Standards and Recommendations for Citizen Science (University of Zurich)

Following a short project that was headed by Daniel Wyler of the University of Zürich in collaboration with the League of European Research Universities, two draft documents aimed at universities and research funders were developed. The documents can be found here, and there is scope to comments and suggest changes for the next month on them.  The university organised a one day workshop to discuss the findings of the work and the need for guidelines and standards.

The opening remakes came from Michael Hengartner (President, University of Zurich) highlighting the commitment of the university to openness as secular university and one of the first in Switzerland to be open to women. Switzerland has a long tradition of participatory democracy, though it also create challenges (e.g. participation in Horizon 2020). Citizen Science is a way for Swiss scientists to take advantage of the strong tradition of participatory democracy and very strong universities. There is also early involvement in citizen science – for example through the university of Geneva (citizen cyberscience centre) in collaboration with CERN and UNITAR. The reports are the result of the Citizen Science Initiative Switzerland. One of the initiative of CSI is the standards for excellence in citizen science and policy recommendations. They create a citizen science centre in Zürich, with infrastructure to facilitate and support citizen science across the world.

Next came a short note from Alice Shepard (citizen scientist, Galaxy Zoo) shared her experience as a citizen scientists who became lead forum moderator at Galaxy Zoo. Came to citizen science by accident – in 2007 became a lead forum moderator from being a lead volunteer and active. Her background is environmental science, and was frustrated from the lack of engagement of the public in her studies. In 2007, she became involved in galaxy zoo and it became an obsession. Different people have different skills and abilities to teach each others – they collaboration between volunteers started to find new things: one offs, accidental findings and that’s the way ordinary citizens, without much specific science training found new things and started their own projects. In galaxy zoo there is a safe space of the forum which was well behaved and allow questioning of many issues and explorations. They then started to have meetups and gathering and abilities to join on projects. They discovered classes of astronomical objects, and appear in book by Michael Nielsen. Lay people can do science to build new tools. Galaxy zoo treated volunteers as collaborators, write regular blog posts to work that recognised volunteers, recognition on page, and encourages safe civilised space on the internet an encouraged to find new things. Becoming a professional scientist is a challenge to become  – the general public are very capable, and we want to join in. the people who want to become professional scientists experience difficulties – gaining degrees, writing academically – so need to open new routes to science.

Following Alice, I gave an overview of Citizen Science (slides below)

Next was a talk by Michael Pocock (Centre for Ecology and Hydrology) about    Thoughtful enthusiasm for Citizen Science instead of just enthusiasm to citizen science, having a more careful and reflective one. There are many projects that are following under the title citizen science, but provocatively he argues that there is no such thing as citizen science: science is science – it should be judged as such, so shouldn’t have special treatment. Secondly, a problem with citizen – should be people or participants, and it is term of convenience – types of approaches which have common attributes. Citizen science need ‘real’ science with excellent engagement – citizen science is not about compromised between the two but merging the two. While examining the Shirk et al typology of contributory/collaborative/co-created citizen science, The Biological Recording Centre in which he works use multiple methods. A very important type of projects are enthusiasm led and the volunteers led the projects completely, with professionals providing support and tools. Citizen Science has a long standing activities in ecology and wildlife. Even for the BRC it is very diverse – across many taxa. It is possible to enthuse people about a very wide range of topics and not only popular species. The UK have 70,000 volunteers a year, ranging from occasional recorders, to non-professional experts. The work lead to high impact papers and understanding issues such as climate change. They also contribute to evidence based policy. Citizen science has diversity, with the analysis of many projects show that they are in a full range, from mass participation to systematic monitoring, and from simple to an elaborate approach. Citizen Science is like a toolbox – need to use the appropriate type and approach to citizen science to the issue. Be careful of being carried out by hype – that the project can become too big to fail, and lacking critical evaluation, so we would like to see thoughtful reflection on where it should be used. Universities offer cutting-edge research, societal impact, new technology, enthusiastic researchers and innovation. There is also hypothesis led citizen science such as conker tree and there is value in short term projects at a small scale. Need integrity to finish and close a project and finish it well. Need to preserve the fun and to some extent the anarchy that is common in citizen science

