‘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

Notes from ICCB/ECCB 2015 (Day 3) – Citizen Science, engaging local knowledge and urban areas

The third day of the ICCB/ECCB 2015 (here are notes from first and second days) was packed with sessions about citizen science and local knowledge throughout the day (so this post is very very long!). It started with two sessions on citizen science / public participation in science that included the following talks:

Citizen science online: Producing high-quality data from camera trap images (Alexandra Swanson, University of Oxford) looking at a crowdsourcing process – the growth of use of technology in conservation produce huge amount of data – images are especially an issue as they are produced from camera traps, drones etc. and difficult to analyse with computers. She describe snapshot Serengeti – in which many camera traps are used: half a million images a year. They teamed with Zooniverse to set a system for volunteer classification. The website allow people to classify without being experts, without limitation of participation other than web connection. They had 1m classifications in the first 3 days of operations. To get best data possible, each image is sent to multiple people and there is no ‘I don’t know’ so to ensure that everything is being used. Looking at multiple users we can see the level of agreement between them. When people disagree on what they’ve see, there will be high level of disagreement in their classification. The aggregate results over multiple volunteers, then they have certainty metrics (how confident the final answer is) and compare a subset with expert answers. People are 97% correct – agreement with experts’ analysis is very common. Accuracy varies by species – some species are more commonly missed (false negative) and reported when they are not there (reported when not there). Rhinos, for example, suffer from high false positives (people want to see them). To improve classification, analysed errors against total pictures and found that rare species are harder than others – and moderate erros for these rare species is the purpose of camera trapping projects. False negatives are harder to identify. The classification by multiple users allows the development of a disagreement metric and they can see in wrong images high level of disagreement. Below the 0.75 disagreement score is 98.2% accurate. Therefore it can be used to target volunteer effort. They calculated dynamic improvement in quality as the number of classifiers increase – for more difficult images, you use more volunteers… conclusion: can dynamically target the volunteers and expert effort to make the most of the effort. Zooniverse is increasing the potential of starting new citizen science projects.

Corporate citizen science; A novel tool for tackling environmental sustainability? – (Jenny Cousins, Earthwatch Institute).  Citizen Science has multiple goals, and the interaction with the corporate sector is important for EarthWatch as they have a critical role to play in different activities. Freshwater Watch is part of a wider HSBC programme, and bring a global community of scientists and participants – 5000 citizen science (HSBC employees mostly) in 32 locations across the world. The participants fill that they are part of a global project. Employees join for a day, and then collect data every 3 months of a local freshwater locations (e.g. ponds) – they want people to be engaged and collect data, but also to think of water footprint in daily life. The data become part of local and global data – there are some aims to make the data widely available and use for academic publications and local management plans. EarthWatch evaluates how well people learn from the day, and their commitment to the project. They look at how people participate over time – including longer ‘stories’ from participants to see their journey. There are also signs of behaviour change outside work. The benefits of the partnership – funding global research programme, unique dataset, and personal and corporate outcomes. There are challenges in quality control, multi cultural aspects and continuity (only 21% continue to contribute data). The sustainability leadership citizen science programme is 5 days immersive programme for senior staff – 1000 senior manages, with 12,000 hours of data collection and learn about climate change and how it is relevant to their work. The hope is that participants will be integrating an understanding of climate change into their work. For participants is help to connect to nature, and change their perspective on life. Working with scientists is a key to increase knowledge and awareness, and changes in behaviour personally and at corporate levels. Majority of participants led to development and implementation of sustainability strategy – reducing energy, waste, use of renewable energy etc. The challenge that they identified is how to support actions in the workplace, and they created an online community of practice to support such change. Corporate projects can be immersive and aimed at senior staff, or higher volume but less engagement. Face to face training is a key to commitment. Training does not always translate into action – so they are looking at the barriers and identifying the factors that will help making a better change. They also want to understand and measure the wider and longer term outcomes.
Local people count: Using citizen scientists to monitor fruit bat populations (Tammy Mildenstein, Cornell College) covered citizen science in the Philippines, and how data can be used. For her, citizen science has multiple goals – build capacity, increase awareness, local knowledge can help in improving programme. In the Philippines people are involved in conservation research from limited engagement to higher level of monitoring – but only rarely in analysis. Depending on the question, can we trust citizen science data? Her case is about Flying Foxes which are largest bats, they are threatened and Old World fruit bats are not covered well in the literature. Monitoring give baseline trend information, and also identify conservation priorities, and feedback to conservation management. It also provide community-based harvest regulations (people hunt the bats) and local monitor provide the ability to manage the population. We tend to monitor to identify population trends – the power to detect is based on the population size, but we can deal with survey effort and survey error. So trying to increase survey effort and reduce the error. From 20 years of data, they compared the survey data that was gathered, and the error was calculated as difference in mean count among groups of observers, and they also compared different levels of skills – from biologists, bat hunters, to inexperienced helpers. Anyone above 4 surveys is classified as expert, forest works (hunters of workers) and everyone else. The error among experts – 2.9% error, forest workers 7.0% error and for untrained counters – almost 30% error. In terms of identifying the impact of the effort, they simulated a trend, and then simulated count assuming that they can get with these errors from different participants. Looking at the untrained participants – they realised that over longer period of monitoring, there is no error in trend detection for more experienced monitors. Conclusions: error rates to not affect much trend detection – citizen scientists help in increasing survey effort (more frequent monitoring and spatially too).

