Back in October 2018, I reported on the workshop at the International Institute for Advanced Systems Analysis (IIASA) about non-traditional data approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals. The outcome of this workshop has now been published in Nature Sustainability. The writing process was coordinated by Dr Linda See of IIASA, and with a distributed process that included multiple teams of participants of the workshop working on different parts (for example, I have helped in coordinating the section “Citizen science for new goals and targets”). The final outcome is providing a comprehensive analysis of citizen science as a data source for monitoring and implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).
The abstract of the paper is: Traditional data sources are not sufficient for measuring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. New and non-traditional sources of data are required. Citizen science is an emerging example of a non-traditional data source that is already making a contribution. In this Perspective, we present a roadmap that outlines how citizen science can be integrated into the formal Sustainable Development Goals reporting mechanisms. Success will require leadership from the United Nations, innovation from National Statistical Offices and focus from the citizen-science community to identify the indicators for which citizen science can make a real contribution.
The Urban Zoo project focused on the issues of transfer of disease from animals to humans, in particular in the context of Nairobi, Kenya. This is mostly a medical study, but through the involvement of UCL Development Planning Unit (DPU), issues of urban planning and urban studies were integrated.
The new paper “Participatory mapping and food‐centred justice in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya” is based on the work of Dr Sohel Ahmed in Nairobi, and the use of participatory mapping methods (including balloon mapping) to understand the local context. It is written by an interdisciplinary team – including geography, urban planning, development, and medical research.
“Food vendors are pivotal in the local food system of most low‐income informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, despite being seen as an obstruction and as agents of disease and filth by city authorities. This paper explores the geography of these foodscapes – defined as public sites of food production and consumption – in selected low‐income settlements in Nairobi, focusing on the interaction of food vendors with their surrounding environment and infrastructure services. The research uses participatory geographic information system tools, including food mapping with mobile apps and high‐resolution community aerial views with balloon mapping, to capture and contextualise local knowledge. The community mappers collected data on 660 vendors from 18 villages in Kibera, Mathare, and Mukuru, and situated them on multi‐layered synoptic geographic overviews for each settlement. The resulting data on hazardous areas in relation to food spaces and infrastructure provision allowed local communities to prioritise areas for regular clean‐up activities and assisted advocacy to improve these places in cooperation with local authorities. These multiple visual representations of foodscapes make local food vendors, and the risks they face, visible for the first time. Reframing their “right to safe food and environment” from a social and environmental justice perspective allows local communities to put their experiences, knowledge, and challenges faced at the forefront of urban development planning, policy, and practice.”
Jessica Culpepper (Public Justice), Larry Baldwin (Crystal Coast Waterkeeper), Matt Helper (Appalachian Voices), Michael Krochta (Bark).
Jessica – there can be a disconnect between the work on the ground and how it is used in advocacy. On how to use the information to make the world a better place, and hold polluters to account.
First, Michael Krochta (Bark) from Portland, OR – NGO focusing on restoring forests about Mt Hood. Doing volunteer surveys. They carry out ground truth by volunteers to inform management but also litigation in case of logging – a project about an old growth forest that was suggested, but volunteers identify rare species habitat which stopped the logging. The Mt Hood provide drinking water, but also an area of commercial logging activities. There are programmes of logging from the forestry service – an area is going through EIA according to NEPA, and if it is suitable, it is auctioned off. The national forest management act requires them to have a forest management plan, especially concerns over spotted owl from the 1970s. At each time, there is a large area that is being analysed for exploitation, and they don’t analyse it well enough. The ground truthing is to train volunteers are checking the information and demonstrating, for example, that an area that is the map indicated as only 30-year growth is actually an old growth one. Ground truthing include taking images, checking a diameter of a tree, and assessing the canopy cover. The forest service (USFS) have limitations and they do very simplistic analysis and apply an analysis of a small area over a large area – e.g. an area of 11,742 acres that through an effort by the NGO they dropped 1531 by demonstrating that aspect and slope are greater than 30%. There is a requirement to use more complex equipment.
