‘Nature’ Editorial on Citizen Science

The journal Nature published today an editorial on citizen science, titled ‘Rise of the citizen scientist’. It is very good editorial that addresses, head-on, some of the concerns that are raised about citizen science, but it is also have a problematic ending.

On the positive side, the editorial recognises that citizen scientists can do more than just data collection. The writer also demonstrated an inclusive understanding of citizen science that encompass both online and offline forms of participation. It also include volunteered computing in the list (with the reference for SETI@Home) and not dismiss it as outside the scope of citizen science.

It then show that concerns about the ability of citizen scientists to produce high quality data are not supported by research findings and as Caren Cooper noted, there are many other examples across multiple fields. My own minor contribution to this literature is to demonstrate that this is true for OpenStreetMap mappers. It also recognises the important of one of the common data assurance methods – the reliance on instrument reading as a reason to trust the data.

Finally, it recognise the need to credit citizen scientists properly, and the need to deal with their personal details (and location) carefully. So far, so good. 

Then, the article ends with rather a poor paragraph about ‘conflicts of interest’ and citizen science:

More troubling, perhaps, is the potential for conflicts of interest. One reason that some citizen scientists volunteer is to advance their political objectives. Opponents of fracking, for example, might help to track possible pollution because they want to gather evidence of harmful effects. When Australian scientists asked people who had volunteered to monitor koala populations how the animals should be managed, they found that the citizen scientists had strong views on protection that did not reflect broader public opinion.

Checking for air qualityI have already written here about the attitude of questioning activism and citizen science in specific local issues, but it seem that motivations especially irk scientists and science writers when they look at citizen science. So here some of the reasons that I think the claim above is contradictory.

There are two reasons for this: first, that scientists themselves have a complex set of motivations and are under the same ‘conflict of interests’ and secondly, if motivations having such an impact on science in general, than this is true for every science, not just citizen science.

Let’s start with the most obvious one – the whole point in the scientific method is that it investigates facts and conditions regardless of the motivation of the specific person that is carrying out the research. I have a reminder of that every day when I go to my office, at UCL’s Pearson Building. The building is named after Karl Pearson (known to any scientist because of the Pearson correlation), who was one of the leaders of Eugenics, which was the motivation for parts of his work. While I don’t like the motivation (to say the least) it doesn’t change the factual observations and analysis of the results though it surely change the interpretation of them, which we today reject. We therefore continue to use Pearson’s methods and science since they are useful despite of the motivation. We have detached the motivations from the science.

More generally, scientists like to believe that they are following Mertonian Norms and that they are ‘disinterested’ in their research – but listen to some of the episodes of the BBC Life Scientific and you discover that what keep them motivated to apply for research grants against the odds and to carry out long stretches of boring work are very deep personal motivations. They wouldn’t do it otherwise! Therefore, according to the paragraph above we should consider them conflicted.

Citizen Scientists are, of course, motivated by specific interests – they wouldn’t volunteer their free time otherwise. Look at the OED definition of citizen science at the sources of the term, and you discover that the first modern use of the term ‘citizen scientists‘ was in a report about the Audubon effort to campaign about acid rain. The fact that it was activism did not influence the very careful data collection and analysis operation. Or take the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in which ‘Campaign with us‘ is the top option of ‘what we do’, and yet they run the valuable Big Garden Bird Watch with results used in scientific papers and for policy. The source of the activism, again, does not influence the outcomes, or the quality of the science.

Is it some forms of activism that Nature have a problem with?

The value of using citizen science in cases such as fracking, air quality or noise is that the scientific method support a systematic, disinterested, and objective data collection and analysis. It therefore allows to evaluate concerns about a specific issue and check if they are justified and supported by the evidence or not. In the same way that the environmental impact assessment and report from the fracking operators are created from a point of conflicts of interest, so does the data that come from the people who oppose it. As long as the data is being collected in a rigorous way, with evidence to back that it was done this way (e.g. timestamp from the smartphone, as the article noted) the scientific approach can provide evidence if the level of pollution from the fracking site (or planned site) is acceptable or not. Arguably, the risk of falsifying the data or pressure to drop inconvenient observations is actually greater, in my view, from the more powerful side of the equation.

My conclusion is that you can’t have it both ways: either science work regardless of motivations or the motivations and conflicts of interest are central to every other piece of science that Nature report on. 

Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city

Arduino sensing in MaltaThe Data and the City workshop will run on the 31st August and 1st September 2015, in Maynooth University, Ireland. It is part of the Programmable City project, led by Prof Rob Kitchin. My contribution to the workshop is titled Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city and is extending a short article from 2013 that was published by UCL’s Urban Lab, as well as integrating concepts from philosophy of technology that I have used in a talk at the University of Leicester. The abstract of the paper is:

“When approaching the issue of data in Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse and, especially, to challenge the prevailing thought that efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and are governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method of accumulating human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. This paper argues that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – is especially suitable for making Smart Cities meaningful and democratic. The paper use concepts from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology – especially those of the Device Paradigm and Focal Practices, to identify the areas were sensing the city can gain meaning for the participants.”

