How Does Citizen Science “Do” Governance? Reflections from the DITOs Project

This is the second post about papers in the special collection of papers in the journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice” was dedicated to Policy Perspectives of Citizen Science. The first paper is described in this post.

It is fairly rare to be able to catch an image close to the time when a concept for a paper was hatched but the case of the paper “How Does Citizen Science “Do” Governance? Reflections from the DITOs Project“, there is such thing:

WhatsApp Image 2018-06-27 at 8.39.12 PM

The paper emerged from discussion the Claudia Gobel started during a Doing It Together Science (DITOs) project meeting in Ljubljana in June 2018. Claudia, Aleks (both in the picture, mapping all the connections between project partners) together with Christian and myself discussed what we can learn from our project about the rationale for policy makers to commission and use citizen science. It is starting from the notion that citizen science relationships with political processes is more than a source of data or an object of research policy. DITOs, with its huge variety of events that were both aimed at policy makers and at the public, and across different places and topics, provided a good basis for the analysis. We identified four modes of governance that are relevant to DITOs, and this provided the basis for the paper. The paper can be accessed here.  The abstract of it is:

Citizen science (CS) is increasingly becoming a focal point for public policy to provide data for decision-making and to widen access to science. Yet beyond these two understandings, CS engages with political processes in a number of other ways. To develop a more nuanced understanding of governance in relation to CS, this paper brings together theoretical analysis by social science researchers and reflections from CS practice. It draws on concepts from Science and Technology Studies and political sciences as well as examples from the “Doing-It-Together Science” (DITOs) project. The paper develops a heuristic of how CS feeds into, is affected by, forms part of, and exercises governance. These four governance modes are (1) Source of information for policy-making, (2) object of research policy, (3) policy instrument, and (4) socio-technical governance. Our analysis suggests that these four dimensions represent different conceptions of how science and technology governance takes place that have not yet been articulated in the CS literature. By reflecting on the DITOs project, the paper shows how this heuristic can enrich CS. Benefits include project organisers better communicating their work and impacts. In its conclusion, the paper argues that focusing on the complexity of governance relations opens up new ways of doing CS regarding engagement methodologies and evaluation. The paper recommends foregrounding the broad range of governance impacts of CS and reflecting on them in cooperation between researchers and practitioners.

What can we learn from analysing citizen science training materials?

As part of the EU-Citizen.Science project, UCL is leading on the training work package. This means that we coordinate the part of the platform that will help to store and share training material for citizen science projects, and generally for the field (such as the UCL online course). The stay at the Centre for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris, provided an opportunity to work with two interns of the interdisciplinary undergraduate programme in life sciences on this issue. At the beginning of the term, the UCL team, together with Myriam Fockenoy and Morgane Opoix  (the student interns) carried out a workshop to decide on the data collection scheme – identifying material, recording it and checking its content. It was especially helpful that Myriam and Morgane could analyse material in French, which will be useful for the project as a whole. They worked several hours every week, finding material and checking it thoroughly. Additional material was contributed by Earthwatch and Yaqian Wu from UCL. We ended with 30 pieces of training material that we looked at and catalogued. Finally, we worked on analysing the material, and this led to a short report, which is provided here.

You can read the report here.



ActEarly – outline paper published

ActEarly is a new project, which has started in September. The project is a 5 years “city collaboratory” in Bradford and Tower Hamlets to research early promotion of good health and wellbeing. The project is part of a set of projects that are funded under the UK Prevention Research Partnership (UKPRP) scheme, which includes an alliance of funders, including multiple research councils, charities, and government bodies. The consortium that is involved in ActEarly is quite extensive, and the framework of the project and explanation of what it is aiming to achieve is now published in an open-access paper.



ActEarly includes an explicit participatory element, and citizen science is an integral part of the research. You can find out more in the paper.

The paper abstract is: Economic, physical, built, cultural, learning, social and service environments have a profound effect on lifelong health. However, policy thinking about health research is dominated by the ‘biomedical model’ which promotes medicalisation and an emphasis on diagnosis and treatment at the expense of prevention. Prevention research has tended to focus on ‘downstream’ interventions that rely on individual behaviour change, frequently increasing inequalities. Preventive strategies often focus on isolated leverage points and are scattered across different settings. This paper describes a major new prevention research programme that aims to create City Collaboratory testbeds to support the identification, implementation and evaluation of upstream interventions within a whole system city setting. Prevention of physical and mental ill-health will come from the cumulative effect of multiple system-wide interventions. Rather than scatter these interventions across many settings and evaluate single outcomes, we will test their collective impact across multiple outcomes with the goal of achieving a tipping point for better health. Our focus is on early life (ActEarly) in recognition of childhood and adolescence being such critical periods for influencing lifelong health and wellbeing.

