Science Foo Camp 2016

Science Foo Camp (SciFoo) is an invitation based science unconference that is organised by O’Reilly media, Google, Nature, and Digital Science. Or put it another way, a weekend event (from Friday evening to Sunday afternoon), where 250 scientists, science communicators and journalists, technology people from area that relate to science, artists and ‘none of the above’ come and talk about their interests, other people interests, and new ideas, in a semi-structured way.

As this is an invitation only event, when I got the invitation, I wasn’t sure if it is real – only to replace this feeling with excitement after checking some of the information about it (on Wikipedia and other sites). I was also a little bit concerned after noticing how many of the participants are from traditional natural science disciplines, such as physics, computer science, neuroscience, chemistry, engineering and such (‘Impostor syndrome‘). However, the journey into citizen science, since 2010 and the first Citizen Cyberscience Summit, have led me to fascinating encounters in ecological conferences, physicists and environmental scientists, synthetic biologists, epidemiologists, and experimental physicists, in addition to links to Human-Computer Interaction researchers, educational experts, environmental policy makers, and many more. So I hoped that I could also communicate with the scientists that come to SciFoo.

I was especially looking forward to see how the unconference is organised and run. I’ve experienced unconferences (e.g. WhereCampEU in 2010, parts of State of the Map) and organised the Citizen Cyberscience Summits in 2012 & 2014 where we meshed-up a formal academic conference with unconference. I was intrigued to see how it works when the O’Reilly media team run it, as they popularised the approach.

The event itself run from the evening of Friday to early afternoon on Sunday, with very active 45 hours in between.

wp-1469243960730.jpgThe opening of the event included the following information (from Sarah Winge, Cat Allman, Chris DiBona, Daniel Hook, and Tim O’Reilly): The Foo Camp is an opportunity to bunch of really interesting people to get together and tell each other interesting stories – talk about the most interesting story that you’ve got. The main outputs are new connections between people. This as an opportunities to recharge and to get new ideas – helping each person to recharge using someone else battery. The ground rules include: go to sessions outside your field of expertise – an opportunity to see the world from a different perspective; be as extroverted as you can possibly be – don’t sit with people that you know, as you’ll have a better weekend to talk to different people. The aim is to make a conference that is made mostly from breaks – it’s totally OK to spend time not in a session; the law of two feet – it’s OK to leave and come from sessions and coming and going. It’s a DIY event. There are interesting discussions between competitors commercially, or academically – so it is OK to say that part of the conversations will be kept confidential.

wp-1469414697362.jpgThe expected scramble to suggest sessions and fill the board led to a very rich programme with huge variety – 110 sessions for a day and a half, ranging from ‘Origami Innovations’, ‘Are there Global Tipping Points?’, to ‘Growth Hacking, Rare disease R&D’, and ‘What we know about the universe? and what we don’t know?’. Multiple sessions explored Open science (open collaborations, reproducibility, open access publication), issues with science protocols, increasing engagement in science, gender, social justice side by side with designer babies, geoengineering, life extension, artificial intelligence and much more.

In addition, several curated sessions of lightning talks (5 minutes rapid presentations by participants), provided a flavour and extent of the areas that participants cover. For example, Carrie Partch talk about understanding how circadian cycles work – including the phenomena of social jet-lag, with people sleeping much more at weekends to compensate for lack of sleep during the weekdays. Or Eleine Chew demonstrated her mathematical analysis of different music performances and work as concert pianist.

I’ve followed the advice from Sarah, and started conversation with different people during meals, or on the bus to and from SciFoo, or while having coffee breaks. Actually everyone around was doing it – it was just wonderful to see all around people introducing themselves, and starting to talk about what they are doing. I found myself learning about research on common drugs that can extend the life of mice, brain research with amputees, and discussing how to move academic publications to open access (but somehow ending with the impact of the cold war on the investment in science).

I have organised a session about citizen science, crowdsourcing and open science, in which the discussion included questions about science with monks in Tibet, and patient active involvement in research about their condition. I’ve joined two other sessions about ‘Making Science Communication Thrilling for the Lay Person‘ with Elodie Chabrol (who run Pint of Science) and Adam Davidson; and ‘Science Communication: What? What? How? Discuss‘ with Suze Kundu, Jen Gupta, Simon Watt & Sophie Meekings. Plenty of ideas (and even a sub-hashtag to get responses for specific questions) came from these sessions, but also realisation of the challenges for early career academics in developing their skills in this area, with discouraging remarks from more senior academics, and potential career risks – so we also dedicated thinking about appropriate mechanisms to support public engagement activity.

Another fantastic discussion was led by Kevin Esvelt about ‘Better than nature: ethics of ecological engineering‘ – when this involve gene editing with techniques such as CRISPR with potential far reaching impact on ecological systems. This session just demonstrated how valuable it is to have interdisciplinary conference where the expertise of the people in the room range from geoengineering to ecology and ethics. It was also a mini-demonstration of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) in action, where potential directions of scientific research are discussed with a range of people with different background and knowledge.

The amount of input, encounters and discussion at SciFoo is overwhelming, and the social activities after the sessions (including singing and sitting by the ‘fire’) is part of the fun – though these were very exhausting 40 hours.

Because SciFoo invitees include a whole group of people from science communication, and as SciFoo coincide with Caren Cooper stint of the twitter account @IamSciComm account where she discussed the overlap between citizen science and science communication, I paid attention to the overlap during the meeting. The good news is that many of the scientists had some idea of what citizen science is. I always check that people know the term before explaining my work, so it’s great to see that term is gaining traction. The less good news is that it is still categorised under ‘science communication’ and maybe a useful session would have been ‘What is the problem of scientists with citizen science?’.