The paper itself can be accessed here.

Other papers from the same workshop that are already available include:

Rob Kitchin: Data-Driven, Networked Urbanism

Gavin McArdle & Rob Kitchin: Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data

Michael Batty: Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small

More details on the workshop will appear on the project website

Science-Society Dialogue – from Citizen Science to Co-Design (ICCB/ECCB 2015 – Day 4)

The final day of the ICCB/ECCB 2015 (see my notes on citizen science sessions from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3) included a symposium that was organised by Aletta Bonn and members of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) to explore the wider context of citizen science. The symposium title was Science-Society Dialogue – From Citizen Science To Co-Design. The 6 talks of the session (including mine) were:

Lucy Robinson - 10 principlesTen principles of citizen science: Sharing best practice amongst the citizen science community – Lucy Robinson (NHM) – the London NHM have been active in citizen science for the past 10 years, though indirectly for much longer. They see the importance of developing citizen science as a field, and especially through networks such as ECSA – a network of different people who are involved in citizen science – advancing the field and sharing knowledge. There are different definitions of citizen science, but it is important to think about best practices, and part of the work in ECSA Lucy leads the effort to share best practice. This includes the development of the 10 principles of citizen science, which can be summarised as:
1. Involve citizens in the process in a meaningful way.
2. Activities should have a genuine science outcomes.
3. All involved should benefit.
4. Citizen scientists may participate in multiple stages of the scientific process.
5. Providing feedback to participants.
6. Citizen science should be considered as a research approach and understanding. the limitations, biases and not over estimating what is possible.
7. Data and metadata should be made available and results should be open access.
8. acknowledging participants in results.
9. need for evaluation for scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider social and policy impacts.
10. Need to pay attention to legal and ethical issues of copyright, IP, data sharing, confidentiality, attribution, and environmental impacts.
The ten principles are open to development over time and the aim of having that is to help with the challenges in the field – such as duplication of efforts, mixed messages, and there are opportunities for collaborations and partnerships. They can help new joiners to start with best practices. There are other tools to improve the work of practitioners – including the 2012 guide on understanding citizen science & environmental monitoring which covered 150 projects. The report identified that one size doesn’t fit all and they identified that projects need to learn from others. There are guides for BioBlitzes and how to conduct them, and there are guides for choosing citizen science, evaluation tools from CLO (See Tina Philipps talk from yesterday).

Helen Roy - 51 years of BRCIn Celebrating 50 years of the biological records centre – Helen Roy covered the history fo the UK Biological Record Centre (BRC). The BRC coordinates 85 recording schemes and societies in the UK which are covering wide range of taxa, with publications of atlases in different topics that are covered by these programmes. The people who are involved in these schemes provide a lot of data, and to celebrate it there is a several papers on the 50 years of the BRC in the Biological Journal. Biological recording have developed with different ways – biological recording don’t have a specific scientific aims – just passion about collecting and identifying the different taxa. The national schemes are diverse – from 500 members of a bees, wasps & ants recording charity or a leafhoppers society that is more ad-hoc, to the completely ad-hoc ladybird recording survey, with 17,000 recorders. All the different schemes are lead by an individual, but involved a wide variety of people and there are now programmes that are involving many young people, which is important for the future of recording. There are mutual benefits – the recorders provide information but they get tools that help them – even stacking envelopes and sending newsletters, as well as data management, website design, editing atlases etc. The BRC is benefits from working with wide range of volunteer experts, and use the data for many purposes. The core activity is to create the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) – collect, review, share, publish and integrate the information. There are different technologies that support it from iRecord to NBN Gateway. Examples of how the Data was used include the analysis of invasion of alien species, as well as predictions of invasive species, informing UK biodiversity indicators, demonstrating impacts of climate change and modelling future distributions. The environmental challenges require a lot of data, and through this extensive community. (summary of her previous talk on the history of BRC at the BES 2014 )

Marisa Ponti - OER valuePotential of digital technologies to enhance openness in learning and science – Marisa Ponti – many citizen science project still happen off line, and there are many digital technologies that can be used to share and use the data. However, it is worth thinking about the potential of educational resources that can be used in such programmes. Open education and resources – learning, teaching and research that is in the public domain under open licence for reuse and modification has a role to play. Openness and access are important to citizen scientists – it can be increased and improve in the outputs of citizen science projects. Outputs are not the final publications, but also the  data, protocols, logs and systems. Open Education Resources (OER) can help in make ideas and scientific knowledge accessible, inspire people to be involved so they are not just passive participants, and can also help to meet funders’ requirements to make the research open. OER can help in reimagining what science is – can build a community outside institutional settings – such as Cornel Lab of Ornithology. It can also support self-driven and peer-based learning approaches, allowing people to run their own investigation, and OER can support experimentation with open practices. There is a specific website in the OER area of citizen science for learning and research. Resources help in creating suitable teaching sessions. There are other training material that can be reused and changed. There are, however, warning – the conditions for broad participation – OER in themselves with digital technology are not a solution unless we create the conditions for engagement of many people. There is a need to create the condition to allow participants to own the project. OER need to be in dialogue in terms of how people use them.

