Into the night – training day on citizen science

dscn1936Last December, the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) awarded funding to UCL Extreme Citizen Science group and Earthwatch as part of their investment in public engagement. The projects are all short – they start from January to March and included public engagement and training to early career researchers.

“Into the Night” highlights the importance of light pollution, a growing environmental stressor to both wildlife and humans, through collaborative and co-designed citizen science research. The project aims to increase awareness of this issue through two public workshops exploring the potential of two citizen science focal points – glow-worms and human wellbeing – explicitly linking ecological and human impacts. The project will culminate with a set of public activities (pilot data collection and educational) to coincide with Earth Hour (25.03.2017).

The project aims to build public engagement capacity through PhD internships with Earthwatch (Europe), CEH, Natural England and UCL, and forms a dedicated training day on the design and implementation of citizen science for 50 early-career researchers and PhD students.

The project is led by UCL (in collaboration with North Carolina State University – NCSU) and Earthwatch, bringing together leading research and practice in citizen science. It is the result of two co-design workshops, with over 30 participants from environmental science, social science, public health, National Parks, and NGOs. Based on this preparatory work, and with active training of early career researchers, we will run two focused workshops which will take place in dark sky reserves. These workshops will focus on two preliminary ideas for citizen science projects: a countrywide survey of glow-worms and the impact of artificial light on their activities, and the influence of lightscapes and dark green spaces on human wellbeing while balancing safety and concerns.

The two projects will generate public awareness and provide the public with opportunities to have debate and dialogue on the subject, as well as involvement in data collection and analysis. Results will be shared through social and traditional media. The outcome will advance ideas for a national citizen science project, which UCL and Earthwatch will take forward.

The training day run in Oxford on the 2nd February and during the day I gave two 45 minutes sessions. First, I provided an introduction to the field of citizen science, how to design a project, and how to evaluate such a project.

The session provided a brief overview of the types of citizen science that are relevant in addressing environmental challenges. We looked at classifications of citizen science projects, explore their potential goals, the process of recruitment and retention as well as the need to start project evaluation from an early stage. At the end the participants engage in a short exercise to consider how these elements can be used in the design of a citizen science project.

The second talk focused on technology.

The talk aim was described as follows: Current citizen science seems effortless…just download an app and start using it. However, there are many technical aspects that are necessary to make a citizen science project work. This session provided an overview of all the technical elements that are required – from the process of designing an app, to designing and managing a back-end system, to testing the system end to end before deployment. Again, at the end of the session, a short exercise considered the design of an app for a citizen science project that addresses light pollution.


Podcast – discussion with Liz Killen and Alice Sheppard on citizen science

Several weeks ago, Liz Killen, who is studying for an MSc in Science Communication at Imperial College organised an interview with me and Alice Sheppard about aspects of citizen science, for the I, Science the science magazine of Imperial College. This is the second time ExCiteS is covered in the magazine, after a report in 2013 by .

Editorial in Human Computation Journal – Creativity and Learning in Citizen Cyberscience

As part of a special issue of the open access Human Computation Journal, I am the co-author of the editorial Creativity and Learning in Citizen Cyberscience – Lessons from the Citizen Cyberlab Summit. Following the summit (see blog post here), Egle Ramanauskaite took the blog posts and edited them with her notes, which led to a summary and analysis of the summit. cyberlab

Here is the abstract:

“This article summarizes the Citizen Cyberlab (CCL) Summit, which took place at University of Geneva on 17-18th September 2015, and introduces the special issue on “Learning and Creativity in Citizen Science”. As the final event of a 3-year EU FP7 CCL project, the Summit sought to disseminate project results and reflect on the issue of citizen science (CS) as a participatory environment where opportunities for self-development and various types of creativity can arise. A
number of interesting themes emerged at the intersection of the work presented by project collaborators and external partners, including the different types of creativity that are evident in CS, the role of the community as the main medium for innovation and participant learning to occur, and the common challenges concerning the design, initiation and management of CS projects.
The current issue presents work done during the CCL project, as well as external project contributions, for which the main focus is on learning and creativity in CS. The set of articles addresses diverse aspects of the topic, ranging from empirical research on the phenomena themselves, to tools, platforms and frameworks developed specifically for citizen cyberscience (CCS) with creativity and learning in mind, and distinct CS cases where these phenomena manifest in previously undescribed and unexpected ways. We hope that the issue will be useful to researchers and practitioners who aim to study, evaluate
or design for learning and creativity in a range of CCS projects”

You can find the paper here.