Essential Biodiversity Variables – and the emerging role of citizen science Mark Chandler (EarthWatch) – the challenge is how we aggregate data to understanding regional trends – but a lot of biodiversity data is limited, patchy, hidden data, limited capacity within nations to maintain programme, limited integration, and weak links between data collectors and policy-makers. The GEO-BON aim is to meet user needs (e.g. REDD or CBD), and they suggest the creation of essential biodiversity variables, similar to the climate change variables that are used by IPCC. It’s top down effort, the can work with bottom-up with national and regional capacity building. There are suggested 6 classes (Pereira et al, science, 2012) and the challenge is to mix remote sensing data and citizen science data to get detailed information. They identified that many of the gaps in variables can be helped by citizen science. They can consider participatory research: community based monitoring, crowdsourced citizen science (iNaturalist) and intensive research question driven (EarthWatch projects). The recommendations include that there is a need for build capacity to carry out citizen science projects, and large scale platform that will support data movement from local projects to global platforms such as GBIF. Citizen Science can contribute to monitoring protected area management – from park staff to outside visitors. The key is how to make data discoverable and shared. He demonstrated from Montane Meadows of the Sierra Nevada, where there is significant funding to restore wetlands, with only 1% of meadows studied – and remote sensing don’t give enough information, so the opportunity is to encourage people who like to visit the place to collect standardised data. EarthWatch help in developing a programme with 6 other organisations on this.

Several short talks followed:

What motivates citizens to take part in the management of an invasive non-native species? the case of tree mallow control on the islands of the Firth of Forth, Scotland – Marie Pagès, University of Aberdeen – she looks at volunteers who are involved in dealing with invasive species. Important to understand motivation and keep people motivated. She studies an Island, and there are plants that threatens the nests of puffins, a project worked well to control the plants. The survey showed that initial involvement was a combination of interest in the environment and having a nice day outdoors in an interesting place. On going motives include seeing progress and experiencing learning about nature, but the social dimension was critical – being with like minded people, interacting with project leaders. The implications for volunteering – the meaning and attachment to place are important to engage volunteer and maintain engagement. There is also importance in social aspect and being in nature (e.g. places that are inaccessible)

Another short talk Understanding the motivations and satisfactions of volunteers to improve the effectiveness of citizen science programs – Dale Wright, Birdlife South Africa – understanding the people who make monitoring  possible. Ornithology have a long history of engaging the public, and they create a project of create a bird atlas, and created psychometric instrument and with 75 questions, with looking at motivation and satisfaction, but also understand ‘ambassador potential’, with different tests. Used environmental volunteer functions inventory (EVFI) and modified it – the volunteer want to link to nature, they want to contribute to nature conservation, they wanted to see personal development. They put participants in the centre of the logic model and working around them. They developed evaluation programme and have some. Results of research are shared back with participants

The next short talk covered Citizen science in rural Africa: The conservation and monitoring of a threatened carnivore by Maasai hunters – Stephanie Dolrenry, Lion Guardians – she talks about working in rural SA. They realised that lions are hard to study – found more dead lions that live lions. They engaged with the warriors in the Maasai who are many times killing. They asked them to collect data that they use and the participants are illiterate, and taught them to collect the data by telemetry and GPS. The worriers helped in many ways. The data that came out of the monitoring, they have the same number of researchers, but now they cover 4000 sq km with the help of the citizen scientists. They discovered much more as a result of the work, and tripled the populations, the warriors took ownership over the lions and there are societal, social and conservation outcomes – many people can name a lion and they relate to them. Number of lions decreased – the reporting is 90% accurate. (in a paper Dolreny Hazzah at all ‘citizen Science in Africa). Engaging the  worriers in the process of tracking lions, giving them skills, providing job opportunities and prestige from using telemetry and GPS. They are paid to be guardians – once they show the opportunity, they are being compensated. They do get the participants together and report back, discussing what was seen and how to understand the outcomes.