Learning in citizen scienceCitizen science, social learning and transforming expertise – Taru Peltola – She discuss the learning in citizen science with a paper that is currently under review (part of the ALTER-Net). In citizen science there is plenty of rhetorics – transparency, local knowledge, democracy … but social learning is usually seen with broader benefits that are related to citizen science and didn’t receive enough attention. There is a need to critically analyse the learning within citizen science, and learning is an important mechanism that require mutual learning (by participants, organisers and scientists), and learning can occur in all types of citizen science initiatives. Looking at literature on learning, there are questions on the outcomes (facts, instruments), process (individual/social/institutional), and who is involved (scientists/volunteers). It is wrong to assume that only the volunteers learn in citizen science – there are also important learning that the scientists get from the process. To gain more understanding, they looked at 14 cases across Europe – mostly monitoring species, but also cultural ecosystem services through participatory GIS or reindeer herding. The results from the cases are that the learning processes and outcomes are both intended and unintended, the learning is situated, the learning are unevenly distributed – need to pay attention who is getting the attention and how people are included, and the learning outcomes are continuous. They also found out that factual and instrumental learning outcomes are easier to assess, but it is important to pay special attention to the social and institutional process. These need to included in the design and implementation of citizen science projects.

Extreme citizen science: the socio-political potential of citizen science – Muki Haklay – in my talk, I have situated citizen science within the wider changes in access and use of environmental information. I have used the framework of 3 eras of environmental information (covered in details in the talk in the Wilson Center). The first two eras (between 1969-1992 and 1992-2005) are characterised by experts who produce environmental information and use it to advise decision makers. In the second era, information is shared with the public, but in unidirectional way – experts produce and release information to the public in a form that is suitable to share with other experts – so it is challenging to comprehend it. While the role of civic society and NGOs was recognised in the second era (e.g. Rio’s Principle 10), in terms of citizen science, the main model that was acceptable was the contributory model in which volunteers focus on data collection, so the information is verified by experts. With the third era (since 2005), we are seeing that the public is also accepted as producer of environmental information. This transition is opening up many opportunities for citizen science activities within environmental decision making. However, looking at the state of the art of citizen science, there is plenty of scope of involving people much more in the process of setting up citizen science projects, as well as engaging people with lower levels of education. I used 3 classifications of participation in citizen science (slides 14-16) to demonstrate that there is a range of ways to participate, and that different issues and different people can participate at a level that suit them and their life.
After introducing the vision of ‘Extreme Citizen Science’, I demonstrated that it is a combination of participatory process and use of technology. I introduced the participatory process of Mapping for Change, which deliberately starts with less use of technology so people can discover the issues that they would like to explore, and then decide how system such as Community Maps can be used to address their issues. I introduced GeoKey, which provides the infrastructure for participatory mapping system (such as Community Maps), and then demonstrated how Sapelli (data collection tool for low literacy participants) can be used in a careful participatory process with indigenous groups to design suitable citizen science projects. I used examples from the Congo basin and the work of Gill Conquest, the Amazon in Brazil-Peru border work of Carolina Comandulli and the current crowdfunding effort in Namibia for the Ju|’hoansi people by Megan Laws. I ended with a note that intermediaries (such as conservation organisations) have an important role to play in facilitating citizen science and helping in maintaining and sharing the data. The slides from the talk are provided below.

Annet Mihatsch - German Citizen Science StrategyThe final talk was citizen science strategy 2020 for Germany by Anett Richter – the ‘citizens create knowledge – knowledge create citizens’ project is a German Citizen Science capacity building project: it includes building citizen science platform, scientific evaluation of citizen science, developing resources for teaching and developing projects and a citizen science strategy 2020 for Germany. The need for strategy is that it helps focus on a problem and thinking about how to solve it. There are many projects already happening in Germany, with museums and NGOs, as well as conservation organisations. Lots of technologies are enabling it. However, we don’t have common understanding of where we want to go? Need framework for data use, there are risks of inconsistent communication to stakeholders. The way to open the strategy is involve wide range of stakeholders in the development – public, politicians, funders, community. The wider engagement in development strategy, require time and resources and there might be lack of public interest. They run 5 dialogue forums on different issues with 400 people involved. They explore capacities in science – think of science culture for citizen science – rewards for scientists to do so. Strong data infrastructure – data quality, validation, database management and other issues. Their vision – in 2020 citizen science is integral part of German society and open in all areas of science and for all people. Also want to have reliable web-based infrastructure. They will carry out consultation online in the autumn and publishing the strategy next year.