The forest service is describing “desired future conditions” and demonstrating that the conditions are already there. Another evidence is “survey and manage” – the forest service require to survey and manage trees that are over 80 years old. There is an example of the Red Tree Voles (which the Spotted Owl) and because it’s hard to find the next of the voles, they don’t climb trees – once people are trained to climb Douglas Fir, they can collect evidence – the forest service is doing only ground-based surveys. A detailed map of the area helps in removing places that are within a radius from identified nests. There are also protected plant species that they identified by volunteers. Existing legal hook – National Forest Management Act on land allocation and current ecological conditions, NEPA in terms of baseline conditions and cumulative impacts, Endangered Species Act, “Survey and manage” from Northwest Forest Plan. bark-out.org
Matt Hepler – Appalachian Voices – part of Appalachian Citizens Enforcement alliance, is doing engagement with people about the Clean Water Act to monitor their watershed and bringing local knowledge to the front. People feel disempowered and don’t interact with state agencies – gave up hope or don’t know how. Holding state agencies and coal companies accountable. The sites that they are researching are hot spot – word of mouth on local knowledge, use of Google Maps and Google Earth and also use QGIS, and they look at Discharge Monitoring Reports – the mines are supposed to produce DMRs for each stream, and these can be examined and can also grab location so they can carry out their own analysis. Spending as much time analysing the maps to decide where to take samples as much as doing in the fields. Mapping is important – but not every community members are not good with computers or explaining how to use GPS and coordinates. The maps are important for not trespassing so to find places that it is possible to properly sample. There can be intervening sources that can impact the sampling site. They are using equipment in a library – using a pH buffer bottle, using instruments and people monitor pH, temperature, Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) and Conductivity. If there is low pH or high conductivity they do further tests for heavy metals and sulfates and lab methods. It’s important to have QA – training on how to calibrate, how to not trespass and upload the data. There is limited editing access for data so it can be controlled. Calibration of probes before landing them. Using Virginia Tier II water quality data standards – checking that it’s good enough for state-level monitoring and evidence. There is also polaroid justice – provide photographic evidence for the work that they do so it can be submitted “Polaroid Justice”. They have a website http://www.act-project.org and now considering replacing it with smartphones with EpiCollect and ArcGIS Online, as it allows offline data collection. ArcGIS online can pull data from the EPA, state agencies and other sources and that are useful. Some successes – in specific streams (Kelly Branch and Penn Virginia) for illegal discharge of selenium and that led to Supplemental Environmental Project that bring money to remedy, reporting water quality violations, also found abandoned mines locations, and increased knowledge and awareness. Data have been used by academics who are interested in water quality in Appalachia.
Larry Baldwin – talking from multiple organisations that he involved in: crystal coast waterkeeper and coastal Carolina riverkeeper. The issue is Coal Ash and CAFO – the residue for coal that is used in power plants, and CAFO is concentrated Animal Feeding Operations from pork and poultry (turkey and chicken) because of industrial farming. They got information from a farmer about coal ash spill in the Dan River and took to the air, showing a spill from coal and CAFO sources. They had volunteers who recognise the discharge and people took photos for weeks. There are quite a few sites like that. The issue with CAFO that come from factory farms that got a “lagoon” which is a cesspit – a hole in the ground that include the sewage from the swine and then sprayed on the ground as a “fertilisers”. There are issues of discharge from CAFO – you find it out from neighbours who are checking the information, Trespassing is an issue, and they allow the organisation to go and sample. There are big mountains of poultry waste – with nitrate, bacteria and all sort of other things in it. There are 2400 swine “lagoon” mostly near low-income communities and black and Hispanic communities. So they provided tools to allow communities members to collect evidence from aerial monitoring with volunteer pilots – who have their own aeroplane who are willing to fly over the property, with attempts not to allow flying a drone over a facility because that is not allowed by law. After hurricane Florence, when it hit on Saturday, they flew for 8 days, to document the impact of the storm. Used a sign on the board of the local airport and recruiting pilots this way (covering the fuels). Also doing campaigns which get people involved – including billboards. The industry got upset about the billboards that they put their own campaign. Use an innovative way to engage people – they pay for themselves in terms of participation. Going to lawsuits only as last options – using clean air act or legislative actions to campaign and change things. Lobbying, campaigning, the court of public opinion is also important – using the information from volunteers to put it in front of the public, conventional media (print/radio/TV), documentaries – bringing people from Russia, China and other countries to avoid the problem in their own country, and finally social media. Training people to take samples and teaching people to use equipment to prove the point in a specific issue. If it is not part of the volunteers who step up to be part of the solution.