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For me, SciFoo raised the question about the value of interdisciplinary meetings and how to make them work. With such a list of organisers, location, exclusiveness and the mystery of invitation (several people, including me, wonder ‘It’s great being here, but how did they found out about my work?’) – all make it possible to get such an eclectic collection of researchers. While it’s obvious that the list is well curated with considerations of research areas, expertise, background, academic career stage, and diversity, the end results and the format open up the possibility of creative and unexpected meetings (e.g. during lunch). My own experience is that to achieve something that approach such a mix of disciplines in a common ‘bottom-up’ academic conference is very challenging and need a lot of work. The Citizen Cyberscience summits, ECSA conference, or the coming Citizen Science Association conference are highly interdisciplinary in terms of the traditional academic areas from which participant come – but they require to convince people to submit papers and come to the conference. Usually, the interdisciplinary event is an additional commitment to their disciplinary focus and this creates a special challenge. Maybe it can be possible to achieve similar interdisciplinary meetings by getting endorsements from multiple disciplinary societies, or get support from bodies with wide remit like the Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering.

Another thought is that the model of reaching out to people and convincing them that it is worth their while to come to such a meeting might also work better in allowing mixing, as open call are impacted by ‘self deselection’ where people decide that the conference is not for them (e.g. getting active participants to a citizen science conference, or ensuring that papers are coming from all flavours of citizen science).

Another delightful aspect is to notice how the unconference format worked with people that (mostly) haven’t experienced it before – the number of slots and opportunities was enough for people to mostly put their sessions forward. Although the call for people to be extroverts, the people with less confident will prepare their ideas more slowly, and can end up outside the grid. It was nice to see how some places in the grid were blocked off during the early stages, and then release to ideas that came during breaks, or for sessions that were proposed more slowly and didn’t secure a spot. There might be also value in restricting people to one session, and then progressing to more? What are the steps that are required to make an unconference format inclusive at the session setting stage?

In contrast to the approach in academic meetings to control the number of parallel sessions (to ensure enough people are showing up to a session), SciFoo is having so many, that most of the sessions are with a small group of about 10 or 20 people. This make it more valuable and suitable for exploratory discussions – which worked well in the sessions that I attended. In a way, at its best, SciFoo is many short brain storming sessions which leave you with a wish to discuss for longer.

If you get an invitation (and being flattered is part of the allure of SciFoo), it is worth going on the Wiki, give a bit of a description of yourself and think about a session that you’d like to propose – +1 can help you to get a feeling that people will be interested in it. Think about a catchy title that includes keywords, and remember that you are talking to intelligent lay people from outside your discipline, so prepare to explain some core principles for the discussion in 5 minutes or so. Don’t dedicate the time to tell people only about your research – think of an issue that bother you to some degree and you want to explore (for me it was the connection between citizen science and open science) and consider that you’ll have one hour to discuss it.

Follow the advice – say hello to everyone and have great conversations during breaks, and don’t go to sessions if the conversation is more interesting. Another take on the meeting is provided by Bjoern Brembs on his blog, with whom I had the open access conversation (and I still unsure how we ended with the Cold War).  Also remember to enjoy the experience, sit by the ‘fire’ and talk about things other than science!

 

 

Esri User Conference – Science Symposium

 

Esri Science Symposium

As part of the Esri User Conference, Dawn Wright, Esri Chief Scientist, organised a Science Symposium that gave an opportunity for those with interest in scientific use of Esri GIS to come together, discuss and meet.

Dawn Wright opened and mentioned that the science symposium is aimed to bring people people from different areas: hydrology, ecology or social sciences – together. The Esri science programme is evolving – and there is official science communication approach. There are different ways to support science including a sabbatical programme. Esri will launch a specific challenge for applications of data sets for students with focus on land, ocean and population. Esri will provide access to all the data that is available and the students are expected to carry out compelling analysis and communicate it. It is an activity in parallel to the global year of understanding. There are also sessions in the AGU meeting that are support by Esri staff.DSCN1690

Margaret Leinen (president, American Geophysical Union) who is working on marine and oceanography gave the main talk ‘what will be necessary to understand and protect the planet…and us?‘. Her talk was aimed at the audience in the conference – people who’s life focus is on data. What is necessary to understand the planet is data and information – it’s the first step of understanding. There are many issues of protecting and understanding the planet – we need to understand planetary impacts on us. The first example is the way we changed our understanding of climate change on the ocean. When we look at the change in sea surface temperature in the 1990 we can see changes up to 2 degrees F. The data was mostly collected in traditional means – measurements along the paths of ships. Through studies from ship records over the years, we have created a view of ocean heating – with different results between groups and researchers with lots of hand crafted compilation of records. In the last decade things have changed: ARGO floats are going up and down through ocean, and make all the data is available – there are 3839 operational floats, reporting every week. This is a completely new way or seeing the data, with huge scale international collaboration. Now we can see the annual cycle and determined the slope in the change in heat content. We have a 10 years time series for the depth of 0-2000m. We have a much more detailed information of the changes. There is an approach to make these devices that will understand the full planetary budget on heat through the whole depth of the ocean. The EarthScope Facilities also provide a demonstration of detailed sensing data – understanding the Earth and it’s movements. Many seismometers that are used for over a decade – the US array provided a massive increase in the resolution of seismic measurements. In 2011, the network identified the Japanese Honshu earthquake. The measurement provided a new class of earthquake modelling that can be used in engineering and science. GPS also provides new abilities to understand deformation o earth. Permanent GPS receivers – many of them – can provide the resolution and accuracy to notice subtle movement, by using very sophisticated statistical filtering. HPWREN – High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network – provide a way to transfer information from sensors who are very remote, then then linked through line of sight communication, and the network provide a reliable and resilient public safety network. The network support many sensing options. There are fire cameras that are linked to it, that alert to provide real time information to the fire department. WiFire is a programme that aim to deliberately work on this issues. GIS data is used to assess surface fuel. In summary: Earth science is going through huge transformation through collaboration of large groups of researchers who are using dense sensing networks. We can now monitor different processes – from short to long term. We gain new insights, and it is rapidly transform into local, regional, national and global responses.