Public Participation GIS and Participatory GIS in the Era of GeoWeb – editorial for a special issue

As part of the AAG 2015 conference, Bandana Kar, Rina Ghose, Renee Sieber and I organised a set of sessions on Public Participation GIS – you can read the summary here. After the conference, we’ve organised a special issue of the Cartographic Journal (thanks to Alex Kent, the journal editor) dedicated to current perspectives of public participation GIS (PPGIS) and participatory GIS (PGIS).

The process of organising a special issue is quite involved – not all the papers that start the journey managed to finish, and even at the last point, 2 papers that are part of the special issue will appear in the next issue of the journal due to physical limitations and the number of pages that appear in each issue!

Working with an editorial group across the US, Canada, and the UK was also a challenge, especially as we were all busy, as usual. Bandana Kar kept us going and because of her continued efforts and encouragement, the special issue was evolving. So it’s only right that she is the lead author of the editorial piece. Our editorial points to the evolution of PPGIS and the need to understand how it is shaped up in the era of web-based mapping and rapid increase in the use of mobile technologies. The papers in the special issue (you can find them here) are addressing this evolving landscape and are all worth reading. We finish our editorial with the following statement:

‘In this sea of changing tools and technologies it appears that P/PGIS may be competing with other approaches and terminologies. At its core many of the new projects remain mission-driven, are led by local residents, and requires generation of data and knowledge to resolve a specific problem. The data generated through platforms old and new still suffer from lack of interoperability and data quality issues. Analytics may have been improved since the days of the command-line but still require considerable expertise; moreover, evidence-based policy, especially from the non-credentialled, must have entree into politics. Moving forward, researchers and practitioners should focus on not answering the place of P/PGIS amid new technologies and approaches but instead examine the extent to which new participatory technologies are effective in integrating local, scientific and personal knowledge in resolving political decisions and societal issues of interest to local communities.’

The paper is available here and if you don’t have access to the journal, email me and I’ll send you a copy.


A Shared Perspective for PGIS and VGI – new paper

Part of the special issue on Public Participation GIS that was published in The Cartographic Journal, was a paper that was led by Jeroen Verplanke (ITC). This paper goes back to the workshop on participatory GIS in 2013, that was the leaving event for Dr Mike McCall in ITC, after which he continue to work in UNAM, Mexico.

Since the symposium in June 2013, we developed the paper, trying to find the path and linkage between the area of Participatory GIS (the variety of Public Participation GIS in development context) and the crowdsourced world of Volunteered Geographic Information.

The paper abstract explains its aims:

“This paper reviews persistent principles of participation processes. On the basis of a review of recent interrogations of the (Public) Participatory Geographic Information Systems (P)PGIS and Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) approaches, a summary of five prevailing principles in participatory spatial information handling is presented. We investigate these five principles that are common to (P)PGIS and VGI on the basis of a framework of two dimensions that govern the participatory use of spatial information from the perspective of people and society. This framework is presented as a shared perspective of (P)PGIS and VGI and illustrates that, although both share many of these same principles, the ways in which these principles are approached are highly diverse. The paper ends with a future outlook in which we discuss the inter-connected memes of potential technological futures, the signification of localness in ‘local spatial knowledge’, and the ramifications of ethical tenets by which PGIS and VGI can strengthen each other as two sides of the same coin.”

We finish the paper with the following observations: “With the unprecedented growth of data from sensors, including human sensors working through VGI, the main obstacles shaping the access and use of Local Spatial Knowledge (LSK) are the ethics of participatory practices. Greater access to, and supply of, VGI will not improve the depth of knowledge or insight into local contexts, and not necessarily, even the breadth of inputs. It might instead bias LSK identification and flows towards the most active and connected members in the community. This is already a recognized issue with PGIS and other participatory processes which are open to ‘elite capture’ and manipulation. Another challenge to the PGIS ‘slow, small, and intense’ approach comes from the ubiquity of cheap sensors; there is a concern that only evidence backed up with instrumental information (e.g. bodycams providing images with GPS and time stamp) will be considered suitable by higher authority decision-makers. Ethical facilitation is needed to guide the ownership and confidentiality of LSK in a connected world where this knowledge and the metadata of its distribution are increasingly valued (only) for their direct marketing potential. PGIS offers rich, culturally sensitive and situated LSK, and it is essential to maintain the value of this knowledge against the challenge of big data (VGI) being treated as more ‘scientific’.

