Standards and Recommendations for Citizen Science (University of Zurich)

Following a short project that was headed by Daniel Wyler of the University of Zürich in collaboration with the League of European Research Universities, two draft documents aimed at universities and research funders were developed. The documents can be found here, and there is scope to comments and suggest changes for the next month on them.  The university organised a one day workshop to discuss the findings of the work and the need for guidelines and standards.

The opening remakes came from Michael Hengartner (President, University of Zurich) highlighting the commitment of the university to openness as secular university and one of the first in Switzerland to be open to women. Switzerland has a long tradition of participatory democracy, though it also create challenges (e.g. participation in Horizon 2020). Citizen Science is a way for Swiss scientists to take advantage of the strong tradition of participatory democracy and very strong universities. There is also early involvement in citizen science – for example through the university of Geneva (citizen cyberscience centre) in collaboration with CERN and UNITAR. The reports are the result of the Citizen Science Initiative Switzerland. One of the initiative of CSI is the standards for excellence in citizen science and policy recommendations. They create a citizen science centre in Zürich, with infrastructure to facilitate and support citizen science across the world.

Next came a short note from Alice Shepard (citizen scientist, Galaxy Zoo) shared her experience as a citizen scientists who became lead forum moderator at Galaxy Zoo. Came to citizen science by accident – in 2007 became a lead forum moderator from being a lead volunteer and active. Her background is environmental science, and was frustrated from the lack of engagement of the public in her studies. In 2007, she became involved in galaxy zoo and it became an obsession. Different people have different skills and abilities to teach each others – they collaboration between volunteers started to find new things: one offs, accidental findings and that’s the way ordinary citizens, without much specific science training found new things and started their own projects. In galaxy zoo there is a safe space of the forum which was well behaved and allow questioning of many issues and explorations. They then started to have meetups and gathering and abilities to join on projects. They discovered classes of astronomical objects, and appear in book by Michael Nielsen. Lay people can do science to build new tools. Galaxy zoo treated volunteers as collaborators, write regular blog posts to work that recognised volunteers, recognition on page, and encourages safe civilised space on the internet an encouraged to find new things. Becoming a professional scientist is a challenge to become  – the general public are very capable, and we want to join in. the people who want to become professional scientists experience difficulties – gaining degrees, writing academically – so need to open new routes to science.

Following Alice, I gave an overview of Citizen Science (slides below)

Next was a talk by Michael Pocock (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) about    Thoughtful enthusiasm for Citizen Science instead of just enthusiasm to citizen science, having a more careful and reflective one. There are many projects that are following under the title citizen science, but provocatively he argues that there is no such thing as citizen science: science is science – it should be judged as such, so shouldn’t have special treatment. Secondly, a problem with citizen – should be people or participants, and it is term of convenience – types of approaches which have common attributes. Citizen science need ‘real’ science with excellent engagement – citizen science is not about compromised between the two but merging the two. While examining the Shirk et al typology of contributory/collaborative/co-created citizen science, The Biological Recording Centre in which he works use multiple methods. A very important type of projects are enthusiasm led and the volunteers led the projects completely, with professionals providing support and tools. Citizen Science has a long standing activities in ecology and wildlife. Even for the BRC it is very diverse – across many taxa. It is possible to enthuse people about a very wide range of topics and not only popular species. The UK have 70,000 volunteers a year, ranging from occasional recorders, to non-professional experts. The work lead to high impact papers and understanding issues such as climate change. They also contribute to evidence based policy. Citizen science has diversity, with the analysis of many projects show that they are in a full range, from mass participation to systematic monitoring, and from simple to an elaborate approach. Citizen Science is like a toolbox – need to use the appropriate type and approach to citizen science to the issue. Be careful of being carried out by hype – that the project can become too big to fail, and lacking critical evaluation, so we would like to see thoughtful reflection on where it should be used. Universities offer cutting-edge research, societal impact, new technology, enthusiastic researchers and innovation. There is also hypothesis led citizen science such as conker tree and there is value in short term projects at a small scale. Need integrity to finish and close a project and finish it well. Need to preserve the fun and to some extent the anarchy that is common in citizen science

Next came the policy overview, in Open Science: From Vision to Action with Jean-Claude Burgelman (Head of Unit Science Policy, Foresight and Data, DG R&I at European Commission). The commissioner view is open innovations, open science and open to the world. Open Science is a systematic change in the modus operandi of science and research, and affective the research cycle and its stakeholders. From the usual close cycle of doing the cycle of science in a closed way to an open publication, review, blogs, open data, open annotations, workflows, code, pre-print services – new ecosystems of services and standards. We see activities of major companies getting involved in different ways in the new tools (e.g. Elsevier and Mendeley). It’s key drivers – digital technology, exponential growth of data, more researchers and increased in scientific production. There are plenty things happen at one: open source software, collaborative knowledge production creative commons, open innovation, Moocs etc. We need to use the openness to increase transparency, openness and networked collaboration – getting trustworthiness from the public. Citizen science as a way to link science and society and being responsive to their needs. The public consultation for Science 2.0 led to  many responses, leading to the selection of open science. 47% agree that citizen science is part of open science – the lowest response from scientists, while 80% argue that it’s because of digital technologies. The barriers for open science are quality assurance, lack of credits, infrastructure and awareness to benefits. Interestingly, less than 70% were concerns about ethical and privacy issues. People viewed that the implications for science will make science more reliable, efficient and faster leading to wider innovation, while crowdfunding is not seen as important indication of open science. In terms of policy – there was policy about open access to publication, data, infrastructure and framework conditions – need to ensure that it is bottom-up and stakeholder-driven – not a top-down solution from Brussels. Decided on open science policy – 5 blocks: foster open science, remove barriers, developing infrastructures (open science cloud), open access on publication and data, and socio-economic driver. In fostering open science – promoting best practices, research integrity, citizen science and similar area -and establish an open science forum. Also mainstream open access to publications and data in Horizon 2020. The open cloud for science is challenging – require governance, data and service layer and infrastructure layer. The policy forum includes a working group on citizen science. Citizen science is important – but should be seen as part of the wider open science landscape

