New PhD Opportunity: Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement

We have a new scholarship opening at the Extreme Citizen Science group for a PhD student who will research in Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement. The studentship is linked and contextualised by the European Union H2020 funded project, WeGovNow! . This project will focus on the use of digital technologies for effectively supporting civic society, whereby citizens are partners as opposed to customers in the delivery of public services. By integrating a set of innovative technologies from different European partners in Germany, Italy, and Greece to create citizen engagement platform, the project explores the use of digital tools for citizen reporting, e-participation, and communication between the citizen and local government. Building on previous research and technology development, the project will include programme of innovation in technology and services delivery. More information on the UCL ExCiteS blog

Source: New PhD Opportunity

Extreme Citizen Science in Esri ArcNews

The winter edition of Esri ArcNews (which according to Mike Gould of Esri, is printed in as many copies as Forbes) includes an article on the activities of the Extreme Citizen Science group in supporting indigenous groups in mapping. The article highlights the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) aspects of the work, and mentioning many members of the group.

You can read it here: http://www.esri.com/esri-news/arcnews/winter16articles/mapping-indigenous-territories-in-africa

ECSA annual meeting in Barcelona (28-29 October)

Barcelona is becoming a hub of strong support for Citizen Science with an office for citizen science at the city level. It was therefore the site of the 2015 annual meeting of the European Citizen Science Association.

wpid-wp-1446153439017.jpgOn the day before the annual meeting, the afternoon was dedicated to a citizen science safari, with visit to the Parc de la Ciutadella and the nearby coast, learning and trying a range of citizen science projects.

Some of my notes from the meeting day are provided below.

Katrin Vohland (ECSA vice chair) open with noting that we see growing networks at national levels (Austria, Germany) and internationally. She noted that role of ECSA as a networking organisation and draw parallels to transformative social innovation theory which talks about ‘guided expansion’. ECSA can develop into multiple hubs (innovation, urban, ecology etc.) with shared responsibility and potentially distributed secretariat . We can share experiences and work load across the network and find new ways to grow.

Libby Hepburn (Australian Citizen Science Association ACSA) talked about the experience in Australia from two perspectives  – personally running the Coastal Atlas of Australia and being involved in ACSA. Starting with the Australian context – the history that it didn’t have many people (20 mil population over space larger than Europe, displacement of aboriginal groups and loss of local knowledge) and impact of weather and climate is important. Only 25% of Australian species have been described. There are lots of introduced species – from rabbits to dung beetles to cane toads, thought there are counter examples such as dung beetles are actually successful as they deal with the impact from hoofed species that were introduced. The development of science in Australia is from the late 19th century.  The political approach towards science is complex and changing, but citizen science doesn’t wait for the political environment. The Australian Museum created a project to digitise over 16,000 transcriptions of species. Projects such as Explore the Sea-floor allow people to classify images that are being taken automatically under the sea. Philip Roetman Cat Tracker project is another example, allowing to understand the damage that domestic cats causing to local biodiversity. The atlas of living Australia allow for information sharing and distribution patterns. and additional layers – including likely rainfall. They are starting to develop a citizen science project finder, and starting an association – while keeping links to the other emerging associations and projects. She noted the analysis of the Socientize white paper, OPAL, and other lessons from around the world.

wpid-wp-1446156208999.jpgA presentation from the Citi-Sense project explained the need for development of sensor-based on citizens’ observatory community. Some of the products that are ready for use. Starting to have stationary boxes that are becoming possible to produce information about air quality. They have developed the CityAir app which provide to report geolocated perceptions and visualise user community reports. Provide personal and community perceptions. There are ways of integrating the data from the models and perception.

Sven Schade (JRC) talked about the citizen science data flow survey. Received 149 projects. at different scales – from neighbourhood to multi national. The data re-usability is that while 90 projects provide data, the majority do that after embargo.

Daniel Wyler (University of Zürich) talked about the citizen science in universities – an initiative in the University of Zürich – establish citizen science at public research and education bodies, they want to establish the Zürich Citizen Science Centre, and developing two papers – a policy paper about the area, and a set of suggested standards for research universities and science funding bodies.

Josep Parelló talked about creativity and innovation in Barcelona – BCNLAb is collaboration with the city council – providing a hub that allow grass-roots to create activities. Providing open scope – they established a citizen science office and promoting participatory practices in scientific research, enjoy from multipliers of research, sharing resources, having a large base of committed participants, common protocol, data repository. He used inspiration from Michel Callon (2003) Research in the wild concept.

