExCiteS group.

The next presentation was by Thea Herodotou about the LEARN Citsci: a project that involved UCDavis, OU, Oxford, NHM, CalAdacmey and LA County. The project is looking at citizen science and focuses on youth participants (5-19) and the learning outcomes – what they learn through participation. There are multiple overlapping settings – how the goals help and hinder their learning. The project looks specifically at NHMs and the citsci projects that they’re doing. They look at Basu and Barton Citizen Science Agency which was adapted by Heidi Ballard. The objective of the project, in particular, the OU, trying to describe the learning settings where citizen science takes place – describe the physical or digital space where it’s happening, what are the roles of young people in projects, and also social interaction, family communication, staff, scientists etc. Looking at relevant activities – one day. They examine iNaturalist application in a bioblitz and the way it is used. They also examine Zooniverse and looking at NHM project – miniature fossils that are being used in the project. In year 1 the focus is on describing settings, and then move to capture learning, then redesign new citizen science programmes and then data analysis. The intended impacts include how to design online and offline citizen science programmes to scaffold learning and participation for young people.

The final morning talk was by Liz FitzGerald – about Situ8 – a tool to let annotate physical places with digital information, it is now a web platform. A hub for Geolocated media, originally created as a generic platform. Situ8 was with limited resources and initial prototype as a smartphone app and became a web portal. Allow people to register and by anyone. Used it in an OU field course, and in S288 module for Practical science – with measures of water quality. The platforms support data, images, text, video. They also allow exploring the data that was collected. Supports both qualitative data collection (poems or recording of information) and scientific data. They are addressing the copyright of the data and control over the downloading permissions. They use MO – Media Objects – and the platform is very generic.

Mike Sharples –  talked about nQuire – the original version, which provided a tool for schools to developed and get involved in inquiry-based learning in schools. Open learning allow for sophisticated exploration, including the virtual microscope at the OU that allows the exploration of moon rocks. The system doesn’t work due to changes in technology. The OU approach is starting from mobile and inquiry-based learning, and how to engage citizens and a wider range of participants. The successes include “citizen inquiry” as a proposal which became a reality (originally mention in an ERC synergy proposal that wasn’t successful). Citizen inquiry is becoming a framework that is recognised that combines with citizen science and inquiry-based ideas. They also developed tools – the nQuire platform, supported by Nominet Trust. The nQuire0t platform is a more open activity which includes spot-it, sense-it and win-it missions. They have 1106 users and 187 projects. The nQuire-it platform is supported by an app that unlocks the sensors on the mobile phone that the system opens to a user. Challenge – how to get to the mass scale that is beyond surveying. There are issues of recruitment, think of engagement – such as a low barrier to entry and intimidating to newcomers. The introductory screen of many websites assumes existing interest. Also how to gain value from contributing positive feedback, join a community of practice (in future learn). The next issue is sustainability – how to keep a community going: identity (we’re rock hunters/cloud spotters), development – is there a sequence of forming, storming, norming, performing relevant to cit sci, and what guidance, curation and mentoring. Finally Maturity, including considering the maturity of a community and its mitosis (breaking up to new group). Need to thing of places for people to interact with each other, support each other.

The third challenge is how to do good science with valuable outcomes that is appropriate, reliable, robust and ethical.

Good citizen inquiry need to do valuable learning, linked to teaching, have a large scale data set, good element of engagement and serendipity, involvement of trained scientists and accurate data collection and analysis.


Some of the book chapters:

Maria Aristeidou provided the analysis of the nQuire It platform, identifying the design requirements and then evaluated the implementation. Participants self reporting didn’t report on the inquiry process and suggested recommendation and guidelines

Gill Clough talked about geocaching about the use of geocaching then and now – she done a study in 2007. She done a detailed mixed survey of closed and open questions, and she discovered a lot of learning – 84% learn something online. Geocaching have become a subscription app, not expensive, and the commercialisation led to debate in the community. GPS is also available on the phone, and it is relying on them.

Stuart Dunn and Mark Hedges look at citizen humanities and transmission of knowledge. Looked at crowdsourcing in humanities projects notice different types of projects that are close to the classical crowdsourcing. Crowd gets methodological proficiency, domain expertise about the subject – but outside universities. They also identified collective knowledge and practical skills.


Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography – VGI and Beyond: From Data to Mapping

Hot on the heels of the Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice is thThe Routledge Handbook of Mapping and CartographyRoutledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography. The handbook was edited by Alex Kent (Canterbury Christ Church University) who is currently the President of the British Cartographic Society and Editor of The Cartographic Journal; and Peter Vujakovic (also from Canterbury Christ Church University) who edited The Cartographic Journal.

Like the other handbooks, this is an extensive collection of 43 chapters and almost 600 page about maps and mapping. The chapters provide a vivid demonstration that cartography and map making is art and science, and that it links to many sciences and practices – from cognitive psychology to geodesy. The list of authors is impressive and includes many of the people that are shaping current cartographic research.

However, with a price tag of £195 for the Book, this collection is expensive and suitable for university libraries and to professional or commercial mapping organisation. The eBook is £35, which makes it much more affordable, though having used the online system, the interface could be better. Luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution to the book is in a joint paper that was led by Vyron Antoniou titled VGI and Beyond: From Data to Mapping. The chapter is building on a collaboration between Vyron, myself and Cristina Capineri during the COST Action on Volunteered Geographic Information (ENERGIC). In the chapter, we look at the concept of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) within practices of mapping and cartography and we attempted to provide an accessible overview of the area. We define what VGI is, provide an overview of the area, look at the advantages and disadvantages of VGI in mapping and cartography, and then look at the impacts of VGI on national mapping agencies, the public, and public bodies. The chapter is available here and we would be very happy to hear comments on it.