Another view of processes that are happening at the policy level was provided by Claudia Göbel (European Citizen Science Association, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin) in Citizen Science associations as Agents of Professionalisation using the Socientize framework, looking at the mesoscale and macroscale. We’re seeing growth in national (Austria, Germany) and international – Citizen Science Association, Australian Citizen Science Association and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). ECSA got 84 members from 22 countries – they have organisations, and members – about 66% are from science organisation, and four important hubs – Germany, Spain, Italy and UK – but that depends on the history of ECSA and how its network grown over the past 5 years. ECSA started to set up some of the key documents: ECSA strategy – part of the activity is to be a think tank for citizen science – sharing knowledge & skills across field, and linking to international links. Many of the members are involved in ecology and biodiversity and therefore there is a link to dealing with sustainability though citizen science, and developing participatory methods for cooperation, empowerment and impact. ECSA also developing memorandum of understanding with ACSA and CSA. Interesting response between the association came as a response to the Nature editorial on citizen science. The capacity building working group has launched the ten principles of citizen science – and try to identify good practice within a flexible concept. Responses to policy document can be challenging within a volunteer based organisation. ECSA have an important effort in environmental policy, and in Responsible Research and Innovation. We have seen the ECSA is located at the meso level in exchange and capacity building in the Socientize framework – doing the multiplier effect. In the university sector – some specific research group, museum or sub-organisation is members of ECSA . Also example for innovation in citizen science and new mechanisms, structures process for an area. What we are seeing is a process of professionalisation – fostering learning and action, providing information and services and expertise – creating community of peers, standards, and quality and they will play a role in the field as a whole.

This was followed by a panel discussion which was moderated by Mike Martin (Gerontopsychology, University of Zurich) with myself, Lidia Borrell-Damián (Director Research and Innovation, European University Association), Jennifer Shirk (Field Development Coordinator, Citizen Science Association), Josep Perelló (OpenSystems Research and Complex Lab Barcelona, Universitat de Barcelona), Effy Vayena (Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Prevention Institute, University of Zurich), François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Centre, University of Geneva), Dirk Helbing (Computational Social Science, ETH Zurich), Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo)


The afternoon was dedicated to two workshops Policy Recommendations for Funding Moderator: Jean-Claude Burgelman, who noted that as policy maker, defining everything as citizen science – calling any informal participation in science is not useful for policy making. Some of the recommendations that the people in the room made include: Need to be clear about innovation, sharing of intellectual properties. Need to ensure that there are clear benefits to citizen scientists – commitment to professional training, and opportunities that are opened to them. Every research institution should develop a policy on open science as part of that citizen science. There is need for data management plans. The software development of an infrastructure is lots of time are not well covered in usual funding. Citizen science require a social infrastructure that is not part of the current rewarding of scientists and organisations. Citizen science can be used as an area of a demonstrator for citizen science – open data, open access, open source as a way to transform the field. We need to consider how to work at local, regional, national and European Countries. we also need action to increase the participation in citizen science across Europe. There is also an issue of ‘right for data’ that should allow people to access to their own data. Need to define parameters for high quality science research and the document should be for outside the context.  Quality of the science need to be equivalent to the general scientists, localness of citizen science is an issue that limits academic interest – there isn’t enough recognition of the local aspects and interest.

The second workshop looked at Standards for Citizen Science Moderated by Kevin Schawinski (Astrophysics, ETH Zurich) included some of the following points: do we need standards and rules? maybe we should wait to give it emerging over time. Maybe begin with guidelines, and then let them evolve over time. The citizen scientists need to be involved in setting the standards and working through them. Standards can be used in multiple ways, as a reference to allow people to see how things should work. Good principles can express aspiration of excellence. Quality of the research is multi-faceted – can consider the outcomes (the goals of the project) and evaluating the process through which they were achieved. Acknowledging citizen science through scientific outcomes can be challenging – some people want and don’t want to be named. There are also many ways of authorship, participation and practices between scientific fields. Worth asking the people who participate what they want.

Conclusions: Results and next Steps, was set by Daniel Wyler and Katrien Maes (Chief Policy Office, League of European Research Universities) ‘citizens are not organised’  so the feedback on the documents came so far from more institutional partners – need to engage with the public much more. The general view is that it is worth considering guidelines and principles for universities – it can help funders to fund project and put citizen science in focus. We should have in the guidelines parameters about different levels of participation and engagement. Acknowledgement is an issue that depend on the science and the guidelines should allow variations and practices. There is an issue with judging and assessing citizen science completely different – we should ensure similar valuation. For medical research need to consider how to approach personal data. we should have a single point of entry where they can get support for education and training .

From LERU’s perspective, the papers are important to put citizen science on the map and raise attention. There isn’t just one citizen science, so there is plenty of information awareness raising that is required to make universities aware of the opportunities. For universities, the paper will need to take a narrower view of citizen science – especially integrating it with open science agenda and with the activities of research universities. Guidelines and principles – not regulations and strict rules as this will not be appropriate for the field.

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Professor of GIScience, University College London

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