Daniel Garcia wpid-wp-1446153467202.jpgtalked about the Responsible Research and Innovation Challenges and the linkage to citizen science. RRI includes concept such as CBPR, Science Shops , Open Science. Citizen Science is concerned in the political acceptance to inform policies. There are multiple links between RRI and Citizen Science.

 

Anne Bowser and Elisabeth Tyson described the Wilson Center commons lab and the emerging legal landscape in the US: the crowdsourcing and citizen science bill of 2015 that is being offered in congress – it’s about educating policy makers to the topic. There was also memo from the Office of Science and technology Policy. The memo asked to have point of contacts for citizen science, secondly standardising metadata and cataloguing citizen science activities. A toolkit was published to assist with the implementation. There is an effort of creating a shared database across the CSA, CitSci.org, SciStarter and other sources. There is value in these database for end users, and also use the database as a research tools.

From the ECSA meeting itself there are several news: ECSA have 84 members from 22 countries 30% individual members, the rest organisational members. New badge for ECSA – you can have a badge that recognise ECSA members. The working group on the principle and standards published the 10 principles of citizen science. The new working group deal with best practice and building capacity. Data working group exploring interoperability, privacy/reliability, and intellectual property rights. The international conference is now in planning in 19-21 May 2016, and there is an emerging social media representation on Instagram and Facebook. The policy group is engaging at EU policy levels, but also noticing international developments in the area of citizen science and policy. Planning policy briefing. Responding to policy consultations, and there are some proposals for  areas that ECSA can impact policy. A new working group was suggested to coordinate the work of citizen science facilitators. New members selected to the advisory board: Malene
Bruun (European Environmental Agency), Alan Irwin (Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School), Michael Søgaard Jørgensen
(DIST, Aalborg University), Roger Owen (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Ferdinando Boero (University of Salento).

 

There is more information on the TagBoard platform, where the hashtag #ECSAbcn captured the

Environmental information: between scarcity/abundance and emotions/rationality

The Eye on Earth Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week, allowed me to immerse myself in the topics that I’ve been researching for a long time: geographic information, public access to environmental information, participation, citizen science, and the role of all these in policy making. My notes (day 1 morning, day 1 afternoon, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3 morning & day 3 afternoon) provide the background for this post, as well as the blog posts from Elisabeth Tyson (day 1, day 2) and the IISD reports and bulletins from the summit. The first Eye on Earth Summit provided me with plenty to think about, so I thought that it is worth reflecting on my ‘Take home’ messages.

What follows are my personal reflections from the summit and the themes that I feel are emerging in the area of environmental information today. 

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgWhen considering the recent ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the UN Assembly, it is not surprising that they loomed large over the summit – as drivers for environmental information demand for the next 15 years, as focal points for the effort of coordination of information collection and dissemination, but also as an opportunity to make new links between environment and health, or promoting environmental democracy (access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice). It seems that the SDGs are very much in the front of the mind of the international organisations who are part of the Eye on Earth alliance, although other organisations, companies and researchers who are coming with more technical focus (e.g. Big Data or Remote Sensing) are less aware of them – at least in terms of referring to them in their presentations during the summit.

Beyond the SDGs, two overarching tensions emerged throughout the presentations and discussions – and both are challenging. They are the tensions between abundance and scarcity, and between emotions and rationality. Let’s look at them in turn.

Abundance and scarcity came up again and agin. On the data side, the themes of ‘data revolution’, more satellite information, crowdsourcing from many thousands of weather observers and the creation of more sources of information (e.g. Environmental Democracy Index) are all examples for abundance in the amount of available data and information. At the same time, this was contrasted with the scarcity in the real world (e.g species extinction, health of mangroves), scarcity of actionable knowledge, and scarcity with ecologists with computing skills. Some speakers oscillated between these two ends within few slides or even in the same one. There wasn’t an easy resolution for this tension, and both ends were presented as challenges.

wpid-wp-1444327727288.jpg

With emotions and scientific rationality, the story was different. Here the conference was packed with examples that we’re (finally!) moving away from a simplistic ‘information deficit model‘ that emphasise scientific rationality as the main way to lead a change in policy or public understanding of environmental change. Throughout the summit presenters emphasised the role of mass media communication, art (including live painting development through the summit by GRID-Arendal team), music, visualisation, and story telling as vital ingredients that make information and knowledge relevant and actionable. Instead of a ‘Two Cultures’ position, Eye on Earth offered a much more harmonious and collaborative linkage between these two ways of thinking and feeling.