 

Notes from ICCB/ECCB 2015 – Traditional ecological knowledge, Conservation 3.0 & citizen science

These are my notes from the first day of the International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB) & the European Congress on Conservation Biology (ECCB) in Montpellier.

I’ve took notes from some of the talks in 3 sessions about traditional knowledge, ‘Conservation 3.0’ and the citizen science posters.

In the session on Traditional Knowledge and Conservation noteworthy talks include:

The role of tribal colleges in preserving traditional ecological knowledge and biocultural diversity – Teresa Newberry (Tohono O’Odham Tribal College in the US), the tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the US represent diverse communities and cultures. The Tribal Colleges has a mission to preserve the culture of the local nation, and engaged with their community, thus TEK is part of the education in them. Language is critical to understanding biodiversity: indigenous groups speak about 85% of world’s languages and take care of 80% of the World’s biodiversity (Nelson 2015) so it is important. There is a link between biodiversity and language diversity. Local languages encode local knowledge and they specifically adapted to their local area. 40% of the languages are in risk of disappearing and therefore this loss is monumental amount of TEK. Looking more closely, language encodes worldviews and traditional knowledge systems – it’s evolution of one group of people in a specific place, and also encode practices and rules. It includes many layers of meaning and relationships between living things. For example, in the Tohono O’Odham language there is a term that make you notice that you don’t collect the flower until a hummingbird collect the nectar – and it is included in the way you talk about local ecology. Teresa developed a local calendar that helps linking phenology to specific language and events. Another tool that she developed is the TOCC Plant Atlas – linking plants with audio that state the traditional name in addition to write it. There are multiple values in traditional knowledge: unique multi-contextual perpectives, time-tested adaptation and mitigation strategies to environmental change and deep, local knowledge of place.

 ‘Manngem Thapnee’: The crocodile worship ritual of an agrarian community of Indian state of Goa, and its conservation context  – Manoj Borkar  (Goa University) – Goa is coastal and crocodiles are protected by the Red List of IUCN. The current trends is for the crocodiles population to increase and they have groups in swamps and some in fresh water areas. There are also tourism activities to see the crocodiles. The contemporary scenario – pressure of overexploitation of sand from riverbed, use of canals for shipping, unregulated backwater tourism, and fishing are making it difficult to protect the population. During the Portuguese control of Goa (450 years ago) there are reports on abundance of crocodiles. Crocodiles are viewed as demonic and also as divine status. Within the indigenous tribal culture there is a crocodile worship ritual in which they create a crocodile from clay and they want to appease the crocodile to avoid inundation of fields by water (the crocodile seen as the link to water sources) – the practice is going in December. The veneration is translated to protecting the crocodiles and can be seen as an example of integrating local practices in conservation.

Augmenting survey data with community knowledge to inform a recovery strategy for an endangered species in Canada: Identifying important areas of habitat for Peary caribou – Cheryl Johnson (Environment Canada). The aim is to develop a recovery strategy for the caribou – to maintain healthy species distribution and keep their area – the are very wide ranging area species – migrating over hundreds of kilometres. The process started with identifying locations, then the amount that need to be protected, and then the very specific type of the habitat. This mean working at different scales. They collected survey information from scientists and integrated it with information from local communities of where they’ve seen the caribou. Once they’ve identified 3 main seasons in the migration, they integrated it into their spatial model. When comparing the information from survey information compared to community information – the community had much more holistic and complete view of where they’ve seen the animals. The modelling process include consulting with both scientific experts and community members with knowledge of the caribou and that helped in identifying the most relevant model. The TEK was crucial in eliminating spatial and temporal biases in survey data by scientists.

The session Conservation 3.0 was open with Alex Dehgan explaining what it is about: technology, behavioural interventions and financial innovations are changing conservations. The field of conservation biology, after 30 years, there is increase in areas that are protected, but there are very high extinction rates, and we still have major challenges. The population growth will require 70% more food and the intensity of agriculture, especially with increase in meat consumption. Wildlife trade increase and we don’t have enough financial resources. Conservation biology is sometime technophobic, but how can we used opportunities to deal with issues? Maybe we should learn from other areas – e.g. the change from ‘tropical medicine’ to ‘global health’ – by increasing the tent to more people involved from more areas of research. We can have conservation technology & engineering. 3D printing to cellphones, we can consider the connected conservation and the used of multiple sensors, or use synthetic biology. There is also need to consider how to use ideas from behaviour change, marketing & conservation – altruism doesn’t work, only as last resort. Financial innovations – maybe environmental impact bonds, conservation finance and other tools. Think of design under constraint just like with iPhone. We can also consider crowdfunding – $16.2 billion – compared to NSF total budget of $5.8 billion. There are other ways to harness the crowd- from ideas, to creativity, to funding.