Nature in your backyard – Citizen science in gardens – Silvia Winter, University of Natural Resources And Life Sciences Vienna – she looks at citizen science in urban garden which are under-studied habitat but difficult to access. There are a lot of people living in cities and gardens cover large surface (8% in Vienna). They had an aim of recording biodiversity of target species – bees, butterflies, garden birds and hedgehogs . They carried out work with 16 schools wand 428 pupils, with 309 garden interview about management and structures, and they got 132 gardens that are being monitored. They have tracking tunnels to hedgehog that can be checked after 5 days for footprints. Information is then shared online in a specific site. They found hedgehogs tracks in 54% of the garden. igelimgarten.boku.ac.at

The first long talk of the second part was Promotion of biodiversity in agricultural landscape via umbrella bird species, agri-envi scheme and citizen science project: Lessons from central European country  – (Vojtěch Kubelka, Charles University, Prague) – combining biodiversity in agriculture. In agricultural spaces, there is intensification and reduction in birds, butterflies and other species. Agri-envi schemes promote biodiversity, and they wanted to promote umbrella bird species (Northern Lepwing). They designed model of data collection that involve citizen scientists who are interested in birds together with farmers’ involvement. After 2 years of monitoring, they have online system for collecting observations from the field. The project is running since 2012 and  increased to over 3500 observation, from 1248 localities with 222 observers, and because the birds nest in arable land, they designed suitable agri-envi schemes in suitable areas, with 11,420 ha. The potential of the project is great – the project was successful and the selection of the umbrella/flagship species was successful, with a promising agri-envi project design.

Predicting impacts of forest management and climate change on dead-wood dependent fungi distributions using citizen science data and a range of modeling approaches – (Louise Mair, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) – overall aim  is compare future viabilities of species among different forest management scenarios, considering both use of forest and the biodiversity. The evaluate – looking at specific fungi that relate to the age of the forest. The recording is presence only, and there is a need to understand distribution of fungi and the behaviour of volunteers. They evaluate how good are the observers and some of them are very good. She modelled the data with different approaches: GLM, MAxEnt, PA/PO and Occupancy models – using environmental covariants, species observation data (presence-absence from recorders who are especially good, and presence-only in other cases, and background data, as well as bias layers – including information about where population are. Using different models mean that they agree that there is different between two scenario, but big disagreement in the scale or the rate of change. Models are producing different projections.

Can citizen science yield conservation outcomes? A framework describing pathways to conservation – (Tina Phillips, Cornell Lab Of Ornithology) looking at conservation within large scale citizen science projects. The field of citizen science grown with lots of special issues, conferences etc. There is a need to measure/document outcomes and impacts – scientific outcomes are clear, education outcomes are also clear, but what about the conservation outcomes? The problem is that it’s about site management-> conservation outcomes – but this is not how large scale projects work. So citizen science work indirectly – supporting research, education, policy or local community activity. They look at the theory of change from Shirk et al 2012 which is a logic model that expects outputs, outcomes and impacts. A results chain is a way to describe the conservation goals – understanding strategies and outcomes. The are causal, and you work backwards from the results – using an if-then – it also help identify intermediate outputs & outcomes, and linked outcomes and activities to explain how and why thins happen. The COASST project is a large scale survey of dead birds on coasts – the goal is improved bird population, the can articulate, the intermediate stages: e.g. if training material is provided, and if sufficient volunteers trained and if data collected by volunteers then you got the data, but if it’s not validated and accepted, the chain can fall apart – it’s useful to articulate that. Similar analysis was carried out for the Monarch Larva Monitoring project and they developed pathways that led to a success with people managing the project. in eBird who is successful in use for different projects. In eBird, Cornel Lab evaluated what people do with the data – they identified site and habitat management, habitat protection and even for law & policy and species management – they had 150 answers of users of the data. There are many pathways to conservation, and need to align goals to outcomes and activities. Data quality is paramount. In the implementation there is a need for data feedback, ensure data transparency, and local stakeholder involvement. – finally, need to have useful evaluation as it goes along.  Many of the processes are not linear and are more messy in reality. Pathways are messy in reality

Another set of short presentation started with Online conservation – Updated spatial information on threatened plant species in Israel – (Ofer Steinitz, Israel Nature And Parks Authority) information about threatened species – they have red book for Israeli plant from 2007 and 2011, but they need to monitor it dynamically, They developed an interactive website that encourage people to collect information about the plants and can do different things with the information such as query it and visualise maps. People share information from smartphones, or images that they collected, and there are experts vetting of the information. Absences can also be reported in the system. Since the launched in may 2015, they received 74 new observations of 56 threatened species, and including a rare  observation. There are 3000 observations that are explored by experts , and they see themselves progressing Red Book update online, with a process of expert reviews (redlist.parks.org.il)

Citizen science projects in environmental NGOs – Bridging the gap between scientific standards and civil engagement – Eick von Ruschkowski, Naturschutzbund Deutschland (Nabu – Nature And Biodiversity Conversation Union) looks at process beyond citizen science – argue that it’s controversial buzzword – seeing citizen science as second-rate science or providing cheap field research assistants. These are not correct – debate in Germany about the quality of the data, and there are varying levels of citizen science in terms of how people should be engaged. There are questions about questions on motivations and many projects are at local and regional in which there is a lack of research funding, and we need to identify the link between age, taxonomic knowledge, and digital affinity. We need to look at citizen science from NGO perspective – have mutual respect for professional and non-professional scientists. and managing volunteers but require. Also users want to have control over the data, and need to agree about data ownership and how it is used.