Jessica Culpepper – Public Justice is a national advocacy organisation and they have lawyers and been doing it for 7 years. There are environmental lawsuits that are based on citizen science and it is important to use it in these cases. There are also gag laws that are being put even to block access to public land (the Wyoming law). These laws are there to stop citizen scientists to identify problems. Public justice is to identify the problems in the energy and agricultural sector – coal ash, water. The Food Project try to support dismantling industrial agriculture towards a regenerative form of animal agriculture. Believe in deep partnership with communities and representing farmers, rural communities, consumers, and workers. Focusing on communities that don’t have clean water because of nitrates. Poultry has issues of working rights and other issues. The Burton et al v Mountaire Poultry – in a Milsbrough they experience water pollution that a community of colour was exposed to without knowing. There is row poultry waste sprayed on the field, and when the incident happened, the environment agency sample 11 wells and just sent water softener without explanation how it will help the situation. A group at the Sussex County Del. , with a group keep our wells safe, and explain to community members that their water is not space, and stepping up is very scary – losing a job, excluded from a local church, children being bullied etc. There is a disposal field not far away from the community. There was a child who died from asthma, limb loss for diabetic patients – all associate from nitrate. They start by community well sampling project -and went door to door to do onsite nitrate and discovered that a lot of wells are contaminated. Used Google Earth to map Nitrate and also got evidence through freedom of information. As a lawyer, she can demonstrate that it is a facility that can be blamed It is possible to demonstrate the link – without citizen science and community science that enabled data collection. They also show that the trend is going up since the farm happened. The chart was created by one of the citizen scientists in the community. The data enabled to collaboratively create a groundwater flow map through a hydrogeologist – and they could prove that could bring a lawsuit on behalf the community – and there was a question of what they want to get out of it. They also did media blitz in USA Today and asked why senators don’t show up in the communities, and that influenced the advocacy – it led to the America Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 to get a grant to monitor and if the polluter is identified, they need to cover the costs – that despite the link between Tom Carper link to Poultry industry in Delaware. You need a positive vision, show up and document, willingness to be out in the media by the community, work with a wider network – work of citizen scientists is amazing. Burnout is real, and you need to work with different groups – an effort by communities and fighting for 25-30 years, and there is a personal price that they pay, with threatening family members.
Common conceptualisations of participation assume high-level participation is good and low-level participation is bad. However, examining participation in terms of high and low levels of knowledge and engagement reveals different types of value in each case.
The spectrum of citizen science activities means some are suitable for people who have education and knowledge equivalent to PhD level, while some are aimed at non-literate participants. There are also activities suitable for micro-engagement, and others requiring deep engagement over time.
Issues of power, exploitation and commitment to engagement need to be explored for each citizen science project, as called for by the ECSA Ten Principles of Citizen Science, in response to the need for a more nuanced view that allows different activities to emerge
UCL is marking its sustainability week between 29th October and 4th November. As part of the activities to mark the Green UCL initiative. I was interviewed to this video, together with other researchers and professional staff who are committed to integrating sustainability into their work. The video was shot around UCL and the nearby area.