Paul Bunje – XPRIZE Foundation, considering the incentivizing innovation for conservation. Problems are increasing exponentially and solution are only increasing in a linear way and try try to find solution at huge scale. Open innovation takes lots of ideas internally and externally, and trying to find tools from all sort of areas. There are also new opportunities for identifying new sources of funding. The benefits of prizes/challenges – solve important problems, set aspirational goals – a moonshot, novel partnerships, inspire with new ideas. There are all sort of methods in open innovation, from incentive prizes or just innovation networks. Prizes continue to increase – flexibility, openness, but also the new ways in which stories are being done.

Asher Jay – creative conservationist. She explore the linkage between science and stories. Humanize science – not introducing a bias, but need the link those in the know and other poeple. Content need to be contagious, and enable the individual – making the individual impact about conservation. Looking at facts and figures, and then thinking how the story evolve – what is the point, how to create protagonist/focus, which elements will be included, emotional triggers – need to think about consuming the science and then acting on it. That can be done through using existing signs, symbols, icons. There is also the issue of foreground and background to help structure the understanding. A lot of the campaign that she created are about ‘stating the obvious’ that people as they are not always aware of it. The design for the digital age is that they need to be shared – open source images mean that they are used in many ways (including tattoos).

Ted Schmidt – covered Paul Allen philanthropy through ‘Vulcan’ and trying to bridge technology and conservation science. Some of the focus areas includeillegal fishing, wildlife monitroing and management, but also wildlife surveys and database. They carried out a great elephent survey – flying over 20 countries to count elephents. The data is working with IUCN to ensure that the data live on. Shah Slebe suggested the idea of the ‘internet of Earth Things’ – ability to understand how things changes in real time. Technology is a tool that can help but there are no silver bullets. We need to have be aware not about the drone but what the data is used for. The SMART – spatial Monitroing and Reporting Tool created a tool to understand conservation areas. SMART is a good model to solve problems. Technology need to be designed for the context – need to show that it can be deployed over time and in a reliable area.

Lucas Joppa  – the impact that people have on the planet is the anthropocene and the information age – we have a combination of having 50 billion objects linked. Levereging information technology for conservation biology is seem obvious to those who are interested in technology areas. Empowering the crowd to collect information and identify (iNaturalist), or instant wild to work with camera traps, and GPS tags on the environment – animals also involved in sensing the environment for people. Mongabay – got a section on Wildtech area. Engaging with industry – there are different partnerships with technology industry and conservations – questions for help are backward – people don’t ask for the resources of working with the talented engineers that are part of the organisation. If asking in the right way, we can get donation of time and money from the engineers.

In the Poster session, there was a set of posters about citizen science, and some of the one that I’ve explored are

DSC_0069Understanding the environmental drivers of recording bias in citizen science data across Sweden Alejandro Ruete looking at biases in the data that was collected, and developing an ignorance index that let you evaluate how much you would know about a location.
DSC_0067Earning your stripes: Does expertise aid the ability to match bumblebee images in identification guides Gail Austen-Price compared the identification abilities of experts and non-experts, showing that the ability to match is good regardless of expertise, but that experts are more careful and are willing to say that it’s not clear how to differentiate.
 Utilizing citizen science and new technology to improve the Palau national bird monitoring program Heather Ketebengang showed how in Palau they’ve used information from experienced and trusted birdwatchers (through systems such as eBird) with experts’ survey to create a more comprehensive picture of their bird population.
Maximizing mangrove forest conservation through multi-scale stakeholder engagement in citizen science Jenny Cousins showed a long running project that have yield many benefits to all sides involved – including better local skills, academic publications and more.
The microverse citizen science project: Collaborative microbiology research with UK secondary schools Lucy Robinson describe the work of UK NHM work which I’ve covered in the ECSITE post.
DSC_0065DSC_0064Online participatory mapping of ecosystem services and land use preferences in the Polish tatras – experiences and challenges Barbara Peek describe an online PPGIS that ask people to identify values, positive and negative activities in an area of Poland. The project had it’s own participation inequality (2% of participants putting 25% of the information) and fairly few qualitative comments, but they were useful.

DSC_0071Population census of house martins in Switzerland: A web based citizen science project Stephanie Michler is an interesting project with species that people are already interested in and provided many artificial nest, so the level of engagement and activity in the project seem to be good. Within 3 years, the project presented good growth.
Dealing with observer bias when mapping species distributions using citizen science data: An example on brown bears in Greece Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun show that a model that takes only roads as a proxy for where people will collect information is not good enough, so there is a need to understand where are the tourist area.
Using citizen science to map geospatial and temporal trends in human-elephant conflict Cheli Cresswell show the progress in her app development to engage people in reporting on human-wildlife conflict.