Those two session followed by a lunchtime workshop on the role of citizen sciences and collaborative research in conserving bio cultural diversity (Sylvie Blangy), the session on how to improve citizens-researchers dialogues. They explores 5 projects: Orchidees sauvages de Frances, Observatoire des Saisons, Sauvages de marue, Aborinet and Ewé relict forest . The session was organised by GDR Parcs working on Participatory Action Research and citizen science – trying to involve citizens in alls stages of the research project. Camila Leandro from Tela Botanica – NGOs in Montpellier to reunite French-speaking botanists. Having a network that everyone can create projects and develop them – data is shared openly. They have a team of 10 employees – coordiantors and IT experts, and work with a wider network. They have FloraData and eVeg that allow recording, and an online book – Carnet En Ligne, identification by peers – IndetiPlante and coordinate citizen science projects. Sauvages de ma rue is a way to study urban plant, through easy process of data collection. Observatoire Des Saisons started in 2006 and is about phenology, with more than 10,000 records, and they linking news about climate change and biodiversity laws etc. They also provide visualisation tools to explore the data. They have a system of newsletters – to update people on what is happening with the data (Lettre de Printemps) . Philippe Feldmann presented Orchisauvage – monitoring wild orchid in France. 3000 people involved. Website was developed to support an NGO – it’s a new approach on interactions between science and society. Website open to people from all walks of life and also include mobile application – the data is validated bu experts. There are many tools – including ability to export maps by participants with limited knowledge. Since Feb 2014 They got 150,000 records, with 1500 registered users, with 14K images. There is high level of commitment of observers. Alfred Houngnon from Benin showed how to involved local communities in collaborative research. Benin is part of the Dahomey Gap hotspot – which is biodiversity hotspot Ewé relict forest is emblematic in Benin and is recognised as important. The forest area is shrinking from 571 ha in 1987 to 364 in 2007. Created farmer field school and sharing with communities in the area. The facilitators are native to of Ewé and the aim to developed common view on the goals of the project – the project is deliberately bottom-up. They identified over 250 plants that are unknown in Benin and contributed to conservation. The final case looked at community based indigenous tourism, starting in 2006, with 2000 copies sold – and then moving to collaborative website, that connect the communities, exchange lessons learned, share information and improve the location as destinations. Aboriginal-ecotourism website created the network.

The workshop included an exercises and identify problem that you seen in presentation (yes, but) and also positive comments (Yes, and) to the different activities, and trying to improve the systems that are used in citizen science.

A Symposium Power to the People? Valuing and Integrating Local Perspectives in Conservation the session was organised by Emily Woodhouse, and it included early career researchers. A core question was how to address inequalities in conservation projects and engage and listen to local voices.

Conservationist vs local voices: Telling a story of conservation and conflict from different perspectives Jevgeniy Bluwstein, Copenhagen University – is doing work in Tanzania, in the Kakoi – village land between two protected areas, wildlife management area. There is a conflict between private investor in wildlife sanctuary and the community who want to access the land for cattle grazing. Issues in the community about conservation include: land ownership, local participation in decision making and others. The conflict started with investor with a contract in the community based organisation that created a contract and think that the contract set the relationship, but negotiation by representative is not enough – as they wouldn’t agree to the contract if they knew that they would not be allow to graze. There is also issues with who’s land it is – investor think that it’s not part of Kako, while the local people see it as their own land, and the investor need to come and as their permission. The investor is treated as external and without rights. There is also issue of participation – the investor consider negotiation with CBO as enough, and claim that ‘the whole community support the land-use concept’ as he consider talking to a representative body. Villagers don’t feel that they were part of the decision. In terms of environmental protection, investor consider it as need to rehabilitate this path and see grazing cattle as misuse, while local people want to use it sustainability and need it in the dry season. more fundamental disagreement about what grazing is – sustainable practice or not? In terms of rural development – the investor argue that he bring tourism and that will create income locally, and support local school, while the local people consider it that they don’t benefit and think that support goes to other villages and not to them. So we have value system that then lead to concept and these are based on facts, but there is disagreement about how to understand these facts.