After her talk, a set of responses was organised from a panel, including: Mike Goodchild, John Wilson, Marco Paniho , Ming Tsou, and Cyrus Shahabi.

John: discussion about GIScience – the examples that we’ve seen point to future challenges. We can train people in the spatial sciences, and insist that they’ll learn another area, or change the earth sciences, so people learn about spatial issues, or somewhere in between, with people becoming aware of each other language. Spatial scientists have little capacity to learn a new areas – and same is true for earth scientists. The only viable path is to work together – it’s about working in interdisciplinary teams and enabling people to work with them. Data acquisition is moving fast and it is a challenge to train graduates in this area. Only recently we start thinking about solutions. Academics are experts in dealing with problems in the world, and instead we need to suggest solutions and test them.

Marco: the principle and ideas are problems that are familiar in GIScience although the specific domain of the problem was not familiar. Issues of resolution and scale are familiar in GIScience. We have a long way to go in terms of details of describing a phenomena. We need to see how systematic are we now in acquiring data? We need details of the maps of the heating of the ocean, and understanding what is going on. What is the role of remote sensing in helping us in monitoring global phenomena? We need to think about down-scaling – get from aggregate data to more detailed understanding something locally. What is the role of citizens in providing highly local information on phenomena?

Ming: we need to remembers about ‘how to lie with maps?’ – we need to be very careful about visualisations and cartographic visualisation. Each map is using projections, cartographic representation, and we need to think if it is the appropriate way to ask if that is the appropriate way to present the information? How can we deliver meaningful animation. Cartography is changing fast, but today we need to look at 2000-5000 scale, but we are using now levels and not scale. The networks and models of wildfire are raising questions about which model is appropriate, how many variables we need and which sources of information, as well as the speed of the modelling. Need to think which model is appropriately used.

Cyrius: there are more and more sensors in different context, and with machine learning we have an increased ability to monitor cities. In case of existing models – we have cases of using more data analysis in computer science.

Margaret: we have new ability to move from data, model, analysis and keep the cycle going. In the past, there was gulf between modelling or observations, we don’t see a divide any more and see people going between the modelling and the data.

Discussion points: We need to consider what is the messages that we want to communicate in our maps – we need to embrace other disciplines in improving communication. We need to implement solutions – how much uncertainty you are willing to accept. Every single map or set of data is open and other people can look and change it – this is a profound change.

The earth system is an interrelated system – but we tend to look at specific variables, but data is coming in different resolutions, and details that make it difficult to integrate. Spatial statistics is the way to carry out such integration, the question is how do we achieve that.

It’s not enough to have data as open but the issue is how to allow people to use it – issues of metadata, making it able to talk with other data sets. Esri provide a mechanism to share and address the data.

There is uncomfortable relationships between science and policy – the better the models, there is more complex the issue of discussing them with the public. How to translate decimal points to adjectives for policy making. This creates an issue to communicate with the public and policy makers. There is a need to educate scientists to be able to communicate with the wider public.

Another issue of interdisciplinarity – encouraged as graduate, but not when it come to the profession. There are different paths. Once you land a job, it is up to how you behave and perform.

Considering the pathways of integration, the challenge between the modellers and the observationalists. We can think about identifying a path.

Machine learning might need to re-evaluate how we learn and know something. There is also need to think about which statistics we want to use.

Margaret: what is different now – a growing sense of lack of being able to characterised the things that are going on. The understanding about our ignorance: in the past we had simple linear expectations of understanding. We finding that we don’t understand, and the biosphere and what is does to the world. There are so many viruses in the sea air, and we don’t know what it does to the world. The big revolution is the insights into the complexity of the earth system. How not to simplify beyond the point that we will loose important insight!

Esri User Conference 2016 – plenary day

The main Esri User conference starts with a plenary day, where all the participants (16,000 of them) join together for a set of presentation from 8:30 to 3:30 (with some breaks, of course). Below you’ll find some notes that I took during the day:

wp-1467087487123.jpgThe theme of the keynote was GIS – Enabling a Smarter World. After an inspirational video (emphasising environmental applications of GIS, including dealing with sustainability and biodiversity), Jack Dangermond, opened the conference by covering a range of applications that fall under smart GIS. Examples include environmental monitoring, energy management for renewable energy and grids. Using the management of land information and urban design (green infrastructure plans, corridors for wildlife etc.), transport –  smart routing reduce environmental impacts, and increase efficiency. Engineering and public work, utilities and telecommunication, business analytics (an area that finally is taking off), public safety and also humanitarian support. We have an increasing understanding of citizen engagement through open data, and the UN is using GIS to share open data in data management for the Sustainable Development Goals. Story telling, and story maps are becoming central to the way information is shared.
We’re living in a world that is undergoing a massive digital transformation – how do we go forward in this wired planet? GIS is a language for understanding the world. We need to address the crisis of sustainability – we need to address the problems together. GIS allow integration, visualisation – a framework to design for the future through geodesign. Turn information to action – from measuring to affecting the world. GIS itself is getting smarter – through technologies and tools, sensors, types of data. Smart GIS is a variety of things: ability to connect to real time information – IoT, remote sensing, connecting everyone – assisting communities to understand what they are doing and acting. It mean integrating spatial data and records with system of engagement. This is possible through Web GIS pattern. Earthquake alerting from USGS tell people to get ready, and also flood analytics. There is an emerging ‘Community GIS’

A leading example of this change is the City of Los Angeles GeoHub– Lilian Coral – chief data officer described how she try to ensure that the city is using data for helping the management of the city. To assist with that, they have developed geohub.lacity.org to enable community organisations to do things with city data. It is using open data and open applications to allow new applications to solve problems. From running a clean Street Index to compare the information between different areas. GeoHub helps to unlock data in the city and can provide  support a range of application. People are used for community data collection on Exide Battery Contamination that happened in LA. LA is aiming to reduce death from accidents on the road, and trying to improve performance over time. They even try to explore walking in LA and reduce car dependency. They learn that the GeoHub is foundation for smart cities and develop a range of hubs for generating and using geographic information for residents.

