Developing mobile applications for environmental and biodiversity citizen science: considerations and recommendations

The first outcome of the December 2016 workshop on apps, platforms, and portals for citizen science projects was the open access paper “Defining principles for mobile apps and platforms development in citizen science“, which came out in October 2017.

Lunaetal2018Fig3.pngThe workshop, which was organised by Soledad Luna and Ulrike Sturm from the Berlin Museum for Natural History, has led to a second output – a chapter in the book Multimedia Tools and Applications for Environmental & Biodiversity InformaticsThe invitation for contributions came at the right time with the first workshop in December 2016. The Chapter was completed in August 2017 and finally came out at the beginning of the month. A year from submission to getting it in press, which is fairly common in academic publications.

The chapter is different from the journal article, in providing more detailed examples of applications, and summarising aspects of systems in use and data standards that can be applied.

The abstract of the paper is:

The functionality available on modern ‘smartphone’ mobile devices, along with mobile application software and access to the mobile web, have opened up a wide range of ways for volunteers to participate in environmental and biodiversity research by contributing wildlife and environmental observations, geospatial information, and other context-specific and time-bound data. This has brought about an increasing number of mobile phone based citizen science projects that are designed to access these device features (such as the camera, the microphone, and GPS location data), as well as to reach different user groups, over different project durations, and with different aims and goals. In this chapter we outline a number of key considerations when designing and developing mobile applications for citizen science, with regard to (1) interoperability and data standards, (2) participant centred design and agile development, (3) user interface & user experience design, and (4) motivational factors for participation.

The chapter can be accessed using the following link Luna et al 2018 Developing mobile applications for citizen science – enjoy reading!



Citizen Science for Observing and Understanding the Earth

Since the end of 2015, I’ve been using the following mapping of citizen science activities in a range of talks:

Range of citizen science activities
Explaining citizen science

The purpose of this way of presentation is to provide a way to guide my audience through the landscape of citizen science (see examples on SlideShare). The reason that I came up with it, is that since 2011 I give talks about citizen science. It started with the understanding that I can’t explain extreme citizen science when my audience doesn’t understand what citizen science is, and that turned into general talks on citizen science.

Similarly to Caren Cooper, I have an inclusive approach to citizen science activities, so in talks, I covered everything – from bird watching to DIY science. I felt that it’s too much information, so this “hierarchy” provides a map to go through the overview (you can look at our online course to see why it’s not a great typology). It is a very useful way to go through the different aspects of citizen science, while also being flexible enough to adapt it – I can switch the “long-running citizen science” fields according to the audience (e.g. marine projects for marine students).

An invitation for Pierre-Philippe Mathieu (European Space Agency) in 2015 was an opportunity to turn this mapping and presentation into a book chapter. The book is dedicated to “Earth Observation Open Science and Innovation and was edited by Pierre-Philippe and Christoph Aubrecht.

When I got to writing the chapter, I contacted two researchers with further knowledge of citizen science and Earth Observation – Suvodeep Mazumdar and Jessica Wardlaw. I was pleased that they were happy to join me in the effort.

Personally, I’m very pleased that we could include in the chapter the story of the International Geophysical Year, (thank Alice Bell for this gem), with Moonwatch and Sputnik monitoring.

The book is finally out, it is open access, and you can read our chapter, “Citizen Science for Observing and Understanding the Earth” for free (as well as all the other chapters). The abstract of the paper is provided below:

Citizen Science, or the participation of non-professional scientists in a scientific project, has a long history—in many ways, the modern scientific revolution is thanks to the effort of citizen scientists. Like science itself, citizen science is influenced by technological and societal advances, such as the rapid increase in levels of education during the latter part of the twentieth century, or the very recent growth of the bidirectional social web (Web 2.0), cloud services and smartphones. These transitions have ushered in, over the past decade, a rapid growth in the involvement of many millions of people in data collection and analysis of information as part of scientific projects. This chapter provides an overview of the field of citizen science and its contribution to the observation of the Earth, often not through remote sensing but a much closer relationship with the local environment. The chapter suggests that, together with remote Earth Observations, citizen science can play a critical role in understanding and addressing local and global challenges.


Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing – week 2 – Google Local Guides

The first week of the “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing” course was dedicated to an introduction to the field of citizen science using the history, examples and typologies to demonstrate the breadth of the field. The second week was dedicated to the second half of the course name – crowdsourcing in general, and its utilisation in scientific contexts. In the lecture, after a brief introduction to the concepts, I wanted to use a concrete example that shows a maturity in the implementation of commercial crowdsourcing. I also wanted something that is relevant to citizen science and that many parallels can be drawn from, so to learn lessons. This gave me the opportunity to use Google Local Guides as a demonstration.

My interest in Google Local Guides (GLG) come from two core aspects of it. As I pointed in OpenStreetMap studies, I’m increasingly annoyed by claims that OpenStreetMap is the largest Volunteered Geographical Information (VGI) project in the world. It’s not. I guessed that GLG was, and by digging into it, I’m fairly confident that with 50,000,000 contributors (of which most are, as usual, one-timers), Google created the largest VGI project around. The contributions are within my “distributed intelligence” and are voluntary. The second aspect that makes the project is fascinating for me is linked to a talk from 2007 in one of the early OSM conferences about the usability barriers that OSM (or more general VGI) need to cross to reach a wide group of contributors – basically about user-centred design. The design of GLG is outstanding and shows how much was learned by the Google Maps and more generally by Google about crowdsourcing. I had very little information from Google about the project (Ed Parsons gave me several helpful comments on the final slide set), but by experiencing it as a participant who can notice the design decisions and implementation, it is hugely impressive to see how VGI is being implemented professionally.

As a demonstration project, it provides examples for recruitment, nudging participants to contribute, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, participation inequality, micro-tasks and longer tasks, incentives, basic principles of crowdsourcing such as “open call” that support flexibility, location and context aware alerts, and much more. Below is the segment from the lecture that focuses on Google Local Guides, and I hope to provide a more detailed analysis in a future post.

The rest of the lecture is available on UCLeXtend.

Online course – Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing

It’s a new year, and just the right time to announce that starting on the 11th January, UCL will run an 11 weeks hybrid (online and face to face) course called “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing“. This course aim is to introduce students to the theory and practice of citizen science and scientific crowdsourcing. The module will explore the history, theoretical foundations, and practical aspects of designing and running citizen science projects and it will be mostly taught by members of the Extreme Citizen Science group (we have some guests from other organisations!)

The course is run for the first time as part of the M.Sc. programmes at the Department of Geography at UCL, with face to face lectures and practical work. In the spirit of citizen science, we’re opening the course, and it is available on the UCLeXtend website.

The course will run as a hybrid – the material was designed to develop the learning of the students in the class, but then organised in a way that anyone who wants to join the course remotely can do so. For example, you will be able to follow the lectures online all the slides and the audio is available on UCLeXtend. The reading material and class preparation videos are all open access, and in the practicals, we are using open source software or websites that you can access regardless of your registration. Of course, you can’t get UCL credits for attending the class if you are just joining remotely – and those that attend the class will be assessed through two assignments that will be marked, but there are plenty of reflection questions and discussions in the online course for you to assess your progress and to provide us with feedback on how the course is going. We will dedicate some effort to support our distance learners and you will be able to interact with the students who take the class at UCL as you will be using the same material and system that they use.

Each week, there will be two lectures and a practical session that will demonstrate some aspects of the issues that were covered during the lectures. Each lecture and the activities that are linked to it are planned to last about an hour.

As a preparation for class, we will provide a video or two to watch and 2 or 3 pieces of text to read. These are necessary since the lecture assumes this preparation. The necessary readings are marked “Core Reading”. We also provide “Additional Reading” – these are usually pieces that were discussed in class. Finally, the “Deep Dive” reading are expanding on the class material and might be used in assignments (if you take the face to face course), or to expand your understanding (if you are taking the course remotely).