Understanding locally defined human well-being to measure impacts of conservation projects on the northern plains of Cambodia – Emilie Beauchamp (Imperial College London), there are linkages between wellbeing and conservation. Conservation need to understand wellbeing perception and contextualise the indicators. Measuring wellbeing is difficult. To define wellbeing, she looked at existing studies – ‘voices of the poor’ and work from the university of Bath on that. Five elements – physical environment, human capital resources, social resources and relationships, security, and autonomy and freedom of choice. The Material and natural resources and human resources are being address in conservation, but the other are not being dealt with. In her work in North Cambodia, looking at 3 villages who are impacted by land concessions. Carried out in-depth qualitative interviews with 56 people exploring ‘what does it mean to have a good life’, and evaluated cultural salience assuming that the earlier things that are mentioned are higher priority. Natural and human assets top of the list (top is agricultural land), with relationships also being important. If there is activity that influence fairness, risk of loosing land influence the  view of wellbeing. Conservation projects need to be sensitive to land and natural resources, and changes can have high impact on wellbeing.

Communities count: The role of local people in ecological monitoring – Samantha Earle (Imperial College London) she talked about one specific approach. Monitoring is a way to measure the state of the system so it can be used in decision making. Many stakeholders, including local people. Monitoring involving local people is seen as a way to allow local people to deal with management decisions. Involving local people improve their understanding as well as integrating their traditional knowledge, and potentially economic benefits. She reviewed 42 papers on participatory monitoring, and among them there are many feasibility studies and a whole range of goals and objectives. The things that are measures – anthropogenic activities (e.g. logging), information about species but also food security etc. The common data collection are line transects but also catch data but many other ways. The approach is seen cost effective, frequent data collection, capture and enhance local traditional ecological knowledge and build capacity and empowerment, and create awareness. Limitations include issues with quality control issues, create internal conflicts with unequal distribution of benefits, there is also concern of information misuse, and there is reliance on external support. There are social impacts – justice and ethics: the right to have a say, and get benefits, as well as understanding the projects. Only few papers discuss the impact of the project on local people and even that is only in anecdotal way. There is an evidence of increased awareness within the community, promote community discussions, and individual and community empowerment. What are the durable long-term methods? which ways should we measure social impacts? how to maintain motivation and enthusiasm?

Some points from the panel discussion included that if local community cannot see the reason to carry out conservation, they will not participate and there is no value in pursuing it.

An afternoon symposium was dedicated to Creating Natural Connections In Unnatural Habitats Through Citizen Science and included:

Citizen science as a potential tool to prevent the extinction of experience – (Assaf Shwartz, Technion) – there is biodiversity crisis is a result of human action, and the solution largely depend on actions of individuals, and public support to encourage government to act. Part of the arguments is the diversity message is too complex – so difficult to link it to action (Swartz et al 2012). The literature also suggest that conservation biology don’t use the right langauge (hence the ecosystem services framework). But there is the concept of ‘extinction of experience’ – lack of experience of nature in urban areas and missing these experiences when living in cities. Measuring this issue is complex and he is using the natural environment link it to affective and cognitive results. Currently using a survey in an urban and rural area. Using the framework of Nisebet et al. 2009 and checked how many common species people identify. People in rural area are more connected to nature, but in terms of correct answers, more correct ones in a rural area, but how many people know – the urban people claim to know more species. To enhance biodiversity experience in different places – it’s easy to increase biodiversity in urban areas in garden through simple interventions (Shwartz et al. 2014). The social side – there was no difference in people perceptions of the biodiversity. Urban dwellers are less connected to nature and there are health and wellbeing benefits to such connection which is missing. The challenge is to prevent the extinction of experience – and increasing biodiversity of urban areas is not enough, so need to increase positive interactions between people and biodiversity, and people don’t notice it. Citizen science is a method to increasing knowledge and he is exploring how participating in citizen science change attitude. The worked with 316 fourth-grade children, and then compared class to citizen science activities. The post intervention results, the was increased ability to recognise bird, but increase in attitude.

What’s in your backyard? Citizen science camera trapping as a lens to study mammal diversity in classrooms – Stephanie Schuttler- children have all sort of natural connection that lead to interest in science, but this is difficult in urban environments. The student discover project there are lesson plans that use camera trap (eMammal ) programme, they are being used as a way to record different animals that are describing the place – and it’s an evidence. Users upload the images on a specially designed website, the photos are reviewed by experts – to ensure that classification is correct. Projects are now increasing in urban areas, and backyards of people are important habitats, and these places were ignored by scientists traditionally. The teachers are trained to be experts in the field, and that helped in increasing confidence, and the teachers have a lot of fun – but also once they know that it’s for real science, they take it seriously. They noticed that coyotes are becoming more urban, and they see that in the Raleigh area. They are now setting a wider programme – eMammal International in India – showing that roads that are used in the day are also used by tigers at night. There is increase knowledge of natural history, and they found that they created advocates