Next, and linked to the issue of abundance and scarcity are costs and funding. Many talks demonstrated the value of open data and the need to provide open, free and accessible information if we want to see environmental information used effectively. Moreover, providing the information with the ability of analyse or visualise it over the web was offered as a way to make it more powerful. However, the systems are costly, and although the assessment of the IUCN demonstrated that the investment in environmental datasets is modest compared to other sources (and the same is true for citizen science), there are no sustainable, consistent and appropriate funding mechanisms, yet. Funding infrastructure or networking activities is also challenging, as funders accept the value, but are not willing to fund them in a sustainable way. More generally, there is an issue about the need to fund ecological and environmental studies – it seem that while ‘established science’ is busy with ‘Big Science’ – satellites, Big Data, complex computer modelling – the work of studying ecosystems in an holistic way is left to small group of dedicated researchers and to volunteers. The urgency ad speed of environmental change demand better funding for these areas and activities.

This lead us to the issue of Citizen Science, for which the good news are that it was mentioned throughout the summit, gaining more prominence than 4 years ago in the first summit (were it also received attention). In all plenary sessions, citizen science or corwdsourced geographic information were mentioned at least once, and frequently by several speakers. Example include Hermes project for recording ocean temperatures, Airscapes Singapore for urban air quality monitoring, the Weather Underground of sharing weather information, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team work in Malawi, Kathmandu Living Lab response to the earthquake in Nepal, Arab Youth Climate Movement in Bahrain use of iNaturalist to record ecological observations, Jacky Judas work with volunteers to monitor dragonflies in Wadi Wurayah National Park  – and many more. Also the summit outcomes document is clear:  “The Summit highlighted the role of citizen science groups in supporting governments to fill data gaps, particularly across the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Citizen Science was a major focus area within the Summit agenda and there was general consensus that reporting against SDGs must include citizen science data. To this end, a global coalition of citizen science groups will be established by the relevant actors and the Eye on Earth Alliance will continue to engage citizen science groups so that new data can be generated in areas where gaps are evident. The importance of citizen engagement in decision-making processes was also highlighted. ”

However, there was ambivalence about it – should it be seen as an instrument, a tool to produce environmental information or as a mean to get wider awareness and engagement by informed citizens? How best to achieve the multiple goals of citizen science: raising awareness, educating, providing skills well beyond the specific topic of the project, and democratising decision making and participation? It seem to still be the case that the integration of citizen science into day to day operations is challenging for many of the international organisations that are involved in the Eye on Earth alliance.

Another area of challenging interactions emerged from the need for wide partnerships between governments, international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies, start-ups, and even ad-hoc crowds that respond to a specific event or an issue which are afforded by digital and social network. There are very different speeds in implementation and delivery between these bodies, and in some cases there are chasms that need to be explored – for example, an undercurrent from some technology startups is that governments are irrelevant and in some forms of thinking that ‘to move fast and break things’ – including existing social contracts and practices – is OK. It was somewhat surprising to hear speakers praising Uber or AirBnB, especially when they came from people who familiar with the need for careful negotiations that take into account wider goals and objectives. I can see the wish to move things faster – but to what risks to we bring by breaking things?

With the discussions about Rio Principle 10 and the new developments in Latin America, the Environmental Democracy Index, and the rest, I became more convinced, as I’ve noted in 2011, that we need to start thinking about adding another right to the three that are included in it (access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice), and develop a right to produce environmental information that will be taken seriously by the authorities – in other words, a right for citizen science. I was somewhat surprised by the responses when I raised this point during the discussion on Principle 10.

Final panel (source: IISD)

Finally, Eye on Earth was inclusive and collaborative, and it was a pleasure to see how open people were to discuss issues and explore new connections, points of view or new ways of thinking about issues. A special point that raised several positive responses was the gender representation in such high level international conference with a fairly technical focus (see the image of the closing panel). The composition of the speakers in the summit, and the fact that it was possible to have such level of women representation was fantastic to experience (making one of the male-only panels on the last day odd!). It is also an important lesson for many academic conferences – if Eye on Earth can, I cannot see a reason why it is not possible elsewhere.