Awp-1467087506737.jpgfter the GeoHub presentation, Jack Dangermond noted that we have an ability to share geographical knowledge like never before.  The concept of ArcGIS evolved to see it as a hub between a system of records, system or analysis, and system of engagement. Growing important of web services and apps. ArcGIS tools are evolving – collector and Survey123 apps are linking to field workers and data collection. In terms of GIS technology, there is more effort on exploratory spatial data analysis tools (Insights for ArcGIS) and making it possible to analyse Big Data – for example billion transactions – using distributed computations using computer clusters. Application such as Drone2Map can speed up the process of turning drone imagery. There are more development tools for apps, with over 500,000 appearing. The open source apps allow people to developing further. Esri has run 4 MOOCs and may learning resources that are free for use by users of Esri. Esri support 11,000 university and higher education institutions around the world.  The people who are working in GIS, engaged and committed, are the people who are creating a smarter and more sustainable world.

wp-1467087511310.jpgLater in the day, some of the technologies that were discussed include the living atlas which is a whole catalogue of updated base maps, and the use of vector data allow restyling of information in many ways. A growing range of apps for the field, office and for the community support a range of activities. Information for communities include story maps, open data, photo survey, crowdsourced reporter, manager, and polling.

An example for the utilisation of the apps was provided by the talk “Civic Responsibility – Changing Our Approach” from the City of New Orleans (Lamar Gardere, Greg Hymel & James Raasch). In New Orleans they used collector to work with volunteers to coordinate and record a progression of a campaign to raise awareness to mosquito that can be vectors of disease. They also created a very fast survey methods based on images of building, using a crowdsourced image analysis that includes 6 attributes. The photos where collected throughout the city using geolocated wide angle camera. They then prepare the images and created a way of capturing information. They ask people to help in crowdsourcing. An example for geographical crowdsourcing in government, with micro tasks: https://propertysurvey.nola.gov/photosurvey/ . They have also created an application to link people relating to basins and reports from 311 calls. When someone agreed to adopt a ‘catch basin’ (a drain in the street) then they are sharing responsibility to check that it is not blocked before storms arrive and volunteer to clean the drain. They also have a story map, to let people share their pictures and images that are integrated into a story map.

wp-1467087515436.jpgAfternoon session opened with the main keynote “The Invention of Nature: Alexander von Humboldt’s New World” by Andrea Wulf. She told the story of Alexander von Humbolt, who spend his fortune on a journey of 5 years in south America, the most famous person in his time after Napoleon. He inspired Darwin to go on the Beagle journey. Many people relate to him and his insights. Died in 1859, and after his death people celebrated him – but he is almost forgotten today. Humboldt invented the concept of Nature, noticing the connection between different aspects of the living world, and geography. He also defined global climate and vegetation zones. Pioneering mapping and visualisation – using scientific data as a basis for fantastic maps. He can also be associated with concepts of environmentalism. Her book explores him and his insights. The journey from Quito to Chimborazo was similar to a journey from the tropic to the arctic, and realised that it’s like movement between different regions of the world. He was capable of linking many things together. Humboldt also created new forms of cartography, and have an appreciation to indigenous knowledge. Humboldt ‘Cosmos’ made a physical description of the universe, linking many aspects of nature together and this was his most popular contribution. The network of GIS and the creation of a living atlases in GIS is knowledge that bring power to people and communities – we can see a link to practices in GIS to von Humboldt.

Another major announcement was the effort of “Designing and Creating a Green Infrastructure” with Arancha Muñoz Criado (City and Strategic Planner) and
Kaitlin Yarnall (National Geographic Society). A common initiative of conservation organisations to create a common set of information about green spaces and wild spaces. Esri and National Geographic are joining forces to create information system for this. The notion is to protect green infrastructure across America – a GIS for the whole country, to define the area that need protection. They will provide extensive information and will provide geodesign tools to allow many people to use the information.

wp-1467087519514.jpgAnother important presentation was about “The AmzonGISnet” with Richard Resl and Domingo Ankuash in Ecuador, who use GIS in new ways. 20 years ago, Domingo started to use GIS to help the indigenous tribes that he leads to protect their lands. Many local indigenous members of the community who have GIS skills and who create a self made life plan – their own atlas representing their land and views. He noted that his community “We do not live in the forest, we are part of it”. The are not thinking themselves are poor, but need the support of other people to protect their land – having maps that are strategic and mindful. Using GIS not to navigate the forest but to protect it.

The final talk in the event was about Connecting GIS with Education, noting that  there is more work on GIS in schools across the US and the world. San Andreas High School started only 18 months ago with GIS, with only one teacher getting into GIS, but alrady achieving results through collaboration with GIS Mentors. An area with 98% students who receive free lunches. The GIS is a force for good. They created a story map about teens and drinking & Alcohol abuse, showing analysis and considerations within the process. Students also created data collection for surveying the state of sidewalks using Survey123.

Esri Education Conference 2016 – day 1

I’ve been working with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) since 1988. During the first 2 years, I wasn’t even aware that what we were doing was GIS – it was a mapping/inventory system that run on second generation PC (80286 processors) and was used to map facilities. Once I’ve discovered that this was a GIS, the next thing was ‘and ESRI Arc/Info is the software that you should check’. I’ve heard a lot over the years about the Esri User Conference, but haven’t had the chance to attend it, so this year I’m filling in the gap in my experience of the world of GIS. I’m giving a keynote at the Esri Education User Conference (EdUC), and I’ll attend some other parts of the general User Conference, and report on the experience.