Below you’ll find an outline of the course and its content:

Date Content Lead
11 Jan Lecture: Historical citizen science, current trends that influence citizen science, and an overview Muki Haklay
Lecture: Landscape of citizen science – Typologies Muki Haklay
Practical: experiencing citizen science – PenguinWatch, Gender and Tech Magazines, and GalaxyZoo Alex Papadopoulos
18 Jan Lecture: Crowdsourcing principles and practice Muki Haklay
Lecture: Scientific crowdsourcing examples (guest lecture TBA) Muki Haklay
Practical: More complex crowdsourcing – OpenStreetMap and EyeOnAlz Alice Sheppard
25 Jan Lecture: User-centred design principles for citizen science technology Artemis Skarlatidou
Lecture: Online volunteer engagement, management, and care Alice Sheppard
Practical: Volunteers engagement scenarios Alice Sheppard
1 Feb Lecture: User-Centred Design methods for citizen science technology Artemis Skarlatidou
Lecture: User-Centred Design Methods for citizen science technology (guest lecture TBA) Artemis Skarlatidou
Practical: Usability evaluation of citizen science application – cognitive walkthrough and heuristic evaluation Alex Papadopoulos
8 Feb Lecture: Dealing with data in citizen science – quality, management, and sharing Muki Haklay
Lecture: Practical aspects of data management – technologies and existing systems Muki Haklay
Practical: using and analysing citizen science data with OPAL Data Explorer Alex Papadopoulos
15 Feb — No Class — Reading week
22 Feb Lecture: Citizen Science in environmental management and monitoring Muki Haklay
Lecture: Scales and types of environmental citizen science (guest lecture from Earthwatch TBA)
Practical: developing data collection tool with Esri Survey123 Alex Papadopoulos
1 Mar Lecture: Ethics and legal aspects of citizen science Muki Haklay
Lecture: Introduction to data collection for non-literate participants, Sapelli Julia Altenbuchner
Practical: Developing data collection app with Sapelli Julia Altenbuchner
8 Mar Lecture: Evaluation of citizen science activities – types and approaches Cindy Regalado
Lecture: Tools and methods of evaluation and demonstration on projects Cindy Regalado
Practical: Developing an evaluation framework and plan for a project Cindy Regalado
15 Mar Lecture: Policy and organisational aspects of citizen science Muki Haklay
Lecture: Understanding terminologies and definitions of citizen science Muki Haklay
Practical: Data collection with Sapelli and evaluation of results Julia Altenbuchner
22 Mar Lecture: Theoretical frameworks for citizen science – from Actor-Network Theory to Post-Normal Science Christian Nold
Lecture: Science and society framing of citizen science – from Alan Irwin to Responsible Research and Innovation Muki Haklay
Practical: Using iNaturalist or iSpot to collect data in the wild, and preparation to City Nature Challenge 2018 Muki Haklay


Part of the reason that we can open the course is through the support of UCL Geography department, with additional support from the following bodies:

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) project “OPENER: Scoping out a national cOmmunity of Practice for public ENgagement with Environmental Research” (NE/R012067/1)

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) projects “Extreme Citizen Science” (EP/I025278/1) and “Challenging RISK: Achieving Resilience by Integrating Societal and Technical Knowledge” (EP/K022377/1)

EU Horizon 2020 projects “Doing It Together science (DITOs)” (Project ID 709443) and “WeGovNow” (Project ID 693514).

European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant “Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation” (Project ID 694767)

Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography – VGI and Beyond: From Data to Mapping

Hot on the heels of the Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice is thThe Routledge Handbook of Mapping and CartographyRoutledge Handbook of Mapping and Cartography. The handbook was edited by Alex Kent (Canterbury Christ Church University) who is currently the President of the British Cartographic Society and Editor of The Cartographic Journal; and Peter Vujakovic (also from Canterbury Christ Church University) who edited The Cartographic Journal.

Like the other handbooks, this is an extensive collection of 43 chapters and almost 600 page about maps and mapping. The chapters provide a vivid demonstration that cartography and map making is art and science, and that it links to many sciences and practices – from cognitive psychology to geodesy. The list of authors is impressive and includes many of the people that are shaping current cartographic research.

However, with a price tag of £195 for the Book, this collection is expensive and suitable for university libraries and to professional or commercial mapping organisation. The eBook is £35, which makes it much more affordable, though having used the online system, the interface could be better. Luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution to the book is in a joint paper that was led by Vyron Antoniou titled VGI and Beyond: From Data to Mapping. The chapter is building on a collaboration between Vyron, myself and Cristina Capineri during the COST Action on Volunteered Geographic Information (ENERGIC). In the chapter, we look at the concept of Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) within practices of mapping and cartography and we attempted to provide an accessible overview of the area. We define what VGI is, provide an overview of the area, look at the advantages and disadvantages of VGI in mapping and cartography, and then look at the impacts of VGI on national mapping agencies, the public, and public bodies. The chapter is available here and we would be very happy to hear comments on it.



