European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) general assembly (Berlin)

The European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) reached an important stage in its development, with a general assembly in Berlin on 26th November 2014. The organisation was finally formally registered as a German charity in April, so now it’s time to consider future directions and developments. The assembly had about 50 participants with new members joining in the association, which now has a full time staff member. As in many organisations, one there is someone with a day job of running the organisation, things start to happen.

Andrea Sforzi, one of the trustees started the day discussing its history – from early discussions in July 2012 to setting up the organisation, registration and to the current day. He noted that there are positive policy indication about the role of citizen science, e.g. the report to the EU from December 2013, which recognised that the potential of environmental citizen science has largely untapped. With the White Paper on citizen science from Socientize, we now have policy documents to support citizen science and we should use them to develop the field. In terms of the strengths, ECSA already building on strong core organisations. On the weakness side, there is wide variety of citizen science across and inside EU countries, as well as a need for funding, and business structures are still unstable. There is also ongoing challenges over the scientific value of data. Some of the challenges that ECSA need to deal with are cultural differences, different tools, and re-evaluate the role of people and to invest in citizen scientists. Maintain interest and participation over time. External challenges are the acceptance of data. Andrea pointed that we need to share experiences, stay inclusive, broad and open minded – people before data!! We need to accelerate the development of the network, and national communities, how to assure guidance and maintain a ballanced approach among the different topics within ECSA.

We have also an address from Jose Miguel Rubio Iglesias from the Climate Actions and Earth Observations unit (DG R&I) covered the citizens’ observatory. He suggested some possible definitions from the current set of projects, but in many of the current definitions of citizen observatories there is too much focus on ICT and the definition need to move to people. From the EC guidance to the goals of Horizon 2020, there is an emphasis on participatory democracy in terms of the environment, empower citizens to make informed decisions, engaging broader spectrum in terms of awareness and environmental protections. There is also potential to empower communities and get in-situ monitoring while reducing costs (a win win situation). The set of citizens’ observatories that is currently running already providing demonstration, and starting to see pilot activities and the development of working methods to establish citizens observatories. For example, WeSenseIt created some applications – smart umbrella and the commission want to see also jobs creation from observatories through innovation. Citclops – started to engage stakeholder communities and validated their results. They take open data and DIY apporach – need to see how it continue after the project. Omniscientis is a project that just finished, with odor monitoring and worked as an open lab approach – an app Odomap released.Citi-sense about to launch city scale projects, and developed a range of sensors. All in all good development for the next call, with total budget of 20 mil EU and expectations of proposals of 3-5 mil. There is awareness at the EC that it’s early stage for development. They want to see more examples of co-designed approach rather than treating citizens as data collectors.

Elizabeth Tyson reported on the workshop that was just completed in the US, exploring how to integrate citizen science in national climate assessment

Guillermo Santamaria Pampliega gave a video talk, and highlighted the commonalities between citizen science and RRI. Because Citizen science links engagement, co-responsibility, co-creation, inclusiveness, sustainability, and openness, this make it very similar to RRI – thinking about thew process of science but also the outcomes.

Claudia Goebel (who is working for ECSA now!) discussed the work programme for 2015 – communication and engagement with citizens and scientists, organisational development and networking, piloting EU wide citizen science programmes, EU policy engagement, collecting and engaging best practices, EU participatory data access and handling system. These were then covered by people from the different working group of ECSA

A lot of discussion followed Lucy Robinson’s presentation of the 10 principles of citizen science – trying to move from principles to a final version that will go on the site. Jade Cawthray from NHM discussed the developing a guidance on best practices – something like 15 pages, covering issues of running citizen science projects, bioblitzes, a lot to discuss on data handling and sharing, and the quality. Also covered will be open access and how it is possible to access to people – to what degree it is suitable for citizen scientists to read. Finally evaluation, recruitment , motivation of volunteers.

The discussion of the principles focused on understanding what research mean – does it need to be hypothesis led or not, and how to provide space for discoveries and monitoring.

Jaume Piera discussed the current concept of developing ECSA data portal came next. The role of citizens need to be different – closing the loop by giving them access and control over the data. Not just extractive relationship to their work but also allowing them to participate in the process. Expectations are that there will be different quality of information and data but still keep it all. The way to do that is to have integration of general public and scientists. The need for a new portal is to have engagement abilities, some data qualification – not to say that it’s not valid. Include labels for the data. Need tracking systems – who is using my data, and what for. Need to consider privacy rules and system integration with other systems. Considering the built up on the basis of iNaturalist,

In the discussion it was highlighted that the portal need to be linked to other working groups of ECSA.

Martin Brocklehurst – was pointing that current regulations and directives do not include citizen science and suggested policy direction. There are discussions within the commission about the citizen science white papers. There is plenty of resistance in policy makers about the data quality and there are different view. But is ECSA ready for promoting policy and substantiate  it with good evidence that will convince policy makers? It might be possible to develop a road map of how to put citizen science into directives and policy. Some directives are already blocking citizen science data and need to be changed.

Poppy Lakeman-Fraser -discussed the communication and conference directions. Issues that are considered are the form of membership (paid/unpaid) and benefits. There is a need to further work on the reason for people to participate.There was early discussion on the directions of the planned conference for February 2016.

Most of the afternoon focus on procedural aspects – which is a good thing, as the organisation is starting to take shape. An advisory board was elected, changes to the articles of association, discussion of budget, and plans for funding. The positive atmosphere and the willingness of current members to contribute to ECSA is encouraging.

During the day, I have acted as a representative of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) while also being a member of ECSA. There was interest in the development of the journal ‘citizen science: theory and practice’ and interest in the process of forming the CSA. Many people plan to come to the CSA conference next February which is a good thing, and the memorandum of understanding between ECSA, CSA and the Citizen Science Network Australia was adopted in the final call. People were especially interest in the wide reach of disciplines that CSA includes.


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