EU BON round table discussion on supporting citizen science, Berlin

The EU BON is a European project, focusing on building the European Biodiversity Observation Network. Now, with the growing recognition of citizen science as a source of biodiversity observations, a meeting dedicated to the intersection was organised in Berlin today, following the ECSA meeting

The project carried out gap analysis of the available data, which also explores the role of citizen science data. Understanding these aspects was the motivation for the meeting.

Jose Miguel Rubio Iglesias (DG R&I) discussed the link between science-society-policy at the EU level. He noted that Citizen Science has an established tradition, especially in environmental observations. There is no common definition, interpretation and classification for citizen science. Some typologies are based on project goals, degree of citizen engagement (contributory, collaborative, co-created) and links to policy. There are studies that were created by scientists and those that were created by citizens. There are new initiatives that emerge from new technologies (citizen cyberscience). He noted that ICT tools provide both opportunity to participate and also access to the latest science. Collaborative power of ICT can allow influencing environmental policy, and lead to more sustainable behaviour and lifestyle. The challenges that are linked to citizen science, include: engaging broader spectrum of society, beyond those who have access to smartphone but also not well off; Recognition of the work by scientists and policy makers; how to guarantee that there is action on the findings;  quality of data; security and privacy of data about participants; incorporating local knowledge – not only seeing citizens as sensors but co-design; and acknowledging ownership and feedback. There is also criticism – do we need to use ICT in the first place?

The background for the policy aspect of citizen science can be the Aarhus convention (1998) the emphasised public participation in decision making which was translated to Directive 2003/35/EC. In the SEIS implementation outlook, it was realised that citizens also provide information and not just consumed information, as this is also reflected in the 7th environment action programme 2014-2020 in priority objective 5 which focused on improving knowledge and evidence for EU environment policy. Citizen science is mentioned in the text.

The policy perspectives of dealing with the gap between citizen science and policy is done through several activities – the work on responsible research & innovation is relevant, although it includes wider societal issues such as Science is another importance area for the EU, looking at the ICT enabled transformation of science – so open access and citizen engagement. Finally, the area of global systems science, where there is the need to allow citizens to participate. Finally, there is the need to progress the concept of citizen observatories. One definition is “communities of citizens sharing technological solutions and community participatory governance methods aided by social media streams with the objectives to deliver environmental observations”. Issues that are open include level of maturity of solutions, ways of citizens to influence environmental policy making etc. The scientific perspectice include data management and conflation with authoritative data. There is a need to narrow the gap between citizens-science and policy, but need to develop truly participatory process.

Christoph  Häuser is the coordinator of EU BON. He noted that biodiversity is critical for the life support of the planet, but biodiversity observations are varied, so GBIF data portal demonstrate that information is not covering many areas. The structure of the project (which got 30 partners and it is 5 years long) is around creating data sources and infrastructure and then science and application, and finally policy and dialogue. There are many links to citizen science – data sources and mobilising involvement in adding observation records, exploring the data generations by citizens. Trying to do that through a science-based social network with communities of practice, and a technological network of interoperable sources and trying to use existing infrastructure instead of adding new one.

Citizen science can be used for biodiversity assessment and monitoring, using technology based recording schemes, adding to environmental education and supporting education network, so trying to. In the Museum fur Naturkunde Berlin they created an app for anymals + plants to allow recording information that is available in the area, using GBIF.

Lucy Robinson from the NHM in London, provided a European perspective on citizen science. The NHM got interface between science and public engagement. The museum been doing citizen science for 10 years, supporting amateur experts – and they have citizen science in the galleries and encouraging people to carry it out after the visit to the museum. The aim of citizen science at the NHM is about engagement, education and delivering high impact scientific research. The definition that NHM use is citizen science the involvement of volunteers that contribute to scientific endeavour – research or monitoring. It is possible to define what is not citizen science: when the data is not usable at the end, as well as science communication projects. Citizen science is not replacing existing monitoring activities and need to be aware that it won’t replace existing effort, and it cost about £100,000 per year to run per project. There are key drivers – for scientific levels, policy and human levels. Need to maximise the potential of citizen science projects without squashing projects, and the awareness of citizen science over the past 5-10 years it been growing very fast. There are grouping of European Natural History museums, and ECSA which provide opportunities to share best practice. She explained the role of ECSA and the 10 principles of citizen science. One of the follow on questions was about the definition of what is a citizen scientist, and the ability to act as professional scientist during the day and citizen scientist as a volunteer in their free time.

The second session of the day focused on data mobilisation. Antonio Garcia Camacho discussed the EU BON biodiversity data portal, which integrates data from GBIF and LTER centres, with taxonomy providers. He gave a demonstration of the system.

Jaume Piera discussed the requirements, as in yesterday, highlighting that the process is not unidirectional from monitoring to delivery, but to have multiple loops that people collect information and use it at any stag. in collaborative citizen science there is a need to use social media channels – the requirements are: engagements, data qualification, tracking systems (who is using my data and what for, do I agree with it), privacy rules and system integration. Requirement model
He explains, with examples, the advantages of data access tracking. With this system, it is possible to provide recognition to contributions and efforts to the people that contributed and manipulated the data. Questions in the discussion explored the traceability, metadata and trust in the data, keeping trace of what happen to the information is important.

The final presentation from Simao Belchior of Vizzuality, explored the fall of dta portals and the future of data workflow or data access, visualisation and products. Vizzuality created different products that are easy to use and well design, including Global Forest Watch. With their focus on visualisation, they emphasise the move to publishing information in portals – data is available on line, but not accessible.There is also an issue with too much data that stream from new systems. The suggestion is to develop applications that allow doing things when they the people who use them need them – doing one thing well. Likely the same app will not fit all needs and users. Some examples of that include zooniverse projects.