Chapter in Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice – Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action

The Routledge Handbook of Environmental Justice has been published in mid-September. This extensive book, of 670 pages is providing an extensive overview of scholarly research on environmental justice

The book was edited by three experts in the area – Ryan Holifield from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Jayajit Chakraborty from the University of Texas at El Paso, and Gordon Walker from the Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, UK. All three have affiliations that relate to Geography, and geographic and environmental information play a major part in the analysis and action regarding environmental justice.

The book holds 51 chapters that are covering the theory and practice of environmental justice – from how it is analysed and understood in different academic disciplines, to the methods that are used to demonstrate that environmental justice issues happen in a place,  and an overview of the regional and global aspects of current environmental justice struggles. The range of chapters and the knowledge of the people who write them are making this collection a useful resource for those who are studying and acting in this area (though few top authors in this field are missing, but their work is well referenced)

However, with a price tag of £165 for the Book, the costs put an obstacle for those who need the information but suitable for universities and libraries. The eBook is £35, which makes it much more affordable, though having used the online system, the interface could be better. Luckily the policy of Routledge permits sharing the chapters on personal websites.

My contribution, together with Louise Francis, is in Chapter 24 –Participatory GIS and community-based citizen science for environmental justice action. In this chapter, we provide an overview of the use of participatory GIS in environmental justice action, but in particular, a detailed explanation of the methodology that we have developed a decade ago, with contributions from Colleen Whitaker, Chris Church and other people that worked with us a the time. The methodology is now used in the activities of Mapping for Change.  The methodology supports both participatory mapping and citizen science.

As we note in the chapter “Our methodology emerged in 2007, through the London 21 Sustainability Network project ‘A Fairer, Greener London’, which aimed to give six marginalised communities the opportunity to develop their own understanding of local environmental justice issues and supporting action plans to address them. The project was integrated closely with the project ‘Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities’ which was funded as part of the UrbanBuzz scheme. Both projects were based on accessible GIS technologies and available environmental information sources.

The methodology evolved into a six-stage process that is inherently flexible and iterative – so, while the stages are presented here as a serial process, the application of the methodology for a specific case is carried out through a discussion with the local community.” The chapter provides an example for the implementation of the methodology from the work that we carried out in the Pepys Estate.

If you want to read the whole chapter (and use the methodology) you can find it here. For any other chapter in the handbook, email the authors and they will probably share a copy with you. 

Defining principles for mobile apps and platforms development in citizen science

Core concepts of apps, platforms and portals for citizen science

In December 2016, ECSA and the Natural History Museum in Berlin organised a  workshop on analysing apps, platforms, and portals for citizen science projects. Now, the report from the workshop with an addition from a second workshop that was held in April 2017 has evolved into an open peer review paper on RIO Journal.

The workshops and the paper came to life thanks to the effort of Soledad Luna and Ulrike Sturm from the Berlin Museum.

RIO is worth noticing: is “The Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO) journal” and what it is trying to offer is a way to publish outputs of the whole research cycle – from project proposals to data, methods, workflows, software, project reports and the rest. In our case, the workshop report is now open for comments and suggestions. I’ll be interested to see if there will be any…

The abstract reads:

Mobile apps and web-based platforms are increasingly used in citizen science projects. While extensive research has been done in multiple areas of studies, from Human-Computer Interaction to public engagement in science, we are not aware of a collection of recommendations specific for citizen science that provides support and advice for planning, design and data management of mobile apps and platforms that will assist learning from best practice and successful implementations. In two workshops, citizen science practitioners with experience in mobile application and web-platform development and implementation came together to analyse, discuss and define recommendations for the initiators of technology based citizen science projects. Many of the recommendations produced during the two workshops are applicable to non-mobile citizen science project. Therefore, we propose to closely connect the results presented here with ECSA’s Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

and the paper can be accessed here.