Take back the block: An urban citizen science program – (Amanda Sorenson, Rutgers), with Rebecca Jordan, working on socio-ecological systems. The aim is to increase resilience and build capacity in the community to respond to changes. A resilient community can keep critical functions in times of uncertainty, and they can monitor, cope and adapt and thrive, So they create ‘collaborativescience.org’ a website that enable citizen scientists to join, and do place-based work, while having access to resources at other levels. An example of that is the Virgina Master Naturalists – individuals with capacity for monitoring and advocacy – retired, wealthy and using it for conservation, and focus on things such as stream protection. They recruited a scientists, set a monitoring programme, to check for sources of pollution, checking in different results, and they secure $200K to improve a stream bank remediation. Another platform is Mosquito Stoppers in highly West-Baltimore, in a non-engaged community in terms of local decision making and also underserved. They worked in areas that have low socio-economic status and explored is unmanaged container habitats support greater mosquito production? they develop a programme to monitor change over time and using adaptive strategies to remote the trash, and developing capacity for action and choice. The citizen science is an opportunity to provide voice and agency – they worked with a whole range or participants, with 74% said that they are bothered by the mosquito every day and 60% reported changing behaviour to avoid being bitten. After participation in citizen science, the participants believe that personal and community actions will have broader impact. We see in citizen science change in agency. Citizen science have a role in agency, epistemic practice etc.

 Short and long term consequences of urban citizen-science projects to individual connection to nature – (Anne-Caroline Prevot, CNRS and the NHM), concerned with extinctions of experience and environmental generational amnesia (Kahn 2002). using the (Stren 200 J Social Issues) model of pro-environmental behaviour. The theory of planned behaviour accept habit and routine as major factors. Citizen science can be used to improve connection to nature – biodiversity representation, environmental values, in-group social identity, practical knowledge and habits and routine. She use data from the programme vigie-Nature programme – a questionnaire to the volunteers and 1723 responses, 30 in-depth interview using anthropological approach (Cosquer et al 2012 Ecol Society) and finally working with 400 pupils using questionnaire and drawing in school. Experts said that they didn’t learn much, but the volunteers said that they learned before. In the voluntary butterflies monitoring, they volunteered because of confidence in science and the museum, but showed high interest and knowledge of butterflies, change gardening practices. Within the school programme, they ask students to draw urban garden they would dream of in checked for environmental values and outdoor activities. Used drawing to count natural elements , human presence and built elements. In the study they show that participation in citizen science, make nature more present in drawing, as long as they had outdoor extra school activities. In the short term there was no change in environmental values.

Esri survey123 tool – rapid prototyping geographical citizen science tool

There are several applications that allow creating forms rapidly – such as Open Data Kit (ODK) or EpiCollect. Now, there is another offering from Esri, in the form of Survey123 app – which is explained in the video below.

Survey123 is integrated into ArcGIS Online, so you need an ArcGIS account to use it (you can have a short experiment if you register for a trial account, but for a longer project you’ll have to pay). The forms are configured in XForms, like ODK . The forms can be designed in Excel fairly quickly, and the desktop connection package make it easy to link to the Survey123 site, as well as testing forms.  I tried creating a form for local data collection, including recording a location and taking an image with the phone. It was fairly easy to create forms with textual, numerical, image and location information, and the software also supports the use of images to items in the form, so they can be illustrated visually. The desktop connector application also allow use to render the form, so they can be tested before they are uploaded to ArcGIS Online. Then it is possible to distribute the form to mobile devices and use them to collect the information.

The app works well offline, and it is possible to collect multiple forms and then upload them all together. While the application still showing rough edges in terms of interaction design, meaningful messages and bug clearing, it can be useful for developing prototypes and forms when the geographic aspect of the data collection is central. For example, during data collection the application supports both capturing the location from GPS and pointing on a map to the location where the data was collected. You can only use GPS when you are offline, as for now it doesn’t let you cache a map of a study area.

As might be expected, the advantage of Survey123 is coming once you’ve got the information and want to analyse it, since ArcGIS Online provide the tools for detailed GIS analysis, or you can link to it from a desktop GIS and analyse and visualise the information.

Luckily for us, Esri is a partner of the Extreme Citizen Science group and UCL also holds an institutional licence for ArcGIS Online, so we have access to these tools. However, through Esri conservation programme can also apply to have access to ArcGIS Online and use this tool.

Call for papers – special issue of the Cartographic Journal on Participatory GIS

Call for papers for a special issue of The Cartographic Journal on past, present and future of
Participatory GIS and Public Participation GIS.

DSC01463In the 1990s, participatory GIS (PGIS) and Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) emerged as an approach and tool to make geospatial technologies more relevant and accessible to marginalized groups. The goal has been to integrate the qualitative and experiential knowledge of local communities and individuals, thereby empowering local peoples and non-profit organizations to participate in political decision-making. By enabling the participation of local people from different walks of life, P/PGIS has provided a platform where these people can share their viewpoints and create maps depicting alternative views of the same problem, but from a local perspective.

Over the years, numerous applications integrating GIS and social and spatial knowledge of local groups have been developed. P/PGIS appears well articulated as a technique. With the growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), from an epistemological view point the relationship of P/PGIS constructs (society, technology and institutions) and the use of components (access, power relations, diverse knowledge) in P/PGIS necessitates an exploration of what P/PGIS means in 21st century.