Citizen Science and Policy – possible frameworks

Back in February, my report ‘Citizen Science & Policy: a European Perspective‘ was published by the Wilson Centre in the US. As I was trying to make sense of the relevance of citizen science to policy making, I used a framework that included the level of geography, area of policy making and the type of citizen science activity. This helped in noticing that citizen science is working well at the neighbourhood, city and national scales, while not so well at regional and international level. The reasons for it are mostly jurisdiction, funding and organisational structure and scale of operation.

Later on, at a workshop that was organised by Prof Aletta Bonn on Citizen Science and Policy impact, the idea of paying attention to the role of citizen science within the policy cycle was offered as another dimension of analysis.

Last week, at a workshop that was organised by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as part of their work on coordinating the European Protection Agencies (EPA) Network, I was asked to provide an introduction to these frameworks.

The presentation below is starting with noting that citizen science in an EPA is a specific case of using crowdsourced geographic information in government and some of the common issues that we have identified in the report on how governments use crowdsourced information are relevant to citizen science, too. Of particular interest are the information flows between the public and government, and the multiple flows of environmental information that the 3rd era of environmental information brought.

After noticing the individual, organisational, business and conceptual issues that influence use in general, I turn to the potential framing that are available – geography, stage in policy formation and mode of engagement, and after covering those I’m providing few examples of case to illustrate how specific cases fit into this analysis.

It was quite appropriate to present this framework in the EEA, considering that the image that was used to illustrate the page of the report on the Wilson Center site, is of the NoiseWatch app which was developed by the EEA…

VGI and indigenous knowledge – COST Energic Video

The COST Energic network has been running now for 3 years, and one of the outputs from the network is the video below, which explore a very valuable form of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). This is information that is coming from participatory projects between researchers and indigenous communities, and this short film provide examples from Bolivia, British Columbia, and the Congo Basin, where researchers in the network are working with local communities to collect information about their areas and issues that concern them.

The video was produced by Lou del Bello, and include some stock photos and footage. The images that are marked with titles are from COST Energic Activities. Lou has also created a short video on the work of the Extreme Citizen Science group in her report on Mapping the Congo on SciDev

The video is released just before a meeting of the COST Network, held in Tallinn, and hosted by the Interaction Design Lab of Tallinn University.

AAG 2015 notes – day 3 – Civic Technology, Citizen Science, Crowdsourcing and mapping

The sessions today covered Civic technology, citizen science, and the new directions in mapping – Open Source/Crowdsourcing/Big Data

First, Civic technology: governance, equity and inclusion considerations, with Pamela Robinson – Ryerson University (Chair) and Peter A. Johnson – University of Waterloo, Teresa Scassa – University of Ottawa and Jon Corbett – University of British Columbia-Okanagan. The Discussant is Betsy Donald – Queen’s University.

The background of the panel is participatory mapping (Jon), government use of open and geoweb tools (Peter), law (Teresa), urban planning (Pamela), and geography (Betsy) .

First question for the panel: what are the challenges to civic technologiy support government?