Being philosophical about crowdsourced geographic information

This is a post by Renee Sieber and myself, providing a bit of a background on why we wrote the paper “The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique” – this is in addition to what I’ve written about it in this blog post

Geo: Geography and Environment

By Renée Sieber (McGill University, Canada) and Muki Haklay (University College London, UK)

Our recent paper, The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique, started from a discussion we had about changes within the geographic information science (GIScience) research communities over the past two decades. We’ve both been working in the area of participatory geographic information systems (GIS) and critical studies of geographic information science (GIScience) since the late 1990s, where we engaged with people from all walks of life with the information that is available in GIS. Many times we’d work together with people to create new geographic information and maps. Our goal was to help reflect their point of view of the world and their knowledge about local conditions, not always aim for universal rules and principles. For example, the image below is from a discussion with the community in Hackney Wick, London, where individuals collaborated to…

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Eye on Earth Summit 2015 talk – Extreme Citizen Science – bridging local & global

Thanks to the organisers of the Eye on Earth Summit, I had an opportunity to share the current state of technological developments within the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) group with the audience of the summit: people who are interested in the way environmental information sharing can promote sustainability.

The talk, for which the slides are provided below is made of two parts. The first is an overview of current citizen science and where are the extremities of current practice, and the second covering the current state of development of the technological work that crease the tools, methodologies and techniques to allow any community, regardless of literacy, to develop their own citizen science projects.

I have addressed the issues at the beginning of the talk in earlier talks (e.g. the UCL Lunch Hour Lecture) but now found a way to express them in several brief slides which demonstrate the changes in science and education levels in the general population as an important trends that powers current citizen science. If we look at early science (roughly until the early 19th Century), professional science (roughly from the middle of the 19th Century all the way throughout the 20th Century) and the opening of science in the past decade, we can see an ongoing increase in the level of education in the general population, and this leads to different types of participation in citizen science – you couldn’t expect more than methodological basic data collection  by volunteers in the early 20th Century, while today you can find many people who have good grasp of scientific principles and are inherently sharing data that they are interested in.

After exploring the limits of current citizen science in terms of the scientific process and levels of education that are expected from participants, I turn to our definition of extreme citizen science, and then focus on the need to create technologies that are fit for use within participatory processes that take into account local and cultural sensitivities, needs and wishes about the use of the data. In particular, I’m explaining the role of Sapelli and its use with participatory processes in the Congo basin, Amazon and potentially in Namibia. I then explain the role of GeoKey in providing an infrastructure that can support community mapping, ending with the potential of creating visualisation tools that can be used by non-literate participants.

The slides are available below.

New paper: The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique

Considering how long Reneé Sieber  (McGill University) and I know each other, and working in similar areas (participatory GIS, participatory geoweb, open data, socio-technical aspects of GIS, environmental information), I’m very pleased that a collaborative paper that we developed together is finally published.

The paper ‘The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique‘ took some time to evolve. We started jotting ideas in late 2011, and slowly developed the paper until it was ready, after several rounds of peer review, for publication in early 2014, but various delays led to its publication only now. What is pleasing is that the long development time did not reduced the paper relevancy – we hope! (we kept updating it as we went along). Because the paper is looking at philosophical aspects of GIScience, we needed periods of reflection and re-reading to make sure that the whole paper come together, and I’m pleased with the way ideas are presented and discussed in it. Now that it’s out, we will need to wait and see how it will be received.

The abstract of the paper is:

Numerous exegeses have been written about the epistemologies of volunteered geographic information (VGI). We contend that VGI is itself a socially constructed epistemology crafted in the discipline of geography, which when re-examined, does not sit comfortably with either GIScience or critical GIS scholarship. Using insights from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology we offer a critique that, rather than appreciating the contours of this new form of data, truth appears to derive from traditional analytic views of information found within GIScience. This is assisted by structures that enable VGI to be treated as independent of the process that led to its creation. Allusions to individual emancipation further hamper VGI and problematise participatory practices in mapping/geospatial technologies (e.g. public participation geographic information systems). The paper concludes with implications of this epistemological turn and prescriptions for designing systems and advancing the field to ensure nuanced views of participation within the core conceptualisation of VGI.

The paper is open access (so anyone can download it) and it is available in the Geo website .