A related field, Citizen Science a.k.a. public participation in scientific research is a research technique that allows participation of public in the discovery of new scientific knowledge through data collection, analysis, or reporting. This approach can be viewed to be somewhat similar in its implementation to P/PGIS, which broadens the scope of data collection and enables information sharing among stakeholders in specific policies to solve a problem. The success of all three concepts, citizen science, PGIS and PPGIS, is influenced by the Geoweb – an integration of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (e.g., social networking sites) and geospatial technologies (e.g., virtual globes like Google Earth, free and open source GIS like QGIS and location enabled devices like the iPhone) – that allows a platform for non-experts to participate in the creation and sharing of geospatial information without the aid of geospatial professionals.

Following a successful session in the AAG 2015 Annual Meeting, this call is for papers that will appear in a special issue of ‘The Cartographic Journal’ (http://www.maneyonline.com/loi/caj). We are calling for reflections on PPGIS/PGIS and citizen science that address some of the questions that are listed below.

  1. What social theories form the basis for the current implementation of P/PGIS? Have these theories changed? What remains persistent and intractable?
  2. What role do spatial theories, such as Tobler’s law of spatial relations or issues of spatial data accuracy, have in P/PGIS, Citizen Science or crowdsourcing?
  3. Since Schlossberg and Shuford, have we gotten better at understanding who the public is in PPGIS and what their role is in a successful deployment of PGIS?
  4. Which new knowledge should be included in data collection, mapping and decision-making and knowledge production? To what extent are rural, developing country, or marginalized communities really involved in the counter-mapping process? Are they represented when this action is undertaken by volunteers?
  5. What role do new ICTs and the emergence of crowdsourcing plays in the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge? Do new tech and concepts hinder the participatory process or enable empowerment of local communities? Do we have new insights on what could be considered technological determinism?
  6. Do we need to revisit P/PGIS in light of any of these shifts? How often do P/PGIS projects need to be revisited to address the dynamic nature of society and political factors and to allow future growth?
  7. How effective have P/PGIS and Citizen Science been in addressing issues of environmental and social justice and resource allocation, especially, from a policy-making perspective?
  8. Are we any better at measuring the success of P/PGIS and/or Citizen Science? Should there be policies to monitor citizen scientists’ participation in Geoweb? If so, for what purpose?
  9. What should be the role of privacy in P/PGIS, for example, when it influences the accuracy of the data and subsequent usability of final products? How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?
  10. How has the concept of the digital divide been impacted by the emergence of the Geoweb, crowdsourcing and/or neogeography?
  11. What is the range of participatory practices in Citizen Science and what are the values and theories that they encapsulate?
  12. What are the different applications of Citizen Science from policy and scientific research perspective?
  13. To what extent do the spatial distribution of citizens influence their participation in decision making process and resolving scientific problems?
  14. How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?

Editors: Muki Haklay (m.haklay@ucl.ac.uk), University College London, UK; Renee Sieber (renee.sieber@mcgill.ca), McGill University; Rina Ghose (rghose@uwm.edu), University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Bandana Kar (bandana.kar@usm.edu), University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg. Please use this link to send queries about the special issues, or contact one of the editors.

Submission Deadlines
Abstract – a 250 word abstract along with the title of the paper, name(s) of authors and their affiliations must be submitted by 15th August 2015 to Muki Haklay (use the links above). The editorial team will make a decision if the paper is suitable for the special issue by 1st September
Paper – The final paper created following the guidelines of The Cartographic Journal must be submitted by 30th October 2015.
Our aim is that the final issue will be published in early 2016

COST Energic Summer School on VGI and Citizen Science in Malta

Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations
Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations

COST Energic organised a second summer school that is dedicated to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and citizen science. This time, the school was run by the Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development of the University of Malta. with almost 40 participants from across Europe and beyond (Brazil, New Zealand), and, of course, participants from Malta. Most of the students are in early stage of their academic career (Masters and Ph.D. students and several postdoctoral fellows) but the school was also attended by practitioners – for example in urban planning or in cultural heritage. Their backgrounds included engineering, geography, environmental studies, sociology, architecture, biology and ecology, computer science. The areas from which the participants came from demonstrate the range of disciplines and practices that are now involved in crowdsourced data collection and use. Also interesting is the opening of governmental and non-governmental bodies to the potential of crowdsourcing as evident from the practitioners group.

The teachers on the programme, Maria Attard, Claire Ellul, Rob Lemmens, Vyron Antoniou, Nuno Charneca, Cristina Capineri (and myself) are all part of the COST Energic network. Each provide a different insight and interest in VGI in their work – from transport, to spatial data infrastructure or participatory mapping. The aim of the training school was to provide a ‘hands-on’ experience with VGI and citizen science data sources, assuming that some of the students might be new to the topics, the technologies or both. Understanding how to get the data and how to use it is an important issue that can be confusing to someone who is new to this field – where the data is, how do you consume it, which software you use for it etc.