Peter – taking technology perspective. Looking at Chicago Open Data site – had a section that doesn’t only deliver CSV that is, actually, specialised knowledge. They have a featured data set – you can download it, or look at it on the map. The ‘problem landlord dataset’ only show points on the map – no information what does it mean or how it came about. The focus is on tech-savvy users that will access open data, and assumption of tech-intermediaries who will use it for civic purposes. If that is the case, shouldn’t it be city staff who use the data and act as infomediaries? Pamela – looked at civic hackathons (see yesterday). City staff are asked to make  a business case for open data and hackathon. It ask to bring business thinking into something that is not about civic engagement (how you monetise that?). It’s a weird tool in terms of the aim of the process which are not financial. There is also pressure to demonstrate an outcome of ‘killer app’ and they are more about bringing people together with tech knowledge and civic minded people. Teresa – open data is equated with free – from regulations, costs, no limitation to use. There are costs associated in making the data free in the first place, and that is a problem in terms of government not giving thought to these costs. Datasets are being opened without due thought to privacy concern. Is open data just a subsidy to companies that use to pay for it? Also free from regulations – part of neoliberalism view of removing all the bureaucracy that is halting the market. But part of it is there with social justice perspective – e.g. requirement about accessibility, language, regulations that are there to protect vulnerable people against abuse. So the concept of free is not simple. Also what happen when the government pass it to the private sector, so they circumvent their own regulations, or the private sector to use the data but without protection. Jon – problematise the question. Relationship of municipal and state. There are examples in Canada that don’t fit the model – e.g. first nation governance. There the data is not that simple. The other issue is the support to government – is the open data movement can be used to resist and challenge government? Renee – the non-profit open north use data to cause problems to the city and demonstrated corruption in government – a very tech-savvy  organisation. Pamela – some forms of collaboration is to get out of the way of community organisations to allow them to do the work. Jon – there can be high level of cynicism on how the data is going to be used. Access to data is not the same as accessibility. There are issues of scale – in large cities there are enough capacity but in smaller cities there is no capacity in government and or civic society to deal with data. Pamela – in Toronto there are urbanists community coming in search of tech support. There are blurred lines between civil servant and civic engagement in free time. Thomas (audience) – in Chicago, people build visualisation at a county budget, also exposing data about closing schools. Also good applications such as streamlining expunging negative records to allow people to develop new career http://www.expunge.io/. There was also the city lands project – http://largelots.org/ – you can buy a lot for $1, and that can be a burden to people who are involved. Renee – heterogenise the state, not to think about local government as ‘them’ and it is organisation in which people make decisions about opening or resisting opening data. There are plenty decisions that are done at individual level. Also worth looking at prior data acquisition. There are examples of extracting data from the city and relationships before the open data. Betsy – what open government mean? What about digital divides? gender, age, social-economic background. Mike – there is a need to consider Marxist notion of free – it is not free in reality as it just allow people to be consumed into a system with different power relationship. I’ve raised that ‘open government’ is coming from view of ‘government as platform’. Renee – civic tech is a mutating terms over the years. Teresa – open government rhetoric are around transparency and accountability where the agenda is around innovations and market solutions to civic problems.
The second question was: How would we start to evaluate the impact of civic technology? Peter – what metrics will we use? money (time saved, internal and external benefits, eyeballs – evaluating hits). Municipal staff want to measure that they do and are looking to justify their work. Jon – need to evaluate impact and value. Scale, and point of evaluation. Scale of interaction and intervention. Should projects be evaluated by the number of people involved? We usually evaluate during the project lifetime but fail to do longer analysis. need to understand long term impacts – beyond page views. Teresa – which impact – economic? use? engagement? from privacy perspective – when government encourage engagement through Google or Twitter – you are actually giving data to Big Data engines not just the government. There is erosion of public/private distinction in services, leading to erosion of citizen rights and recourse? When transit apps record information, there is plenty of information that leaks to private sector companies who don’t have the same responsibilities and obligations. Pamela – civic for whom? when there are income distribution is so different in cities, and we need to understand digital divide at the city level. Teresa – some of the legal infrastructure to deal with protection and access to information when private sector work so closely with the government. Betsy – there are groups that work in big tech companies, which were curios of geographers and what they do, but no idea of social science. Privacy have been given away. Jon – there are windows of opportunity around edifices of open data, where are we going to end up? Teresa – contracting out to external companies can lead to issues of data ownership and that require managing it at the contracting stage.

Citizen Science and Geoweb, with Renee Sieber (Chair) with talks covering a range of areas – from cartography to bird watching.

Andrea Minano – University of Waterloo – Geoweb Tools for Climate Change Adaptation: A Case Study in Nova Scotia’s South Shore. Her work explores the link between participation and citizen science. In terms climate change adaptation it is about understanding impacts in local context, lack of risk awareness – and it also political issue. The participatory Geoweb can be used to display and share information online. She carried out research in Nova Scotia which rely on fisheries, most people live by the shore. People are aware and they’ve seen climate change in front of them – Municipal Climate Change Action Plan (MCCAP) are being developed. Each of the 5 municipalities that she worked with created plan and they are concerned with flooding. They had 3D LiDAR data and can visualise prediction of floods and return periods, but they didn’t know how to use it and what to do with it. She created two prototypes and tested them. She used satellite images as backdrop, she made LiDAR data usable on the web. AdaptNS allow multiple geographic scales and temporal scales – allow people to show concerns and indicate them on the map. Carried out a workshop of 2 hours with 11 participants. People were concerned about critical infrastructure – single road that might be flooded. The tool help people to understand what climate change mean and adaptation discourse at wider scales.

Jana M Viel – UW-Milwaukee – Habitat Preferences of the Common Nighthawk (Chordeiles minor) in Cities and Villages in Southeastern Wisconsin. Nighthawk is active in dawn and dusk – new tropical migrants, they don’t do much during the day. They nest on the ground or flat gravelled roofed. They experience slow population decline in the last 40 years. Maybe there is lack of roof sustrate – not enough gravelled roofs – volunteers started installing gravelled section on roof with little success. In Wisconsin, they try to understand the decline with data from breeding bird survey , Wisconsin nightjar survey, Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas – studies don’t cover urban area and lacking observation in dusk. There is a limitation, that need to do the study in the months when the birds are there. The aim of the research is to help monitoring and improve methodology. The study measured some variables in the field but then used other geographic information for analysis. There was help from both volunteers and organisation – there was special volunteer trianing – easy because it’s one type of bird that people should recognise. Volunteers – reason: love birds, fun, help conservation. Half of the people that participate are retired and most people with education and not for profit. Some volunteers drop out but not too many. People used phones to navigate to survey site. People use point count with paper forms. Information was also recorded on eBird. Results – total 31000 survey hours, with 1412 survey in which 98 nighthawks where detected. Isseus: no data, problems with Google Maps, unfamiliar with technology. The summary – success in carry out baseline survey. Clear research question, clear protocol, training and resources, need coordinator that is active, researchers need to update about the analysis and do outreach and thanking volunteers. Sustainability and who will continue the work is an issue – answering phone calls.