You can access the paper here.

You can also see the role of citizen science and community engagement in the logic model of the project:


Published: Citizen science and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Back in October 2018, I reported on the workshop at the International Institute for Advanced Systems Analysis (IIASA) about non-traditional data approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals. The outcome of this workshop has now been published in Nature SustainabilityThe writing process was coordinated by Dr Linda See of IIASA, and with a distributed process that included multiple teams of participants of the workshop working on different parts (for example, I have helped in coordinating the section “Citizen science for new goals and targets”). The final outcome is providing a comprehensive analysis of citizen science as a data source for monitoring and implementing the sustainable development goals (SDGs).


You can read the full paper here, and share it, as it is open access (in contrast to other Nature Sustainability paper, with funding for it provided by Steffen Fritz group at IIASA).

The abstract of the paper is: Traditional data sources are not sufficient for measuring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. New and non-traditional sources of data are required. Citizen science is an emerging example of a non-traditional data source that is already making a contribution. In this Perspective, we present a roadmap that outlines how citizen science can be integrated into the formal Sustainable Development Goals reporting mechanisms. Success will require leadership from the United Nations, innovation from National Statistical Offices and focus from the citizen-science community to identify the indicators for which citizen science can make a real contribution.

The UNEP team that participated in the writing, provided a blog post that explains why it is a valuable contribution to the discussion on SDGs (they also integrated a great music video within it!).

New paper: Does urbanization make emergence of zoonosis more likely? Evidence, myths and gaps

The final output from the Urban Zoo project is out (see the post about the previous paper, which was published in GEO). This one is a literature and analysis of the role of urbanisation in zoonosis. The paper is open access, so you can read it here. It was led by Dr Sohel Ahmed (and thanks to his effort it is published). The abstract is:

Rapid urbanization in the global South is adding epidemiological and nutritional challenges and increasing disease and health burdens for citizens. Greater movement of people, animals, food and trade often provides favourable grounds for the emergence of infectious diseases, including zoonoses. We conduct a rapid evidence scan to explore what is known and hypothesized about the links between urbanization and zoonosis emergence. This points to rapid demographic growth, migration and density, increased movement of people and animals, and changes in land uses as the main processes linked to the prevalence of zoonosis in the urban global South. We argue that this emerging global health challenge is also deeply connected with the urbanization of poverty and inequalities within cities. Tackling the micro-level causal relationships between urbanization and zoonosis requires urgent attention to living conditions, as well as the wider socioenvironmental transitions and structural drivers that produce and reproduce risk accumulation in urban settings.

The process of selecting papers and developing the literature review is provided below: 10.1177_0956247819866124-fig1

New paper: Global mapping of citizen science projects for disaster risk reduction

I find it enjoyable when different strands of research come together. In many ways, research on the impacts of natural hazards on society – or Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), citizen science, and volunteer geographic information (VGI) are parallel research areas with research communities that work on each of them, and only occasionally come together. The project Citizen Science for Disaster Risk Reduction, led by Jenni Barcley from the University of East Anglia and funded through the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is an example for such a link. One of the project’s outputs is a paper that carried out a literature review of citizen science projects for DRR, that is now published in “Frontiers In Earth Science”. Anna Hicks, from the British Geological Survey, led the effort, and the abstract is:

Citizen science for disaster risk reduction holds huge promise and has demonstrated success in advancing scientific knowledge, providing early warning of hazards, and contributed to the assessment and management of impacts. While many existing studies focus on the performance of specific citizen science examples, this paper goes beyond this approach to present a systematic global mapping of citizen science used for disaster risk reduction in order to draw out broader insights across diverse methods, initiatives, hazards and country contexts. The systematic mapping analyzed a total of 106 cases of citizen science applied to disaster risk reduction across all continents. Unlike many existing reviews of citizen science initiatives, relevance to the disaster risk context led us to ‘open up’ our mapping to a broader definition of what might constitute citizen science, including participatory research and narrative-based approaches. By taking a wider view of citizen science and opening up to other disciplinary practices as valid ways of knowing risks and hazards, we also capture these alternative examples and discuss their relevance for aiding effective decision-making around risk reduction. Based on this analysis we draw out lessons for future research and practice of citizen science for disaster risk reduction including the need to: build interconnections between disparate citizen science methods and practitioners; address multi-dimensionality within and across hazard cycles; and develop principles and frameworks for evaluating citizen science initiatives that not only ensure scientific competence but also attend to questions of equity, responsibility and the empowerment of those most vulnerable to disaster risk.

You can find the paper here.

