Non-traditional data approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals workshop

The workshop took place in IIASA, which is located in Laxenburg in Austria. The workshop was hosted by the earth observation and citizen science group at IASSA. The workshop focus on the interface between citizen science, earth observation, and traditional data collection methods in the context of monitoring and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A contextual/perspective academic paper is an expected output of the workshop, so this post is only a summary of the opening presentations. There is also an overlap with the aim of the WeObserve project and the communities of practice in it.

The Earth Observation community geared up already to how it can contribute to the SDGs. EuroGEOSS workshop identified several SDGs where there can be a contribution of citizen science: No. 3 in wealth and wellbeing (e.g. greenspace in cities), No. 4 on quality of education, No. 5 in gender equality, No. 6 on water quality and flood management, No. 11 on sustainable cities – air quality, noise, empty houses, No. 14 – plastics, and No. 15 in species monitoring, disease, and finally on Global Partnership (No. 17).

DSCN3119Australian Citizen Science Association view – some awareness to SDGs and few projects that are linked to SDGs explicitly, though there is an issue of details. From the US CSA, the view is that there are projects that can be linked – water monitoring, CoCoRHaS, phenology, and eBird. Examples also include grassroots environmental monitoring, or the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. CitizenScience.Asia is a new network – in the context of China, people collect data to understand the environment, to collect evidence and protect rights, and for pure curiosity. The Blue-map used to report water pollution, it then goes to the government, and after being vetted it is shown, and some of it does not show. There are contributory DNA commercial project, but also “China Nature Watch” or Bauhinia Genome project that asks people to share information in Hong Kong. There are bottom-up projects, which include selling test kits for water which is used by people who share it on an online map – after 400-500 data points, the website was shut down by the government. There is also links to Public Lab – creating an automatic water monitor for flow. DSCN3122 Citizen Science Africa Association (CitSAF) – in Kenya the SDGs is getting attention (following the MDGs). NGOs activities are not synced with the government. Government pay attention to health, water, and education. CitSAF emerged from links to UNEP and focused on Kenya – air quality, some research on Malaria, and they can see interest in Nigeria, South Africa and other countries. CitSAF wants to increase the involvement and responsibility of citizens in African countries towards their natural and socio-cultural environment, especially in monitoring the SDGs. The SDG/CS Maximisation group which works across the citizen science associations (which Libby Hepburn coordinates) pointed out that the challenge is the bottom-up – from practitioners, and top-down from the UN and different countries. There is work on the credibility aspects of citizen science. There are is a need for facilitation between the CS community and the SDG community to progress things. The Citizen Science Global Partnership – launched in December 2017, as a network of networks to support citizen science activities. The global partnership has ideas and interest in working with the SDG but they are aspirational at the moment. They include – a platform for coordinating citizen science under the banner of SDG.

The Stockholm Environment Institute analysis of citizen science and SDGs: SEI has worked on environment/development over 30 years with many participatory activities, and worked explicitly on citizen science for the past 10 years. In the analysis they identified that citizen science can be used to refine and define goals; then monitoring; and even for achieving – e.g. in education, gender. The Citizen Science Centre in Zurich focuses on a platform – to allow projects, knowledge in the area, community of citizens and scientists, and projects. The open seventeen challenge is a good example for challenge-based workshops that help people to develop projects. There is an aim for developing an SDG citizen science toolkit. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission has created an inventory of citizen science activities and mapping them against the SDGs with results being published soon. In addition, there is an effort of a standard for citizen science data and metadata with links to COST Action effort. There is a potential for recording aspects of participants if that is appropriate in the metadata. There is a specific effort of developing guidelines for environmental reporting in a process that will allow it to be cross EU.

SDSN – Sustainable Development Solution Network set up by the UN for the implementation of the sustainable development, with 800 members of universities, and other groups. Within that, the TRENDS group focuses on data governance? How people can integrate data from new sources. 20 expert members and focus on strengthening the data ecosystem, improve learning and data sharing, developing policies, and inform investment. The work is framed around data governance and use. The POPGRID project is attempting to reconcile different sources of data to get good population estimates. Another UN effort is the UN-GGIM have done work on identifying geospatial sources that can be used in SDG with an analysis to understand the indicators at different tiers – the There is an opportunity to understand which indicators information is considered relevant, and where are data gaps. The thinking about crowdsourced and citizen science data is how to find it how to have metadata, understanding comparability and good usability for an SDG indicator. The is an issue about the global spatial data infrastructure for citizen science and crowdsourced data. There is a need to budget for data management, metadata recording and sharing of information from crowdsourced projects. There is a call for good practises and lessons learnt about the SDG indicators in the sustainable development knowledge platform.

UN Environment pointed that the SDGs includes 244 indicators, and they were developed through the inter-agency and expert group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDG). The custodian agency is developing a methodology, improving capacity, and getting and using the data. The three types of data include country submission of data, data that is complimented with international estimates, and some global data products. There is an effort to consider a mapping exercise and then think where it can be used. A way forward is to identify one indicator, and try to get it accepted – need to be Tier 3. So the opportunity for citizen science is in an indicator that needs to be tier 3, but without an internationally established methodology or standard.



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Professor of GIScience, University College London

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