The Education UC opened up with interest in creativity. Angie Lee, who opened the conference, noted her inspiration to the theme from learning about the makers movement and the growing interest in teaching students to code. She noted that many aspects of GIS encourage creativity: developing a story map or building an app. The opportunity that are emerging with new technologies  This is also true in science for the development of hypotheses and methodologies.

The two keynotes on the first day are by Dave Zaboskiwp-1466874989913.jpg
(Professional Artist / Creative Consultant) a former Senior Animator with Disney. Dave suggest that people have an innate ability of creativity. Creativity that is common at a young age but disappear later. Creativity is the willingness to do try things, it’s the courage to take risks. It’s the act of turning a thought into a thing, but we tend to get lost in the process. Resolute imagination is leading to magical results. The approach that he suggests is highlighting a spiral iteration instead of trying to move directly at a goal. There are five key attributes: first – believe in what they are doing. Have a clear narrative, and trying to reduce noise to increase the signal. You can think of things you have no control about them (A list),  issues that you can influence (B list), and a D+ list of things that make you lighter & happy, that make the ‘signal’ in life. The A list should not considered – someone else is going to take care of that and it will be their D+ list. The B list, can be solved at one thing a day, and then focus on the main issues. Then you can focus on the D+ list. Need to collaborate, and risk in a powerful way – when iterating you need to be confident that you can try again. Need to know that it might require throwing work that you have already done. Need to learn to trust you own abilities. Need to be able to allow instead of cognitive dissonant to have allow for information to have creative confusion until the information organise itself in a way that make sense. Completion is also important: acknowledge that people that were involved, analyse and celebrate. When you can declare that you have completed, you can move to the next challenge. Creators believe, iterate , collaborate, risk, and complete.
wp-1466981055360.jpgThe second keynote was by Dominique Evans-Bye, Science Teacher, Clark Magnet High School. She gave a detailed presentation on teaching GIS in high school through project based learning – including diving and operating ROVs. She’s working with low income students, many are from immigrants families. The first project in 2006 that the students done was to analyse sediments and heavy metals in the Los Angeles Harbour. The students collected samples and then analysed the level of contamination in them, and visualising the information on a GIS. In the next stage, they examined contamination in lobsters and they analysed the tissues, with mass spectrometers. They found high arsenic levels. The students gain confidence, and learn through iteration and use the online tutorials of ArcGIS Online and offline to develop skills and use them to analyse their information. The exploration of the problem lead to new questions and ways to represent the information. The students are doing also applications with the Esri collector app, to understand how the litter can end up in the ocean. Another project involved them analysing albatross  migration. Through classes on environmental GIS which was problem oriented and based on all the skills that they’ve gain in operating the research process itself. The students are collaborating, and see the process from projects where they’ve been involved in data collection to analysis. Students experience collaboration with scuba divers from NOAA and other bodies. The students won awards and scholarships as a result of their effort. There are major benefits for creating a creative learning environment with high school students and allowing them to develop their learning through problem solving.

In an afternoon session, I presented a talk that Patrick Rickles prepared, titled GIS and Citizen Science: Combining Open Source and Esri Technologies. The presentation focused on the way that some of the technologies that are developed in the ExCiteS group, such as GeoKey and Community Maps, can work with Esri technologies. The presentation open by explaining the needs and requirements – the interdisciplinarity of the group, and the type of areas that we work with. He then demonstrate, using the work of Challenging Risk project in Seattle, which looks at participatory methods for community preparedness to earthquake and fire. The context of the project mean that there can be 2 way data sharing – from the community to local government so they can see the information in ArcGIS Online, and information from the open data store can be shared on Community Maps. Several other examples for Esri technologies that are in use are shown.

 

Esri Education User Conference talk: Citizen Science & Geographical Technologies: creativity, learning, and engagement

The slides below are from my keynote talk at the Esri Education User Conference 2016. The conference focused on creativity and its relevant to education and the utilisation of GIS (especially Esri software) at different levels of education.

My talk explored the area of citizen science and extreme citizen science and the way geographical technologies contribute to creativity and learning. As I continue to assume that many of the audience don’t know about citizen science, I start with a review of the field as a way to contextualise what we, as a group, try to do.

[The talk is similar, in parts, to other talks that are captured here on my blog (workshop on theory, practice and policy, standards and recommendation for citizen science, or the current developments in ExCiteS). I’m updating the slides with lessons on what seem to work or not in previous talks. Social media is helpful for that – I can see which points people found most useful/meaningful!]

The talk starts with an historical perspective of citizen science, continue with the societal and technical trends that are at the basis of the current growth in citizen science. Having done that, I’m using a typology that looks at domain (academic discipline), technology, and engagement as a way to introduce examples of citizen science activities. I’m using the trailer for the TV series ‘the Crowd & the Cloud’ to recap the discussions on citizen science activities. I also mention the growth of practitioners community through the Citizen Science Associations.

Next, on this basis, I’m covering the concepts and practices of Extreme Citizen Science – what we do and how. I’m using examples from the work on noise, community resource management and earthquake and fire preparedness to demonstrate the concept.

The last part of the talk focuses specifically on creativity and learning from the Citizen Cyberlab project, and I explain the next steps that we will carry out in the Doing It Together Science project. I complete the talk by giving examples for activities that the audience can do by themselves.

Throughout the talk, I’m showing how Esri technologies are being used in citizen science. It wasn’t difficult to find examples – Esri’s GIS is used in BioBlitzes, Globe at Night, links to OpenStreetMap, and support the work that the ExCiteS group is doing. Survey123 and similar tools can be used to create novel projects and experiment with them. ArcGIS Online will be linked to GeoKey, to allow analysis of community mapping efforts. In short, there is plenty of scope for GIS as an integral part of citizen science projects.

ECSA2016 ThinkCamp Challenge: how can Overleaf support collaborative writing between academics and citizen scientists?