New paper: The Value of Stakeholder Mapping to Enhance Co-Creation in Citizen Science Initiatives

A new paper, led by Artemis Skarlatidou, was just published in the journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice”, describing how stakeholder mapping can be used in co-created citizen science projects. The workshop was part of the COST Action on citizen science, and the NERC Engaging Environment project “Into the night” was one of the case studies, while DITOs science bus was used in another case.


Beyond the output of the stakeholder mapping, the workshop and the paper provided an opportunity to link together different projects and people that were working on co-created citizen science projects – which is always a good thing!

The abstract of the article is:

This report aims to enhance our understanding of stakeholder mapping for co-created citizen science initiatives. It presents and discusses findings from an international two-day stakeholder mapping workshop with researchers, event organizers, communication experts, and artists realizing citizen science activities. Participants identified examples of co-creation in their work and mapped stakeholders for three co-creation initiatives from the “Doing It Together Science” project. For each case, we provide an overview of the stakeholder groups involved and the lessons derived from identifying actual and potential stakeholders in different phases of each activity and using different ways for mapping them. We demonstrate that not only stakeholder mapping can be diverse, but it may take different angles depending on the characteristics and project timescales, nevertheless adding significant value to any project. We argue that a better understanding of stakeholder involvement may contribute to more effective stakeholder communication, more successful implementation, and a greater impact for citizen science initiatives.

And you can find the full paper here.


New paper: Participatory mapping and food‐centred justice in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya

The Urban Zoo project focused on the issues of transfer of disease from animals to humans, in particular in the context of Nairobi, Kenya. This is mostly a medical study, but through the involvement of UCL Development Planning Unit (DPU), issues of urban planning and urban studies were integrated.

The new paper “Participatory mapping and food‐centred justice in informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya” is based on the work of Dr Sohel Ahmed in Nairobi, and the use of participatory mapping methods (including balloon mapping) to understand the local context. It is written by an interdisciplinary team – including geography, urban planning, development, and medical research.

The paper has been published as Open Access in GEO, and you can find it here.

The abstract is

“Food vendors are pivotal in the local food system of most low‐income informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya, despite being seen as an obstruction and as agents of disease and filth by city authorities. This paper explores the geography of these foodscapes – defined as public sites of food production and consumption – in selected low‐income settlements in Nairobi, focusing on the interaction of food vendors with their surrounding environment and infrastructure services. The research uses participatory geographic information system tools, including food mapping with mobile apps and high‐resolution community aerial views with balloon mapping, to capture and contextualise local knowledge. The community mappers collected data on 660 vendors from 18 villages in Kibera, Mathare, and Mukuru, and situated them on multi‐layered synoptic geographic overviews for each settlement. The resulting data on hazardous areas in relation to food spaces and infrastructure provision allowed local communities to prioritise areas for regular clean‐up activities and assisted advocacy to improve these places in cooperation with local authorities. These multiple visual representations of foodscapes make local food vendors, and the risks they face, visible for the first time. Reframing their “right to safe food and environment” from a social and environmental justice perspective allows local communities to put their experiences, knowledge, and challenges faced at the forefront of urban development planning, policy, and practice.”


Experiments outside the laboratory: Who should decide? (notes)

These are the notes from an event at UCL on 1st July 2019 part of Scaling (H2020 project) – innovations in Living Labs. The chair was Jack Stilgoe  – Associate Professor, Science and Technology Studies, University College London. The second part of it emerged from Tom Wakefield at the ETC group which is looking at early stages of technology development and hold groups into account. The ETC group is interested in technology that will profoundly change the relationships of the public with experiments. The object of interest for ETC is ecosystems themselves and having unintended consequences. Consent and legitimacy are at the centre, with GM mosquitos modified to address malaria through gene drive.

We look at a film that is addressing gene drive (above) – in particular, the proposed testing of gene drive mosquitoes and the upcoming release of genetically modified mosquitoes by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s Target Malaria project in Burkina Faso. The film “a question of consent – about Burkina Faso experiments with mosquitos in Target Malaria experiment with a gene drive with to eradicate the mosquito through gene transformation. There was permission to release GMO mosquitos to the wild. There is an experience with the failure of GMO cotton. Target Malaria is stating that they work with the local agency and care about the health and environmental consent. People ask questions about what will come after the eradication – which insects will thrive and what will they do?  Local people are stating that they are not informed or that consent was asked from them. People are not aware that the project is the first gene drive example in the world.