Kevin Sparks, Alexander Klippel &Jan Oliver Wallgrün – The Pennsylvania State University with David Mark – NCGIA & Department of Geography, University at Buffalo – Assessing Environmental Information Channels for Citizen Science Land Cover Classification. Kevin looked at COBWEB goals – the project is enabling citizens to collect data and working with them to deal with data quality. Geo-Wiki project which allow people to manage information about land cover. Kevin looked at Degree confluence Project – collected 770 photos and link them to land cover database, and corresponding value to each one of them. – they have 7 samples in each class of the 11 land cover classes – then compared lay participants, vs educated lay participants vs experts. They ask people to select class and say how confidence they are. They created experiment with ground-based photo and another with ground & aerial-based images. Participants recruited through AMT. There was 45.97% agreement with National Land Cover Data. when shown the aerial image, reduced to 42.97% – when looking at the confidence level, the success goes to 71.91% agreement. Variation in participants, interface and stimuli – you see similar patterns that are not influence by these factors but by the semantic nature of land cover classification. Aerial photoes favour more homogonized classes.

Robert Edsall – Idaho State University –  Case Studies in Citizen-enabled Geospatial Inquiry. Exploring from cartographic perspective and interested how society interact with maps. How maps being intermediaries in citizen science projects. From Citizen Science 2015 ocnference, he noticed that there is a growing understanding of the potential of citizen science to be collaborative or co-created projects. In Geogrpahy, we got success in VGI. Asking people to develop hypotheses is less developed, although that happened in PPGIS and PGIS. Participatory GIS and citizen science are parallel in helping the shaping of the environment. Rob is interested in visualisation and visual analytics. Collabroative citizen science does seem to be a good match for visual analytics. Although the tools are sometime design for experts, they can be used by citizens. Incorporating serious games seem to work in some cases – and attract citizen scientists (MacGonigal 2012). We can think of volunteered geographic analysis. Now we can look at examples – nature mapping in Jackson Hole to suggest to people that they can analysed their data, after a while, people disengaged and didn’t want to expose their data and other reasons. The second case study is about historical data – images from different collection, but they are not catalogued or geolocated. They are doing Metadatagems project that helps people to locate information. People can specify ranges and location. We can enable engaged citizens in higher levels of the analysis.

New Directions in Mapping 2: Open Source, Crowd-sourcing and “Big Data”. With Matthew Zook – University of Kentucky (chair) Sean Gorman – Timbr.io Inc. ,  Andrew Hill – CartoDB, Courtney Claessens – Esri , Randy Meech – Mapzen and  Charlie Lloyd – Mapbox.

Questions: future of the map and the mapable? question that what can be mapped doesn’t need to be mapped. Definition of what is the map and what is mappable changes. Mapping is becoming so pervasive that it ‘disappear’. Fear about view of the world that is not representative – only of the digital haves. If the future of the map is crowdsourced what should we do about places that are left out? History the map was always biassed.

What does ‘open mapping’ mean? Is open source/FOSS still a real thing and how do we maintain an open mapping ethos? agreement on the panel that open source is here to stay, and a belief that open mapping where companies and different bodies collaborate to share data openly will win over proprietary datasets.

How do we address the uneven nature of crowd-sourcing and its impact on what and where is mapped? Assumption that people want to map empty areas and it is less motivating when the map is full (wonder if that is true). Issues of what do we do if the crowd falsify information. It is not either/or, we should have an hybrid of government and crowdsourced information together. Need to understand that community diverse and data is diverse – imports, power users, one timers, local and people from far away.

How might we push geographers/mappers ‘beyond the geotag’ and consider other other (and non-spatial) aspects of data? By dragging just the geo part from data in its context, we are losing a lot of important information. Need to tell stories about geo and integrate narratives. We need to tell real stories more naturally. Need to consider relational mapping – we are in network society and extending into different spaces. Adding meaning to mapping has remained difficult – maybe should promote slow mapping. People do create maps and get meaning from them. Fast mapping – it’s easy to make bad map that doesn’t give you any information that help you to understand place. What people are getting out of maps? What happen when you produce bad maps and how to tell it to people?