The paper itself can be accessed here (it should become open access soon) and if you don’t have access, email me and I’ll send you a copy.

The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science

‘The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science’ is a fairly slim and small format book. Darlene Cavalier and Eric B. Kennedy edited this short collection of papers that cadsc_0117me out earlier in 2016. The book is part of a series, from the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes (CSPO) at Arizona State University. The series aims are for ‘These books are brief, clear, and to-the-point, while at the same time tackling urgent topics across a range of complex techno-scientific subjects. The overall aim is to deliver thought-provoking contributions that explore the complex interactions among science, technology, politics, and society.and Citizen Science is clearly successful in doing this.

The book’s 6 chapters provide an excellent, and indeed, thought provoking, introduction to the field of citizen science. Darlene Cavalier introduce the topic with her personal journey into citizen science, and how local interest, career opportunities, and useful suggestions that led her to come up with initiatives such as Science Cheerleaders and SciStarter.

Eric Kennedy’s chapter provides an overview of citizen science, and importantly, addressing the all too often common question about the quality of the information, emphasising that it’s fitness-for-use that matter. The chapter is written from a perspective of science and policy studies and pays particular attention to the use of citizen science for policy – including the challenges that it faces, the multiple goals that a project might be expected to fulfil, as well as unintended outcome (e.g. undermining government led monitoring). He also highlights the need for policy to support citizen science – from a national level to the institution ethics committee level. This chapter is fairly dense with potential ‘hyperlinks’ and issues that you would want to explore more (including conceptualisation of science in society) and is doing this introduction mostly well.

In an excellent chapter by Caren Cooper and Bruce Lewenstein, the two meanings of citizen science are explored. The one that originate from the Alan Irwin (1995) book, emphasising the responsibility of science to society, which they call ‘democratic’ citizen science, while at the other end of the spectrum they position ‘participatory’ citizen science as practice in which people mostly contribute observations or efforts to the scientific enterprise, which originated with Rick Bonney (1996) work at Cornell Lab of Ornithology. While I’m not 100% convinced that ‘participatory’ is the correct word for the more top down citizen science that is closer to crowdsourcing, citizen science, the chapter is doing a very good job by providing concrete examples for each type of citizen science as well as demonstrating that this is not a dichotomy, and things are more mixed.

Robert Dunn and Holly Menninger chapter on turning learning the life sciences into research through citizen science, as well as David Coil on Citizen Microbiology, provide a vivid demonstration of the potential of citizen science to change existing processes, as well as making the complex process of taking samples and ensuring their quality, more transparent and open. Both chapters provide a lot to consider on how processes of teaching can be enhanced through active participation – such as Dunn and Menninger provocation to turn dissections into outlier detection in physiological studies.

In another outstanding chapter, Lili Bui discusses the important aspects of communicating a project, and what are the necessary ways by which project owners need to consider how their project will be promoted. She is pointing to public service broadcasting as a natural ally of citizen science, and show how such collaboration might work. This is something to watch as the Crowd and the Cloud series is getting ready to be broadcast. The chapter is providing the practical information, but also the first stages of conceptualising how people are going to hear about a given project.

Gwen Ottinger is also providing an excellent summary of social movement based citizen science. These are projects that are sometimes named civic science, and surely fall into either action research or cases of community led project. Ottinger shows the special characteristics of this specific version of citizen science, including the need to allow methods to be ‘hacked’, legitimacy, the consulting role of scientists, and other critical issues. She also demonstrates how tensions between doing the science right, and achieving results with good enough science can, and will, emerge in these situations.

In the final chapter, Cavalier and Kennedy are developing the themes of the book and suggesting the places where citizen science can play a role in decision-making processes.

Overall, the book provides a light introduction to citizen science – not all citizen science is captured, but by reading it you can find what is citizen science and how it can play a role in policy decision. Its chapters are the perfect length to serve in teaching or discussion about citizen science, and the book itself is inexpensive (about £7).

Crowdsourcing the Future?

About a month ago, on 7th December 2016, DR Kingsley Purdam (Manchester) organised a one day workshop on citizen science, and in particular on citizen science from a social science methodological perspective. The day organised with the support of the National Centre for Research Methods (NCRM).