The video is aimed “to provide a sustainability induction for students and staff and to inspire students and staff with the range of sustainability solutions being developed at UCL; through our research but also through student and staff-led projects”.
During the 22 to 29 October, I visited Shanghai & Shenzhen together with Michael Norton (CIVA), who organised the visit, and Liz Barry (Public Lab). This was a packed tour, with two all-day workshops that are dedicated to citizen science (one in Fudan University, Shanghai, and the other as part of the Asian Environmental Innovation Forum (AEIF) 2018 in Shenzhen at the Open FIESTA facility in Shenzhen), talks and visits to social enterprise hubs and social innovation activities, as well as participation in the Asian Environmental Innovation forum. This was my first visit to China, and as a result, it was an overwhelming experience – with a lot of things to try to make sense of, such as considerations for cultural practices (in other words, trying not to offend anyone unknowingly), or how the internet and mobile applications are experienced within the Great Firewall. This post is about some of the things that I’ve noticed during this visit.
Despite the fact that the three of us are focused on community action, the workshops and talks were designed as a general introduction to the area of citizen science, highlighting the potential for participation that is suitable for people who want to do something with little time investment, all the way to the DIY science approach that Public Lab promotes and dedicate significant time to such an activity. We also emphasised the link between getting involved in an activity as part of a wider awareness and actions that address social and environmental challenges. In the workshops, we started with an introduction to citizen science (me), followed by a talk on the ethos and activities of Public Lab (Liz), and finally about the use of information and insight for action (Michael). Next, we designed a session in which participants could experience different types of activities – from using two Zooniverse projects – the Wildes’ Wildlife Watch and Snapshot Serengeti, which provide different complexity in wildlife classification; A second group used their phones to install soundscape monitoring apps – the Chineses-based Participatory Soundscape Sensing using the SPL Meter app, and the German-based HushCity with the HushCity app. The participants downloaded and registered in class (only HushCity require registration), and then went out to collect information for about 10 minutes; A third group build the Public Lab DIY microscope and examined water taken from a local river; The last group focused on balloon mapping, which was the most involved task, culminating in all workshop participants going outside for an aerial selfie. We have repeated the session twice, and allowing people to experience two areas of activities. Finally, there was a group work, on developing ideas on how to address plastic pollution with the help of citizen science.
The workshop in Fudan attracted about 35 participants, while 60 came to the one at Open FIESTA. In both cases, there were many students (with more postgraduate students in Fudan) as well as people from NGOs and civil society organisations. We also had a talk with about 10 people present and many more online through webcasting at Bottledream office which is an online network for social innovation and change makers, and a talk to about 30 people, many of them expat who live and work in Shanghai at Green Initiatives.
Across the workshops and the talks, it was a pleasure to receive questions that were insightful and show real engagement with the potential of citizen science. The “data quality monster” (or should it be a dragon?) was dormant most of the time, although the second common question on motivations and reasons for participation did appear. I was asked several times about the inclusion of game elements and competition in citizen science project as a way to increase participation, and I pointed to the challenges that such an approach requires (dealing with cheating to score points, short engagement cycles etc.). There was a good question about the ownership of data and images and the intellectual property rights from a law student, and another one about ethics and the way in which consent is being secured in citizen science. Another valuable question was about the implications of Machine Learning (AI) on citizen science. People also asked about a specific area of application – e.g about projects that deal with coastal and marine issues. At the Bottledream talk, we explored the potential for social enterprise and investment in the area of citizen science. Finally, and not surprisingly, in each talk and workshop, the issue of collaboration with officials and the potential conflict in government did appear, with a lively discussion about different types of citizen science – those that are about helping progressing scientific knowledge vs. projects that are more aimed at civil action, and how to navigate these challenges based on our experience.