Next came the policy overview, in Open Science: From Vision to Action with Jean-Claude Burgelman (Head of Unit Science Policy, Foresight and Data, DG R&I at European Commission). The commissioner view is open innovations, open science and open to the world. Open Science is a systematic change in the modus operandi of science and research, and affective the research cycle and its stakeholders. From the usual close cycle of doing the cycle of science in a closed way to an open publication, review, blogs, open data, open annotations, workflows, code, pre-print services – new ecosystems of services and standards. We see activities of major companies getting involved in different ways in the new tools (e.g. Elsevier and Mendeley). It’s key drivers – digital technology, exponential growth of data, more researchers and increased in scientific production. There are plenty things happen at one: open source software, collaborative knowledge production creative commons, open innovation, Moocs etc. We need to use the openness to increase transparency, openness and networked collaboration – getting trustworthiness from the public. Citizen science as a way to link science and society and being responsive to their needs. The public consultation for Science 2.0 led to  many responses, leading to the selection of open science. 47% agree that citizen science is part of open science – the lowest response from scientists, while 80% argue that it’s because of digital technologies. The barriers for open science are quality assurance, lack of credits, infrastructure and awareness to benefits. Interestingly, less than 70% were concerns about ethical and privacy issues. People viewed that the implications for science will make science more reliable, efficient and faster leading to wider innovation, while crowdfunding is not seen as important indication of open science. In terms of policy – there was policy about open access to publication, data, infrastructure and framework conditions – need to ensure that it is bottom-up and stakeholder-driven – not a top-down solution from Brussels. Decided on open science policy – 5 blocks: foster open science, remove barriers, developing infrastructures (open science cloud), open access on publication and data, and socio-economic driver. In fostering open science – promoting best practices, research integrity, citizen science and similar area -and establish an open science forum. Also mainstream open access to publications and data in Horizon 2020. The open cloud for science is challenging – require governance, data and service layer and infrastructure layer. The policy forum includes a working group on citizen science. Citizen science is important – but should be seen as part of the wider open science landscape

Another view of processes that are happening at the policy level was provided by Claudia Göbel (European Citizen Science Association, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin) in Citizen Science associations as Agents of Professionalisation using the Socientize framework, looking at the mesoscale and macroscale. We’re seeing growth in national (Austria, Germany) and international – Citizen Science Association, Australian Citizen Science Association and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). ECSA got 84 members from 22 countries – they have organisations, and members – about 66% are from science organisation, and four important hubs – Germany, Spain, Italy and UK – but that depends on the history of ECSA and how its network grown over the past 5 years. ECSA started to set up some of the key documents: ECSA strategy – part of the activity is to be a think tank for citizen science – sharing knowledge & skills across field, and linking to international links. Many of the members are involved in ecology and biodiversity and therefore there is a link to dealing with sustainability though citizen science, and developing participatory methods for cooperation, empowerment and impact. ECSA also developing memorandum of understanding with ACSA and CSA. Interesting response between the association came as a response to the Nature editorial on citizen science. The capacity building working group has launched the ten principles of citizen science – and try to identify good practice within a flexible concept. Responses to policy document can be challenging within a volunteer based organisation. ECSA have an important effort in environmental policy, and in Responsible Research and Innovation. We have seen the ECSA is located at the meso level in exchange and capacity building in the Socientize framework – doing the multiplier effect. In the university sector – some specific research group, museum or sub-organisation is members of ECSA . Also example for innovation in citizen science and new mechanisms, structures process for an area. What we are seeing is a process of professionalisation – fostering learning and action, providing information and services and expertise – creating community of peers, standards, and quality and they will play a role in the field as a whole.