Zahra Moloo – independent researcher and director of the film “A Question of Consent: Exterminator Mosquitoes in Burkina Faso”. The background to the film – the issue has been in the media for a while, and she’s working for the ETC group and therefore the context is as a journalist and as part of the group, trying to see what people at Burkina Faso to know what the local people know. Most journalists were taken to the place with the project people. They went in October 2018, and there was also a GMO demonstration – on the ground, there are people who are telling a different story. Today, some GMO drive mosquitos will be released and they say that they obtained consent in the village Bana and the film shows that this is not the case. The release today is GMO male mosquitos, but not gene drive. There are open issues of consent and who should decide.

Lim Li Ching – Senior Researcher, Third World Network. The first point is that it is not only about gene drive, but many other examples of application – e.g. using GMO viruses to crop and other mechanisms, can lead to unexpected biodiversity impacts. Gene drive is deliberate ways to influence wild populations and eradicate species potentially. It’s a new power of humans. This raises legal and moral questions for society. Who should decide and choose which species are expandable and can be removed? The international community – the parties of the treaty on biodiversity decided that any environmental releases that can impact local communities and indigenous people, then a free, prior and informed consent is required. It’s a very involved process – the FPIC process is based on rights for self-determination – the right to be consulted, the right to participation, and the right for land and resources. That is based on the rights of indigenous people. Need to respect the decision making the process of the processes. The process has been integrated into any intervention that influences indigenous people, their environment, and resources. The process of consultation is as important as achieving FPIC. There are many examples of not carrying out the process properly. There is also the right of redress – who is allowed to do it? It’s a serious exercise and project proponents should demonstrate.

Brice Laurent – Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation, ParisTech (formerly Paris School of Mines). The example is an extreme example of carrying out a policy through experiments – a version of evidence-based policy, being responsible with public money. Experiments are presented as collaborative and participatory. The example is not to take it for granted, and to consider how to make policy decisions through experiments – e.g. RCTs that are a basis for policy. In contrast, the experiments of electric scooters in cities, which are released as something new to test the regulatory framework. it is important to test collective decisions through these experiments. The problem: the boundary is not clear when people are entities that collect data but don’t know that they are collecting data for companies and experiments with technologies. The second reasons not to take for granted is about the expected benefits – e-scooters: the investors are the one that will benefit, this is an economy that provides the investor. So who benefits from the experiment? Who benefits? Most autonomous cars experiments can be about other things – e.g. using sensors in order to learn about them and use them in another context. It’s not clear who should be impacted. With experiments – it is another political philosophy about the rule of the state, when we do intentional irreversibility we restrict political choices in the future. Politics of acceptance – how to create new testing grounds, changing regulatory frameworks.

Lim/Zahra – in some cases, specific consent of the individual is not possible. It depends on consent. It should be a process of dialogue and not just a simple consent for one activity. Consent is not a yes/no. Need to think who push the study and why. Some people from the Target Malaria who were invited to public debate didn’t come. Do you know where the money comes from? Are there alternatives?

Brice – consent is thought as a single person and as a one-time event, and it doesn’t consider groups and communities.  How to identify the communities and who should be involved?

Q: experiments in the open – how do identify when it is an experiment? In many cases, we have a need to define when an action is an experiment? Another question is what constitutes the information that should be shared? Who should be consulted and how to decide how to include the difficulties of making these decisions? The gene drive is argued to be a way to open up acceptance to GMO.

Answers: Brice – the history of things being released over time, but there is a contemporary consent of conducting test and experiments, changing regulatory rules and seeing what they lead to. For example, creating sandboxes where removing constraints to allow people to experiments. There is colonial and postcolonial involvement. Li – there are moving from lab to the field, and the power of this technology, and the large scale ecosystem engineering. We don’t see the use of precautionary principles, and a tendency of technologies to move fast and a rush to use the technology. The race to innovate become a justification all by itself. People feel that that they haven’t been involved – more stakeholders engagement then consent.

There is something new, but we need to consider a collective consent – we rely on representatives to provide consent, but maybe we should ask which consent and which experiments we should allow? What is the role of government in it? The work needs to be done to get to the stage where people can ask for consent? What a trust-worthy process looks like? Incompetence and herd mentality are important factors to understand why things happen the way that they are going.

The opportunity to be innovative – we have existing agreements and we need to innovate around them and accept them and need to understand precaution when working with indigenous groups. When there isn’t a long tradition of consultation, especially with indigenous groups. Including more people in the decision-making process – we need to consider who needs to be included and who need to be convinced. If we want to apply the Precautionary Principle, we need to keep it in mind and make it operational.

NGOs and businesses – in terms of good/bad – GMO was supposed to feed the world, and what we get golden rice, which didn’t work too well. We can look at the power differentials between NGOs and corporate NGOs. There is an issue of accountability and NGOs.