Overleaf, ThinkCamp Challenge, collaborative writing – lots of jargon for a title – so let’s start by explaining them and I then cover what happened (that’s an Abstract).

Background – what are Overleaf, ThinkCamp, and Challenge? (Introduction)

Overleaf  is a scientific technology company that offer a collaborative environment for writing scientific papers. Overlaf is based on LaTeX  – a typesetting software that is popular in many disciplines – Computer Science, Physics, Mathematics, Statistics, Engineering, Economics, Linguistics and other DSC_0315fields. Importantly, Overleaf simplifies the scientific writing process by providing templates that scientific journals use, support for collaboration, adding comments, and other tools that make it easy to write academic papers. LaTeX is complex to use, and Overleaf is aimed at facilitating the process of learning and using it in academic writing. Overleaf was a sponsor of the European Citizen Science Association conference ThinkCamp, so together with them we developed a challenge . So let’s explain what is ThinkCamp before turning to the challenge.

A ThinkCamp, is a type of open events that are associated with the  ‘unconference’ approach, which in our context mean taking a part of an academic conference and opening it up to anyone who want to step forward and explore a topic that came up during the conference, or that they have been working on it for a while. Particularly for ThinkCamp, the activity is structured around discussion/exploration groups that are provided space to write, draw and share ideas. The themes are called ‘Challenges’. Some of the themes are offered in advance by people who are coming to the conference, and there is usually space for people to suggest their ideas on the day.  The day starts with a one minute description of each challenge. Even with the planned challenges, those who proposed them can’t say much about them, and they are looking for the collective intelligence of those who are interested in the topic to explore it. In effect, ThinkCamp is multiple brainstormDSCN1625ing and idea generation events happening in the same space. People can move between groups, drop in and out, and contribute as little or as much as they want. A Challenge can be physical or require programming, but can also be purely based on discussion. For the ECSA 2016 ThinkCamp, the conference organisers invited the local Berlin grassroots science & maker communities to collaborate together with conference attendees on a number of Citizen Science Challenges.

What was the challenge? (Methodology)

For this specific challenge, we defined it as ‘The Overleaf Collaborative Writing Challenge – How can Overleaf support collaborative writing between academics
and citizen scientists?‘. The focus here is on scientific papers that are coming out of a citizen science project. It is now becoming more common to include citizen scientists as co-authors in the title of the paper. However, can they have more direct involvement in the process of writing so they are more involved in the scientific process? This was the ‘research question’ (more accurately, idea) for the session.

wp-1463894715220.jpgWe had a table, and two session, each of about hour and a half. In each session, about 6 or 8 people joined me, with one person staying for both session (Artemis Skarlatidou), and other people joining for parts or the whole discussion (among them Alison Parker, Avinoam Baruch, Berk Anbaroglu, Christian Nold,  Denise Gameiro,  Jon Van Oast, Julia Aletebuchner, Libby Helpburn, Lotta Tomasson, Sultan Kocaman, and surely several other people). We had a table with a poster, which included information about the challenge.

Although we have looked briefly at the Overleaf system during the beginning of the discussion, it expanded very quickly to the core issues of collaboration between scientists and citizen scientists on writing paper together.

What did we talked about? (Results)

I have attempted to facilitate the discussion while allowing people to raise their point and discuss them at length. As usual, some discussion points led to other discussion points. During the three hours, we filled about 4 flip-chart pages, which are provided below (Figure 1).

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Figure 1: Flip-chart of discussion point (click to enlarge)

So what did we discussed?

We refined our problem, and decided that our assumption is a situation where a scientist initiate the paper and lead the process of writing, but in collaboration with citizen scientists. Of course, papers that are led by citizen scientists are very important, but as with many prototyping activities, we wanted to start with a scenario that make the problem less hard – at least one of the members of the team will know what is expected in terms of the publication process. There are many citizen scientists that already publish (e.g. astronomy, biological recording – see diary of a citizen scientist which in the last pages describe the scientific outcome of her work), but we’re talking about the general case, and I still recall how daunting the first paper feel, and I also know how special it feel to have the first paper published (it’s one of the precious things of working with PhD students), so let’s assume that we’re talking about first paper, with someone helping.

The topmost issue is to explain to citizen scientists why a peer review paper is a worthwhile effort  – some websites and systems (e.g. Public Lab research notes) are offering alternatives to academic publication – however, having a peer review can increase the value of the work in terms of policy impact, authority and other aspects. What are the exact reasons for people to join in? this is something that we need to understand more.

DSCN1625We started with the components of paper: introduction, literature review, methodology, results… and the need to understand why they are there and how to understand them. There is the AAAS website that helps in learning how to read an academic paper. Some tips are also available in other places – and that there are so much material online to teach people how to read scholarly articles, tell you that it’s not a trivial task! For this, we can also research and identify material on library websites that teach undergraduate students how to read and write scientific papers, and choose the best resources for citizen scientists. We need to indicate that some effort is required, but also chunk the learning material. Having pop-ups and context specific help to a section of the paper, and, as Overleaf already do, have the sections with place-holder in place.

Once people learned what is the aim of the project and the components of an academic paper, we need a way for people to show which part they would like to contribute to – maybe they want to comment on the methodology and not on other parts (so we might have a matrix linking people with parts of the paper). Further discussion lead to the main insight of the discussion: We can split the roles that are needed in academic paper writing, and allow people to decide what they want to do. The roles include: authoring text, fact checking, reference checking, chart and graph design, map design, translation, checking for comprehension, proofreading, reviewing, checking the statics for mistakes and possibly more. We can think of a system to match between skills and task – like PeerWith but there are problems: first, we should do it inside the project, and be careful not to get into exploitation and undermining freelance editors, proofreader, graphic designers etc. There is, of course, huge advantage for engaging people from within the project – they will do the work from a much more informed position. Consider projects with many thousands of volunteers (OpenStreetMap, Zooniverse, BOINC) – it is possible to link the multiple skills of participants to the many scientists who are involved in different projects and might want to work collaboratively on papers. Under these conditions – we will have major issues of trust by all sides, and confidence by the citizen scientists that they can contribute. We need interfaces nudges and support to overcome these. We need to clearly communicate what are the aspects of the role, compensation & benefits (e.g. authorship, payment?).