The follow on discussion raised the issue the ability to explore new data set and find unknown patterns in comparison to well designed, but limited to specific task, applications. For the flexibility, data download and API can help, but this bring challenges of using GIS, for example.

The afternoon explored some data providers. Veljo Runnel presented a survey about researchers readiness for citizen science data in Estonia – in the Baltic countries, the term is not familiar. Researchers are willing to engage volunteers (85%) even though they are not using them. NGOs are more engaged with volunteers and government agencies, but scientist in universities are less willing to do so. The reason for engaging with volunteers – not enough resources, big effort to engage and don’t have capabilities – or the data is too specific to be suitable, and of course, concern about data quality.

Christos Arvanitidis, talked about crowdsourcing initiative in the meditaranian area. The citizen science projects include: COMBER – sea life, CIGESMED – evaluation the good environmental status of Corals. They try to develop indicators and engage divers to provide information – pictures in predefined states , AmvrakikosBirds is a project to support bird watching in the Amvrakikos gulf. COMBER, which is about fish and sea life, is done with diving and sailing clubs – so not experience divers, this is challenging to do and they use the BIO-WATCH card of identification of fishes types, and also work with divers and snorkelers community. Submitting observations through a website. Information is going from COMBER to and they have a mobile app that allow submitting data.

Nils Valland (Norway) talked about citizen science and species occurrence data in Europe. He assumes 150 portals/sytems around, about 120-250 mil records. This lead to a total of 207.7 mil records, but only 92.5 mil are in GBIF, so most is not available. Key success factors (from the Norwey system), for quantity – need effective UI, rich services for the user, and environmental impact. For quality, need basic knowledge and motivations, no anonymous login, visibility – report first, qa later, informal voluntary QA and validation on priority species. The accessability of the data require cooperation governmental institutions and NGO, effective data distribution and open license

The artsobservasjoner is the Swedish and Norwegian system for nature observations. They work with 5 NGOs in Norway, 150 validators, and 9000 participants contributing 11.6 million records with 14,000 species.

Dirk Schmeller covered Volunteer Species Monitoring in Europe. Volunteer eager to help monitoring around Europe. The EuMon documents 395 monitoring schemes, annual costs of 4 mil EUR and involving 46,000 people, putting in 148,000 person-day/year to biodiversity monitoring (Schmeller et al 2009). There is a need for government support to make this happen – from public institutions, scientists and managers. It’s a serivce the public give to policy . The more people there are in a programme, the more sites are cover (of course). The EU BON portal need to support volunteers.

Pierre-Philippe Mathieu fro ESA-ESRIN discussed the new era for ESA – the launch of Sentinel 1 will provide monitoring for several decades, fully open and accessible data. SAR sattelite can be used from sea ice to land use. ESA see the societal need, and paying attention to Nexus issues. They try to do science in society – ESA will produce a lot of data, and putting all the data together will be a challenge. We will get ZettaB, problems with filtering information. Volume of data is unmanagable, and developing the ability to deal with the data before delivering a product – it will see it as data management issue. RS data need interpretation, so need to figure out how to build components that allow analysis as the data come in. Some citizen science activities – e.g. the geowiki application that allow people to classify information about land use are relevant to ESA. There is also the post-2015 devleopment goals – they want to be able to use crowd sourcing and working through data revolution.

Fermin Serrano Sanz covered Socientize project and the white paper on citizen science. The white paper came with over 200 contributors. At the macro level, they recommend ‘citizen science think tank’ for promotion, coordination, monitoring, evaluation, collaboration. At the meso level, body like ECSA with adaptable guidelines.

Luigi Ceccaroni covered the citclops project about the marine area, and examples of optical monitoring of marine environments. The observations are about the colour, transperancy and fluorescence of water. They focus specifically on DIY, low costs sensors.

Jamie Williams covered COBWEB, consume crowd sourced environmental data, then autmatic quality measure and outputing to standards such as INSPIRE. They specifically focus through GEOSS without resriction. The aim is that sensors in the environment, and the crowd provide the information and improve it. They focus on UNESCO world network or Biospehere reserve – they will extend to Greece and Germany. Several demonstration applications – validating earth observations, biological monitoring and flooding. Engagement with school, marine research centre, RSPB orgnaisation, educational charity, park authority and other bodies. They are co-designing the software according to what they would want to do. The co-design is with group from 15 to 100 and they got project contacts and person that is in charge of working with them. The community champions work with project person to discuss the applications with the developer – not direct link community – developer to ensure translation.

Siro Masinde discuss citizen science in GBIF. GBIF – 52 countries and 40  organisation. free and open access biodiversity data and promote common standards and tools and guiding national information facilities. GBIF got 517M specific records, 1.45 mil species and 13,945 datasets. About 33% are from citizen science. Most of it are charismatic taxa nad easy to recongize – birds and butterfly and grasses. Data from citizen science is key to some taxa groups. The sources for citizen science data include data from ireland (bioblitz), denmark, costa rica etc. eBird, iNaturalist, Anymals_plants, Diveboard and the scnadinavian networks. They have crowdsourcing projects in france, Australia nad Norway. Transcriptions are helping with that. eBird highly significant, when removing it, Sweden and UK come to the top contribution. They would like to have endorsement of datasets and community assessment and evaluation of data set before publication, also would like to see quality and fitness for use information, and some reference datasets.

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Professor of GIScience, University College London

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