The purpose of the workshop/conference was to explore the future of citizen science and citizen social science methods as research tools. In particular, understanding the different types of applications, methods, the data and the challenges posed. Because the point of view was based on methodologies in social sciences, issues about expertise, divisions of labour, different ways of seeing, data quality, questions about what might still be going undocumented and the ethical issues raised were all discussed.

The workshop was structured around two blocks of discussion – the morning around methods, data and ethics, while the after looked at issues of participation and working in the area of policy, as well as a discussion of the specific issues that need to be discussed for a citizen social science project.

As an introduction, both natural science and social science projects were presented. You can find a summary on twitter of some of the points that came up during the day with the hashtag #crowdfutures.

Some of the important tweets are captured here with comments (bit storify style).

Chris Lintott started the day with a discussion of large-scale, online citizen science projects, with the story of Zooniverse.

People participate in Zooniverse because they want to do something useful, and he pointed to the complexities of combining machine learning with citizen science effort while maintaining motivation and interest.

While I presented after Chris, and mostly talked about a more social theory explanation of what Extreme Citizen Science is – in particular, the creation of technologies that are embedded with a social participatory process. Many of the processes that I described were small-scale, and local. I have also pointed to the growth of citizen science and the Doing It Together Science project that we currently run.

However, in the discussion that followed we agreed that the nature of participation and many of the issues that come in these projects are similar across the scales even if the mechanisms for engagement are different.

Ben Rich (BBC), covered issues of engagement in weather observation that the BBC implemented successfully, with million observations and report in the first year

Hilary Geoghegan (Reading) & Alison Dyke (SEI)  talked about the UK EOF study on the motivation of participants and the ethics of participation, as well as the tensions between contributory and co-created citizen science in environmental research.

Will Dixon (Manchester) described the Cloudy with Pain project which engaged 12,000 participants and receives substantial information. The project also experiments with some access to data and opportunity for analysis by the participants themselves.

Kingsley Purdam (Manchester) talked about the complexity of citizen social science about begging, when the beggars are involved in data collection. Another Manchester-based project looked at linguistic diversity in street signs

The next set of talks raised some important point, including by Erinma Ochu on the process of creating the Robot Orchestra as a participatory DIY electronic and creative process, raising issues about expertise and success (the orchestra is in very high demand); Monika Buscher (Lancaster) emphasising that citizen social science is not about bigger torch to understand reality, but critique science & social science; and Alex Albert (Manchester), who run  project to encourage citizen reporting of empty houses and consider what should be done with them, highlighted the challenges of starting a project and recruiting participants. Liz Richardson (Manchester), talked about the interface between participatory action research and citizen science, and described her work with a community who collected data and asked for guidance on how to analyse it. The three talks by Monika, Alex, and Liz raised many issues about the participation of people in different stages of the research process, and the role of established researchers in such projects.

The last set of talks focused back on ecological and medical projects: Rachel Webster of Manchester Museum explained the museum digitising effort, and how they are making progress one MSc in computing student at a time – the integration of citizen science with small museum activities is a resource challenge, so the work with students require some compromises. There was also a demonstration of setting systems for citizen science and then discovering how they are used:

Lamiece pointed that a challenge with such approach is to get the app downloaded and to see continued use, although so far there are 1500 participants, 800,000 observations. There is also Data challenge of presence/absence reporting to make sense of what the data means.

Ian Thornhill fro mEarthWatch who coordinates the FreshWater Watch project demonstrate how simple data collection tools open up space for participant’s innovations in tools and in data collection. He also provided different models of how projects are run – corporate sponsorship, or by payment from interested communities.

Some of the points in the discussion include the need to balance scientific data collection and activism (especially for projects such as those that Liz Richardson described). Also balancing small scale, deep engagement or large datasets, wide engagement – e.g. for 3 years as researchers on projects that got limited funding and a goal. The need to consider what participation is doing to citizen science, and what science is doing to it? How to balance between the two? and in general, the wider societal impacts of projects cannot be ignored. There are also people that coming from a policy perspective, and try to push for procedural aspects, not interested in engagement issues.

There are also ethical issues such as those that relate to volunteer management – what should be done with contributors that are not doing good work? exclude them? train? ignore them? There is a constant need to think of useful roles and how making people valued for their contribution.

Another set of questions explored what citizen social science does to science? How are issues about ownership,  responsibilities to ensuring data quality integrated into project planning and management?