Back to the process of writing the different sections of the paper, we can give elements of training to contributors, according to how much they want to commit and how much time they’ve got. Probably it make sense to do micro-training with expanding levels of information.

We need to consider how we open up papers and material that sit behind a pay-wall to allow citizen scientists to be involved in a meaningful way.

We can also consider a gradual process, where there is a pre-writing stage in which we agree the narrative, order, and images that will be used – we can use accessible language to sort out the list – e.g. ‘what is the problem?’ (for the introduction); ‘what do we know?’ (literature review); or ‘what have we done?’ (for the methodology). We can think of the paper as the final object, and have a structure to support its development through sub-objects.

wp-1463894724971.jpgThe second major insight of the session was the introduction of a role for science communication experts, as facilitators between citizen scientists and scientists. The process will need a lot of communication, and we need to link to tools for managing chats (instant messaging), calls and maybe video. The volunteers need to be mentors and get feedback, so improvement of skills. 

We explored what each side bring to the equation: citizen scientists – skills, knowledge and they gain experience in writing a paper and having a scientific publication with their name on. Science communicators – translation between scientists and citizen scientists, ability to explain why paper is valuable, what are the parts of the paper and why things happen the way they are. They gain by being employed with an active role in the process. Scientists benefits by having lots of help on their paper, and they need to act as mentors and cover the publication fees (assuming open access).

What next? (discussion and conclusions)

ThinkCampMukiWe realised that this is complex process that will need plenty of effort to make it happen, but that it is possible to facilitate with Web tools. There are plenty of open issues, and it might be an idea to develop a small research/public engagement project on the basis of these ideas. If you have ideas, comments and suggestions – please help us! 

ECSA2016: Open Citizen Science – Day 3

After a busy first  days – Day 1 (morning and afternoon) and Day 2 (morning and afternoon), the third day was dedicated to engagement – through museums, games and story telling; responsibility – through frameworks of responsible research and innovation, proper data handling and making a scientific impact, and finally to active engagement in discussion through a ThinkCamp.

The day opened with a keynote Co-designing research projects: Citizen science meets stakeholder involvement (Heribert Hofer IZW Berlin, Germany) – Exploring stakeholders in citizen science, examples of co-design projects in ecology/conservation science. Looking at impacts on attitudes and behaviours of stakeholders. Challenges and limitations of co-designed projects, but why aren’t more of them?

Stakeholders as citizen scientists – stakeholders are people who are representative of nterest group, and are citizen scientists by definition. The participate through interest in the issue, and they are expert from some kind – the interests that they represent. The example is conflicts of interest in conservation – say lead poisoning of eagles – but there are many stakeholders – hunters, reserves etc. Participations can be collecting data, cooperation, implementation of own ideas – co-design. If you want to co-design a project, that is essential to ask them before the project start. Example for bushmeat hunting in Tanzania (1991), cheetahs in Namibia (2002) and many more. The Bushmeat hunting in the Serengeti looked at issues such as who, where, how much, why and impacts on many species within a year. Wanted to evaluate the efficacy of the conservation approach. They didn’t look at the species but the hunters and poachers – realising that people move close to the park and identified very large number of poachers – almost 18,000. There are 3.7 hunting trips (1-36) and gained an understanding of the activity. Cheetahs in Namibia because they live in farmland, but then the farmers hunting cheetahs as sport. They looked how many cheetahs are there, and that require access to many private farms. Involved farmers in the radio-collaring of cheetah so they are involved in the process. Involving farmers does create a challenge – need to have communication. Through working with farmers, they managed to move the cattle to match cheetahs movement. They turned farmers as partners. There are clear advantages – learning about cheetah mean that attitudes change and trapping cheetahs only to tag them. In egg collection project, they manage to social control. For the lead poisoning, there is a need to teach people to use lead-free alternatives for hunting.

Stakeholder participation solves many challenges. Recruitment
, rewards, data and getting the data in the first place. The stakeholders approach require systematic recruitment, understanding interests and understand biases. The challenges: developing social skills, flexibility, patience, and sales mentality of convincing people to join you – communicating with not necessarily friendly audience. Need to answer critical questioning on project aims and methods – it’s tough. Limitations – lack of training on how to learn by doing and picking up people with appropriate attitude. Also how to deal with stakeholders refusal to participate, and dealing with biased data – the data is interest driven not by the seeking the truth. Why aren’t more co-designed projects? First, scientists are driven by ivory tower mentality – make society relevant research worthwhile. Secondly, solving societal issues is less valuable than the academic agenda -because of the reward system in academia (need to change indicators of excellence). There is also lack of knowledge and confidence, which can be solved by training. There are also low expectation – attitude of arrogance. There is also no-time/money for the early studies. There are some challenging projects on the offing: for example TB in refugees – there are many medical profession, and including people to which questions that can be done. This bring the problem of scientists concern about loss of control. Co-design can lead to attitudes and behaviour change of stakeholders. There are limitations – scientists need further qualifications.

wp-1463894682861.jpgCitizen Science and the role of museums facilitated by: Zen Makuch & Poppy Lakeman-Fraser. The panel represent the natural history museums in important countries – and they can think of the many people that visit the museums.
Johannes Vogel Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Germany. Natural History museum and the public – this is the result of the work Sloane and he open this collection to the nation – this is something for everyone, this led to the British Museum, which evolved in the NHM in London. For 200-300 years, museums are about giving access to the public. When museums employ more professional, mean that there is a global scientific infrastructure, with curators focusing on research. With citizen science, we can revert back to a model of re-opening the museum to the public. An NHM can have 30,000 people contributing  to its collection – 550,000 visitors, place where people love to see science in action. They came out of citizen science and should include it more.