Technically, the Great Firewall helped in demonstrating the need for adapting apps and IT infrastructure to specific contexts – especially in view of the global initiatives for citizen science which must include China. Oddly, Zooniverse website was accessible in some networks (e.g. Fudan University), but in other places – though it was mostly accessible if somewhat slow. But the issue with access especially stood out in the soundscape mapping. The SPL Meter app was easy to set up, and the results could be shown on the website and thus providing the all-important immediate feedback. HushCity (leftmost screenshot) could not show the information because it rely on Google Maps as background – which is also not available in China (middle). In contrast, I could demonstrate Mapping for Change community maps, because it relies on MapBox tiles, which are available in China. This, turn out, is not solving the whole problem, there is also the issue that China is using a different datum for its maps, which in plain language mean that there is a GPS shift that needs to be taken into account. There is a clear interest to share knowledge and best practice beyond the challenges of accessing a specific platform. There is also the issue of language. Hopefully, resources in citizen science can be shared by CitizenScience.asia and or the Open FIESTA.
Another insight was provided by the very different “app ecosystem” in China. Because of the ubiquity of WeChat (equivalent to WhatsApp), which also have the ability of add-ons (which WhatsApp doesn’t), there is a whole range of applications that are possible which combine the intimacy of contact in a managed group with the ability to do more things. I learned about three applications which are relevant to citizen science. First Respond is a Chinese social business that provides first aid support for large public events – such as marathons. As part of the work with their volunteers, they organised crowdsourced mapping and checking of AED (Automatic Defiblerator) in which volunteers verify the location and preparedness of AED across a large area. Another example is the Sengo organisation of environmental volunteers who use WeChat to report river pollution incidents. Finally, the volunteer cleaning effort fo PickUpChina was using an app to record places that need a cleaning effort, and getting people to join and carry out a cleaning day.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were recurring theme throughout the visit at both social innovation spaces and universities – in the Impact Hub in Shanghai they are prominent, and at the workshops and the AEIF conference, they were mentioned frequently as a framing for education, social innovation, the wider regional support in the region (e.g. Laos, Cambodia), and also in thinking about the opportunity for citizen science. Thinking again about global initiatives, there is a need to link them to the SDGs since although they are not high on the agenda in say, the UK, they are a common language (as Liz describe them) between initiatives.
In addition to the SDGs, litter and addressing the challenges of plastic pollution was a recurring theme, and we have used it in the workshops as a final exercise, in which participants were split into 3 or 4 groups – government, industry, consumers, and young students (in the second workshop). The discussion between the group was lively (we asked them to discuss in Chinese), and it was clearly an issue that raises concern and interest to address it.
The social enterprise activities were also impressive in their ambition and content – from meeting Shiyin Cai, the founder of Dialogue in the Dark which provides an encounter with blindness for people who can see, to hearing from Xia Li, who founded Shenzhen Power Solution Ind who is committed to providing lighting and energy to “bottom of the pyramid” people, or Songqiao Yao, who founded Wildbound to link young people in China to global environmental issues. Visiting the two incubators in Shanghai – the Impact Hub, but also 724 Cheers Hub – was fascinating and educating.
The final note is that looking at the participants during the hands-on session was delightful. As Michael pointed to them during the feedback session at the end of their experiences, they looked interested and engaged in trying and experimenting like “someone who is 9 years old“. Indeed, there was an active learning that was apparent in every stage, but especially during the flying of the balloons. The flying of the balloons to take a picture of the participants create a “focal practice” that brings people together, make them focus on the communal activity, and bring meaning to technological design and implementation.
The level of enthusiasm across the meetings and workshops was very high, with students giving up their weekend, or professional giving up a workday to attend an event. There was also a lot of generosity and help in working through language differences, helping to navigate the city, running a group at the workshops, or volunteering to translate a discussion. I was continuously grateful to all the lovely people that we met and talked with. Below you can see the “balloon selfie” from the Shenzhen workshop.