Caren Cooper’s Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery

Today, Caren Cooper new book Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery is going on sale in the UK. The book has been out in the USA for about a year, and it is a good point to review it.

The library of citizen science books is growing – there are the more literary books such as a diary of a citizen scientist, or citizen scientist, and a growing set of books that are edited collections such as Dickinson and Bonney Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research or the accessible The Rightful Place of Science: citizen science

Caren Cooper book is adding to this collection something important – a popular science book that provides an overview of the field, phenomena, and the movement of citizen science. As I was reading the book, I recognised the major challenge that she faced. Introducing citizen science is a complex issue: it happens in many areas of science that don’t always relate to each other, it got different structures and relationships between the scientists and the participants, and it can be close and personal, or remote and involving many thousands of people in online activities. In addition to this, citizen science can lead to many outcomes: improving education, contributing to a scientific project, self-empowerment and learning, addressing a local environmental problem and community cohesion, to name but a few. Packing it all into an accessible and engaging book is quite a feat.

Cooper has the experience in communicating citizen science through various blog posts that she published over the past 5 years and some of them have set the ground for this excellent book. The way she balanced the different aspects of citizen science is by taking different scientific fields as the main classification for the chapters, with 10 chapters covering different areas where citizen science have been used – from meteorology to public health. Each chapter provides both the factual information about the type of citizen science that is being used in it, as well as engaging stories and descriptions of the participants in them so we have a real and concrete image of how citizen science is being practiced.

Through the chapters, the reader is becoming familiar with the different modes and mechanisms that are being used in citizen science. For example, she uses the Brony@home project as a way to introduce volunteer computing and showing how the interactions around it can be meaningful and engaging, thus not marginalising this form of citizen science. Another example is the discussions in a later chapter on the use of Patients Like Me as a platform for citizen science, and the way that some of its experiment are challenging common medical practices in the ALS study on the impact of lithium.

One fantastic aspect of the book is the way that it respects and values all the forms of citizen science and the participants, and provide the reader with an opportunity to understand that it can come in many shapes, and she describes the difficulties and triumphs that came out from different studies, different forms of engagement, and different disciplines. She is providing a clear thread to link all these cases through the progression that she makes throughout the book from scientist-led projects (opening with Whewell tide study) and moving towards community-led studies towards the end, with examples from environmental justice campaigns. All these cases are described with warmth and humour that makes the material accessible and enjoyable to read.

Throughout the book, Cooper is making it clear that she sees citizen science as a critical part of the current landscape of science and society relationship, and she addresses some of the issues that are being argued about citizen science – for example, data quality – heads on. The book is making a strong advocacy for scientists and people who are involved in science communication to use citizen science as a way to improve the linkage between society and science.

The book is focusing, mostly, on American projects, case studies and practices – including social and cultural ones, but not to a degree that it makes it difficult to a reader from outside the US to understand. Only in a handful of cases I had to check on Wikipedia what a term or a phrase mean.

Overall, the book is engaging, enjoyable and informative. If you want an up-to-date introduction to citizen science, this book will open up the field to you. If you are working in a citizen science project or involved in developing one, you will learn new things – I did! 




Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice – Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice has been published in mid-September. This extensive book, of 670 pages is providing an extensive overview of scholarly research on environmental justice

The book was edited by three experts in the area – Ryan Holifield from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jayajit Chakraborty from the University of Texas at El Paso, and Gordon Walker from the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. All three have affiliations that relate to Geography, and geographic and environmental information play a major part in the analysis and action regarding environmental justice.

The book holds 51 chapters that are covering the theory and practice of environmental justice – from how it is analysed and understood in different academic disciplines, to the methods that are used to demonstrate that environmental justice issues happen in a place,  and an overview of the regional and global aspects of current environmental justice struggles. The range of chapters and the knowledge of the people who write them are making this collection a useful resource for those who are studying and acting in this area (though few top authors in this field are missing, but their work is well referenced)

However, with a price tag of £165 for the Book, the costs put an obstacle for those who need the information but suitable for universities and libraries. The eBook is £35, which makes it much more affordable, though having used the online system, the interface could be better. Luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution, together with Louise Francis, is in Chapter 24 –Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action. In this chapter, we provide an overview of the use of participatory GIS in environmental justice action, but in particular, a detailed explanation of the methodology that we have developed a decade ago, with contributions from Colleen Whitaker, Chris Church and other people that worked with us a the time. The methodology is now used in the activities of Mapping for Change.  The methodology supports both participatory mapping and citizen science.

As we note in the chapter “Our methodology emerged in 2007, through the London 21 Sustainability Network project ‘A Fairer, Greener London’, which aimed to give six marginalised communities the opportunity to develop their own understanding of local environmental justice issues and supporting action plans to address them. The project was integrated closely with the project ‘Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities’ which was funded as part of the UrbanBuzz scheme. Both projects were based on accessible GIS technologies and available environmental information sources.

The methodology evolved into a six-stage process that is inherently flexible and iterative – so, while the stages are presented here as a serial process, the application of the methodology for a specific case is carried out through a discussion with the local community.” The chapter provides an example for the implementation of the methodology from the work that we carried out in the Pepys Estate.

If you want to read the whole chapter (and use the methodology) you can find it here. For any other chapter in the handbook, email the authors and they will probably share a copy with you.