Gregoire Lois, Natural History Museum Paris, Museum are based on academic collaboration – the collection are from non-professional (which can be experts) and professionals. Moving from arrogance and snootiness towards non-professional researchers, to higher engagement and focus on that – the civic science agenda in France was not accepted by other scientists. Because citizen science cross-cut the missions of the museum there is more acceptance, but there is more work to do. The museum created ‘museum approved’ citizen science – but that have a risk of new ivory tower, so it is better to have evolutionary approach – so that is why they don’t apply labels. Citizen science have costs, and they have support from the ministry of environment, but not from research and education – no recognition to citizen science, they prefer to wait. They are starting to have bottom-up approach.
Wolfgang Wägele Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig Bonn, Germany.  Experience in taxonomy, there is little potential of biodiversity research in Germany – they actually looking for citizen taxonomists in the country, they are usually organised in small associations and organisations. The organised science doesn’t have ability. They created a German bar-code of life project that is used to support small societies and 250 experts that are volunteers. It was challenging to engage – there was fear of replacing expertise, but what they explain is to make identification of species – but this doesn’t replace local expertise. There was also issue of exploitation – of who get the credit. They developed a reward system – paying for specimens that are given by the participants, they also teach participants how to use new tools that small societies don’t have access to. Citizen science which combines traditional way of identification with molecular approach. They also organised permit to search in national parks, which they wouldn’t

wp-1463894697068.jpgAndrea Sforzi (Natural History Museum Maremma, Italy) Small museum role in citizen science. He is leading a small museum, starting in 2011, but now it is one of the main activities – MNHM doing bio-blitz activities to engage people in the museum. They do recording, bio-blitzes, training courses for citizens and national survey. They produced maps, scientific papers and maps. For small museum, there is good local knowledge and contacts locally. The weaknesses are lack of funds and personnel, networking sometimes

John Tweddle (The Natural History Museum London, UK). The London NHM – 5 million visitors a year. They are going through the cultural transformation that Johanes mentioned, and making citizen science central to the mission. They have support to observers, mass participation, online crowdsourcing, enabling projects and how to encourage more citizen science activities through the galleries and activities – turning the NHM to a gateway to science. Why do that? Funding is very tough. It generate high impact science, deepening engagement with the science and collection – turning from passive to active, enabling engagement with science outside the museum, and help people to connect with nature. Finally, this helps in advocacy and funding.

Discussion: Poppy: what is the future – key strategies for NHMs. John – advocacy for citizen science, and making it acceptance. Johanes – in university or research insitute – you do science and teach, while museum are there to do science and communicate, which scientists are not experience with. Andrea – museum can play a role within their own space – exhibitions about citizen science, engaging people from within the museum. Wolfgang – the participants don’t like to be called amateurs but they are experts. These societies are ageing and they have an opportunity to recruit younger members instead of members that are 40-50, male. They don’t have enough experts in the museum itself. Gregorie – need to have large varieties.

Audience – are there project in which citizen scientists involved in designing exhibitions? Joahnes – in Berlin they done project with Pandas, in the last 30 days of the exhibition, they had an empty a cabinet, and ask  people to bring their objects on people’s memory of Pandas. Difficult to do the whole lengthy process of two years. John – designing exhibition properly it is a lengthy process and see which bit should include whom. Wolfgang – they provide specific space for citizen photographers and that works well.

Audience – contacts with eastern European museums and initiatives? Johaness – in EU BON Tallinn is leading on citizen science, and there are European projects about it.

Audience -what about campaigning citizen science? Georgie – offering resources, opening data. Museum are politically neutral and there are debates about getting engaged politically, but should stay apolitical.

A separate blog post will cover the ThinkCamp challenge that I’ve led on collaborative writing

Plenary Final Discussion
Farewell by Johannes Vogel – working at EU level will be the big job in the near future. What the big things should be? confusion, getting science funding to grassroots groups. Heard too little from the scientists and would like to see more of this. How people reach this conference? I only heard about it through YouTube channel. There is space for self reflection on what we’re doing, citizen science studies. Think of migration and citizen scientists on the move. great for ECSA to support early career post-docs – list of jobs that will be available. Thanking the organisers – the richness of discussion was excellent.

ThinkCamp people – Margaret filmed the discussion for long show and tell that will be share on ‘citizens of science’ YouTube channel – things that came out: inclusiveness challenge: stipends for those who lack funding, helping grassroots, subject matter networks, co-creating events to see events that the want. WeCureALZ – large legible sans-serif fonts, large images – concept of tree that slowly grow. Communities of Europe – the CSA has a group that is doing such an effort. In the EC there was a conversation and they happy to support it. Search by nature of the citizen science, and the domain of science. Collaborative Writing – ideas of projects with an action plan. Museum data visualisation challenge – taking it out: why maps? what will be the best communications – using the visual design. Medium like d3 were considered.  The camera trap challenge – thinking about simpler driver than Raspberry-Pi.

 

Marisa – the games session: need to ensure enjoyable games and rigour of science, complex games can turn to fun: from gemification to workification. Leaderboards can be hidden because of the humanitarian nature of the project. Monique – six excellent story tellers – change, communication, translation and visualisation. Ian – For the session on scientific impacts: land use, land cover and atmospheric measurements – there is promise but there are challenge with the sensors. There are saving: calibration and validation. Kathrine – learning and citizen science: looking at science identity, plenty of tweets. Citizen science need to use different learning models for evaluation. Active approaches develop learning best.

Many responses about what citizen science mean: citizen not an idea – it’s the future.

We have many new members from the conference, and hope that people will stay in the association. New working groups, we are welcoming more groups and increasing in our impact.

The conference was followed by the citizen science festival –