Caren Cooper: Scientists Should Talk to the Public, but Also Listen

Caren Cooper published a blog on Scientific American website: “Scientists Should Talk to the Public, but Also Listen” which also includes a citation from me and mentioning the work of Mapping for Change.

She writes: “Why is it when scientists talk to the public, they’re said to be communicating, but when the public talks to scientists, they are crazy to think scientists will listen?” providing examples from different cases, including the recent environmental catastrophe at Flint, Michigan. See her post at

Alan Irwin talk on Citizen Science and Scientific Citizenship (JRC, October 2015)

The EU Joint Research Centre in Ispra has recently released the recording of a talk by Alan Irwin at the Joint Research Centre as part of the STS “Contro  Corrente” series of seminars from 15 October 2015, with Jerome Ravetz and Silvio Funtowicz (famous for their post-normal science) as discussants. The talk, titled Citizen Science and Scientific Citizenship: same words, different meanings? is using the two keynotes at the Citizen Science Association 2015 conference (by Chris Filardi and Amy Robinson) as a starting point for a discussion about the relationships of citizen science to scientific citizenship.

If you are interested in the wider place of citizen science within the scientific enterprise, this seminar is an opportunity to hear from 3 people who thought about this for a long time (and their work influenced my thinking). It’s very much worth to spend the time to follow the whole discussion).

Two very valuable points from Irwin’s talk are, first, the identification ‘that the defining characteristics of citizen science is its location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet‘.

Secondly, the identification that scientific citizenship is having the following characteristics – focus on sociotechnical futures with specifically asking question about the relationship between knowledge and democracy; which highlights the political economy of knowledge and the changing nature of citizenship as practised engagement.

Also valuable is the linkage of knowledge, power, and justice and how these play out in citizen science in its different forms.

I’ll admit that I was especially interested in the way that my model of participation in citizen science was used in this seminar. However, having a blog is also an opportunity to respond to some of the points that were discussed in the seminar!

First, Alan Irwin note that scientific citizenship does not happen at the top level of participation but throughout the levels. This is something that I’m emphasising in every talk in which I use this model. As Silvio Funtowicz correctly identified, the model is (yet another) borrowing from Sherry Arnstein ladder of participation as I clearly indicated. However, it is wrong to put the value judgement that is at the centre of Arnstein analysis of participation into citizen science – there might be just as much engagement in volunteer computing as in ‘extreme’ citizen science.

Second, Funtowicz commented that the equivalent of ‘extreme citizen science’ in Arnstein ladder does not reach very high level of participation. I disagree. Arnstein top level is ‘Citizen Control, have-not citizens obtain the majority of decision-making seats, or full managerial power’. If in citizen science project we shift into more equal mode of knowledge production where the project is shaped by all participants, especially marginalised ones, and the scientists working as facilitators in service of the community, aren’t we at the same place?


Extreme Citizen Science in Esri ArcNews

The winter edition of Esri ArcNews (which according to Mike Gould of Esri, is printed in as many copies as Forbes) includes an article on the activities of the Extreme Citizen Science group in supporting indigenous groups in mapping. The article highlights the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) aspects of the work, and mentioning many members of the group.

You can read it here:

Citizen Cyberlab – notes from final review (26-27 January, Geneva)

Citizen Cyberlab LogoEvery project ends, eventually. The Citizen Cyberlab project was funded through the seventh framework programme of the European Union (or EU FP7 in short), and run from September 2012 to November 2015. Today marks the final review of the project in with all the project’s partners presenting the work that they’ve done during the project.

wp-1453931121093.jpgThe project had a technical elements throughout its work, with platforms (technologies that provide foundation to citizen science projects), tools (technologies that support projects directly by being part of what volunteers use), and pilots – projects that use the technologies from citizen cyberlab as well as from other sources, to carry out citizen science projects. In addition to the platforms, tools or pilots – the project used all these elements as the background for a detailed understanding of creativity and learning in citizen cyberscience, which rely on Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). So the evaluation of the pilots and technologies was aimed to illuminate this question.

This post summarises some of the major points from the project. The project produced a system to develop and share research ideas (, a framework for scientific games ( which is accompanied with tools to measure and observe the actions of gamers (, systems for sharing computation resources through virtual machines (through CitizenGrid platform), and a framework to track user actions across systems (CCLTracker), a platform for community mapping (GeoKey), mobile data collection tools (EpiCollect+).

Some of the systems that used these platforms and tools include Mapping for Change Community Maps, CERN Virtual Atom Smasher, and UNITAR Geotag-X.

The RedWire platform supports the development of games and the mixing of code between project (borrowing concepts from synthetic biology to computing!), and as the system encourages open science, even data from the different games can be mixed to create new ones. The integration with player behaviour tracking ability is significant in the use of games for research (so that’s done with RedMatrics). The analytics data is open, so there is a need to take care of privacy issues. An example of the gaming platform is Hero.Coli – a game about synthetic biology.