Collecting information in the University of Malta
Collecting information in the University of Malta

After covering some of the principles of VGI, and examples from different areas of data collection, the students started to learn how to use various OpenStreetMap data collection tools. This set the scene to the second day, which was dedicated to going around the university campus and collecting data that is missing from OpenStreetMap, and carrying out both the data collection and then uploading the GPS Tracks and sharing the information. Of particular importance was the reflection part, as the students were asked to consider how other people, who are also new to OpenStreetMap will find the process.

Using meteorological sensors in Gozo
Using meteorological sensors in Gozo

The next level of data collection involved using sensors, with an introduction to the potential of DIY electronics such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a basis for sensing devices. A field trip to Gozo in the next day provided the opportunity to explore these tools and gain more experience in participatory sensing. Following a lecture on participatory GIS application in Gozo, groups of students explored a local park in the centre of Rabat (the capital of Gozo) and gained experience in participatory sensing and citizen science.

Learning together The training school also included a public lecture by Cristina Capineri on ‘the fortune of VGI’.

The students will continue to develop their understanding of VGI and citizen science, culminating with group presentations on the last day. The most important aspects of any training school, as always, is in the development of new connections and links between the people on the programme, and in the conversations you could notice how these areas of research are still full of questions and research challenges.

Citizen Science in the Research Evaluation Framework impact studies

In the UK, every 5 years or so, there is a complex and expensive process that evaluates the work of academics in research institutions across the country, and rate them in terms of quality (see the infographics). The last round of this process was called ‘Research Evaluation Framework’ or REF for short. You don’t need to look far to find complaints about it, the measures that are used, the methodology and so on. I think that a lot of this criticism is justified, but this post is not about the process of the REF, but about the outcomes.

The REF included a requirement from universities to demonstrate their wider societal impact – beyond teaching, publishing academic papers or sharing research results. The societal impact includes lots of aspects, and while academics and evaluators are fixated on economic outcomes, impacts also include policy, influencing health and wellbeing, and engaging the public in scientific research. The writing of impact case studies was a major task for the academics that were selected to write them (about 1 in 10) and universities invested money and effort in picking up the best examples that they could find. When looking at these examples, we need to remember that they were submitted in 2013, so they cover the work done by universities until then.

According to a study that looked at these impact descriptions, out of the 6,975 cases, 447 (6.5%) are classified as ‘public engagement’ of all forms (e.g. a lecture). Within these cases, the database of impact case studies provides about 731 that use the term ‘public engagement’, 260 that use the term ‘participatory’, about 60 which include ‘public participation’ and 33 that include the ‘citizen science’ with few more that did not but are about it. While this is a tiny group (0.5%), it is still interesting to see what projects are included.

It is not surprising to find that  ecological projects such as Conker Tree Science, invasive species & the ladybird surveyThe Black Squirrel Project, or observing ants and spidersgrassland fungi, stag beetles, birds, and amphibians  were included. As expected, the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project is noted by the Universities of Central Lancashire, Birmingham, UCL, and the Open University (but surprisingly missing from the university that coordinated the effort – Imperial College). There are also apps such as the WildKnwledge recording app or the iSpot app. Related environmental projects include monitoring peatland erosion or community volcanology. Also Community Archaeology and involvement in archaeology excavations can be considered as outdoor activities.

Volunteer thinking in the form of Zooniverse appeared several times from the Universities of Oxford, Portsmouth, and Sussex , while volunteer computing in the form of ClimatePrediction.net  is noted by two departments of University of Oxford – physics and computing). There are other astronomy projects such as Aurora Watch, or Gravitational Waves.

Other examples include our participatory mapping activities while UCL Anthropology highlighted the indigenous mapping activities, while DIY biology and DNA testing are also mentioned, and even projects in the digital humanities – the Oxyrhynchus papyri  or The Reading Experience Database.

What can we make out of this? I’d like to suggest few points: The 30 or so projects that are described in the case studies offer a good overview of the areas where citizen science is active – ecology, volunteer thinking and volunteer computing. The traditional areas in which public participation in science never stopped – astronomy, archaeology, or nature observation are well represented. Also the major citizen science projects (OPAL, Zooniverse) also appear and as expected they are ‘claimed’ by more than one unit or university. More specialised citizen science such as participatory mapping, digital humanities or DIY biology is not missing, too.

On the downside, this is a very small number of cases, and some known projects are not listed (e.g. Imperial College not claiming OPAL). I guess that like many evaluation activities, the tendency of those evaluated is to be conservative and use terms that the evaluators will be familiar with. Maybe over the next five years citizen science will become more common, so we will see more of it in the next round.