The GeoKey platform that was developed at UCL ExCiteS is now integrated with Community Maps, ArcGIS Online and can receive data trough Sapelli, EpiCollect or other HTML5 apps (as the air quality app on Google Play shows). The system is progressing and includes an installation package that make it easier to deploy. Within a year, there are about 650 users on the system, and further anonymous contributions, and over 60 mini-sites, many of them ported from the old system. The system is already translated to Polish and Spanish.

The Citizen Grid is a platform that improve volunteer computing, and allow the access to resources in a simplified manner, with launching of virtual machines through a single link. It can use shared resources from volunteers, or cloud computing.

The IdeaWeave system, which is a social network to support the development of ideas and projects, and share information about these projects. The final system supports challenges, badges and awards. They also add project blogging and ability for voting on proposals.

EpiCollect+ is a new implementation of EpiCollect which was supposed to be device independent through HTML5. There are issues with many APIs, and this lead to finding out limitations in different mobile platforms. There are many applications

wp-1453880231866.jpgThe Virtual Atom Smasher application in CERN was redesign with the use of learning analytics, which shown that many people who start engaging with it don’t go through the learning elements and then find the interface confusing, so the restructuring was geared towards this early learning process. The process help people to understand theoretical and experimental physics principles. The system, which . After participants log in, they go through a questionnaire to understand what the participant know, and then go through video and interactive elements that help them to understand the terminology that is needed to use the interface effectively, and the rest of the process supports asking questions in forums, finding further information through links and more. Some of the side projects that were developed from Virtual Atom Smasher include to TooTR framework that supports creating tutorials that are web-based and include videos and interactive parts. During the project, they have attracted 790 registered participants, 43 spent more than 12 hours with the game. Now the game is gaining attention from more scientists who are now seeing that it is worth while to engage with citizen science. The project is fusing volunteer computing and volunteer thinking.

wp-1453882325415.jpgGeoTag-X provides a demonstrator for volunteer thinking, and was developed by UNITAR. It allow the capturing of relevant imagery and pictures from disaster or conflict situations. It support UNITAR humanitarian operations. They wanted to assess if the system is useful. They have 549 registered volunteers, with 362 completing at least one task. GeoTag-X engaged with the humanitarian Geo community – for example with GISCorps, UN Volunteers Online, and Humanity Road.

The Synthetic Biology pilot included the development of MOOC that explains the principles of the area, the game Hero.coli, developed a new spectrometer that will be produced at very large scale in India.

wp-1453889426937.jpgOur own extreme citizen science pilots focused on projects that use cyberlab technology, so focusing on air quality monitoring in which we used GeoKey and EpiCollect to record the location of diffusion tubes and the street context in which it was installed. In addition, we included the use of public lab technology for studying the environment, and playshops to explore the exposure to science.

The research into learning and creativity, shown that there is plenty of learning of the ‘on topic’ and the mechanics of the citizen science, with small minority showing deep engagement with active learning. There is variety of learning – personal development – from self-confidence to identity and cultural change; generic knowledge and skills; and finally project specific aspects. The project provides a whole set of methods for exploring citizen science: checklists that can be used to help designing for citizen science learning, surveys, interviews, analysing blogs, user analytics, and lab studies. Some of the interesting finding include: in GeoTag-X, even a complex interface was learnt quite quickly, and connecting emotionally to the issue of humanitarian issue and participation can predict learning. The Virtual Atom Smasher demonstrated that participants learned about the work of scientists and science (e.g. the plenty use of statistics). wp-1453894997879.jpgIn SynBio4All, there was plenty of organisational skills, lab work, scientific communication and deeper contact with science – all through need to involved in a more significant way. The ExCiteS pilots show involvement and emotional learning, and evidence for community ‘hands on’ situated learning with high engagement of participants. There are examples for personal development, scientific literacy and community organisation, hosting workshop and other skills. One of the major achievement of this study is a general survey, which had 925 complete responses and 2500 partial ones – from volunteers across citizen science (80 projects) –  clusters show 25% learn about technology and science skills, 21% learn about the topic and scientific skills, about 20% learn about science skills, but some collaboration and communication, 13% pure on-topic learning. In citizen science, high percentage learn from project documentation, next about 20% learns through the project and some from documentation, about 17% learn from the project and external documentation, next there was a group learning through discussion. Most feel that they learn (86%). learning is not initial motivation, but become an important factors, and also learning about new area of science. Highly engaged volunteers take on specific and various roles – translators, community managers, event organisers etc.

wp-1453931104656.jpgOn the creativity side, interviews provided the richest source of information on creativity and how it is integrated into citizen science. Interviews with 96 volunteers provided one of the biggest qualitative survey in citizen science. Motivations – curiosity, interest in science and desire to contribute to research. They sustained participation due to continued interest, ability, time. The reasons for different audience composition are task time, geography and subject matter. In a lab study, it was shown that citizen cyberscience results are related to immersion in the game. There is also evidence that people are multi-tasking – they have plenty of distractions to the engagement in any given online project. The key finding about creativity include examples in the analysis of the images and geotagging in GeoTag-X. in the Virtual Atom Smasher, adjusting parameters seen as creative, while in SynBio4all the creation of games, or the creation of the MOOC were examples of creativity. In ExCiteS there are photos, drawing, sculptures , blog posts With air quality we’ve seen examples of newsletter, t-shirts, or creating maps. There are routes through the Motivations, learning and creativity. Might need to look at models for people who lead projects. To support creativity face-to-face collaboration is important, allow entry level of volunteers, and provide multiple methods for volunteers to provide feedback.

wp-1453931086530.jpgIn terms of engagement – we carried out ThinkCamp events, linking to existing online communities, working through engagement and participation. Interestingly, analysis of twitter shown following from fellow researchers and practitioners in citizen science.

The citizen cyberlab will now continue as an activity of the university of Geneva – so watch this space!





New publication: Citizen Science and the Nexus (water, energy, food, population)

Under the leadership of Roger Fradera of the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial College London, I was involved as a co-author on a ‘thinkpiece’ about citizen science and the nexus. If you haven’t come across the term, ‘nexus’ is the linkage of food, energy, water and the environment as a major challenge for the future.

The paper is now published:

Fradera, R., Slawson, D., Gosling, L., Geoghegan, H., Lakeman-Fraser, P.,  Makuch, K. Makuch, Z., Madani, K., Martin, K., Slade, R., Moffat, A. and Haklay, M. Exploring the nexus through citizen science, Nexus Network think piece Series, Paper 010, November 2015

The paper explores the background of citizen science, and then suggests few recommendations in the context of the nexus, including:

  • Inclusivity: a co-created citizen science approach is likely to be more appropriate both to address the more complex nexus issues and to engage all sectors of society.
  • Engagement: Citizen science practitioners and nexus scientists should explore developing citizen science programmes with multi-scale engagement of citizens, for example programmes focusing on a nexus issue that combine local, citizen-led or co-created projects.
  • Barriers: Research is needed to understand the motivations, attitudes and willingness to change behaviours across all nexus stakeholders, and to better understand and find solutions to barriers.

The work was funded under the ESRC Nexus Network initiative

Citizen Science: theory, practice & policy 

As part of the Israeli Geographical Association meeting in Jerusalem, I was asked to give a half day workshop on “Citizen Science: theory, practice and policy (with case studies from UK & Germany)”. The workshop learning objectives:

  • Knowledge of the field of citizen science and current trends that influence it
  • Understand the principles and practical aspects of designing a citizen science project
  • Experience of citizen science activity
  • Learn about additional resources that can be used to design and run citizen science projects
  • Understand the policy trends that are influencing the field

There are many slides in this set, and the set includes links to resources, timing, use of existing applications and more. This is the description in Hebrew:

מטרת הסדנא : (שאורכה 3-3.5 שעות) היא להציג את תחום מדע התושבים
הפוטנציאל שלו במחקר המדעי, ניהול הסביבה , תכנון עירוני או פיתוח קהילתי. הסדנא אינה
מניחה ידע או נסיון קודם, אך מתאימה גם לאנשים עם ידע בתחום המעוניינים בדוגמאות
לתהליכים אלו במקומות שונים בעולם ובאמצעות מגוון פרקטיקות. הסדנא תבחן את תפקיד
ותדגים כיצד החשיבות שלה אינה מבטלת את הצורך בגישה CS הטכנולוגיה בפרויקטים של
כוללנית לגיום ויצירת מעורבות של אנשים. בסדנא יוצגו דגמאות של תהליכים בתחום
האקולוגיה וניטור סביבתי, צדק סביבתי, פיתוח קהילתי , בריאות ומוכנות לאסונות. במהלך
בפועל. הסדנא תכלול מבוא וסקירת התחום, CS הסדנא יתנסו המשתתפים בתהליך של
הכוללת יציאה לשטחים CS והתנסות מעשית בתהליך של CS דוגמאות לפרויקטים של
פתוחים באוניברסיטה ואיסוף נתונים.

New Citizen Science for air quality campaign

Mapping for Change, the social enterprise that I co-founded, has been assisting community groups to run air quality studies for the past 5 years. During this period we have worked in 30 communities across London, carrying out studies with different tools – from collecting leaves, to examining lichens, to using diffusion tubes. We have also followed the development of low-costs sensors – for example, through participation in the AirProbe challenge EveryAware project or hosting a discussion about the early stages of the Air Quality Egg.

We found out that of the simple tools that are available to anyone, and that require little training, NO2 diffusion tubes are very effective. We’ve seen them used as a good sign of the level of pollution, especially from traffic. They sense pollution from diesel vehicles.

We also found that reliable equipment that can measure particulate matter known as PM2.5 (very small dust considered harmful) and other pollutants is expensive – as high as £5000 and more. Unfortunately, low-cost equipment cannot give accurate information that can be used in making a case for action.

Now, after developing the methodology for working with different groups and supporting local efforts, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a large scale data collection campaign using diffusion tubes, with an aim to go beyond and create an equipment library that can be used by communities – free of charge apart from disposable parts (filters) and delivery – that can be shared across London and beyond.

With a community investment of £250 we will deliver 10 diffusion tubes and support the creation of a local NO2 map. There are other levels of support to the campaign – including sponsoring a specific piece of equipment.

Use this opportunity and organise a local air quality map for your area!