This was followed by a panel discussion which was moderated by Mike Martin (Gerontopsychology, University of Zurich) with myself, Lidia Borrell-Damián (Director Research and Innovation, European University Association), Jennifer Shirk (Field Development Coordinator, Citizen Science Association), Josep Perelló (OpenSystems Research and Complex Lab Barcelona, Universitat de Barcelona), Effy Vayena (Epidemiology, Biostatistics & Prevention Institute, University of Zurich), François Grey (Citizen Cyberscience Centre, University of Geneva), Dirk Helbing (Computational Social Science, ETH Zurich), Alice Sheppard (Galaxy Zoo)


The afternoon was dedicated to two workshops Policy Recommendations for Funding Moderator: Jean-Claude Burgelman, who noted that as policy maker, defining everything as citizen science – calling any informal participation in science is not useful for policy making. Some of the recommendations that the people in the room made include: Need to be clear about innovation, sharing of intellectual properties. Need to ensure that there are clear benefits to citizen scientists – commitment to professional training, and opportunities that are opened to them. Every research institution should develop a policy on open science as part of that citizen science. There is need for data management plans. The software development of an infrastructure is lots of time are not well covered in usual funding. Citizen science require a social infrastructure that is not part of the current rewarding of scientists and organisations. Citizen science can be used as an area of a demonstrator for citizen science – open data, open access, open source as a way to transform the field. We need to consider how to work at local, regional, national and European Countries. we also need action to increase the participation in citizen science across Europe. There is also an issue of ‘right for data’ that should allow people to access to their own data. Need to define parameters for high quality science research and the document should be for outside the context.  Quality of the science need to be equivalent to the general scientists, localness of citizen science is an issue that limits academic interest – there isn’t enough recognition of the local aspects and interest.

The second workshop looked at Standards for Citizen Science Moderated by Kevin Schawinski (Astrophysics, ETH Zurich) included some of the following points: do we need standards and rules? maybe we should wait to give it emerging over time. Maybe begin with guidelines, and then let them evolve over time. The citizen scientists need to be involved in setting the standards and working through them. Standards can be used in multiple ways, as a reference to allow people to see how things should work. Good principles can express aspiration of excellence. Quality of the research is multi-faceted – can consider the outcomes (the goals of the project) and evaluating the process through which they were achieved. Acknowledging citizen science through scientific outcomes can be challenging – some people want and don’t want to be named. There are also many ways of authorship, participation and practices between scientific fields. Worth asking the people who participate what they want.

Conclusions: Results and next Steps, was set by Daniel Wyler and Katrien Maes (Chief Policy Office, League of European Research Universities) ‘citizens are not organised’  so the feedback on the documents came so far from more institutional partners – need to engage with the public much more. The general view is that it is worth considering guidelines and principles for universities – it can help funders to fund project and put citizen science in focus. We should have in the guidelines parameters about different levels of participation and engagement. Acknowledgement is an issue that depend on the science and the guidelines should allow variations and practices. There is an issue with judging and assessing citizen science completely different – we should ensure similar valuation. For medical research need to consider how to approach personal data. we should have a single point of entry where they can get support for education and training .

From LERU’s perspective, the papers are important to put citizen science on the map and raise attention. There isn’t just one citizen science, so there is plenty of information awareness raising that is required to make universities aware of the opportunities. For universities, the paper will need to take a narrower view of citizen science – especially integrating it with open science agenda and with the activities of research universities. Guidelines and principles – not regulations and strict rules as this will not be appropriate for the field.

UCL Institute for Global Prosperity Talk: Extreme Citizen Science – Current Developments

The slides below are from a talk that I gave today at UCL Institute for Global Prosperity

The abstract for the talk is:

With a growing emphasis on civil society-led change in diverse disciplines, from International Development to Town Planning, there is an increasing demand to understand how institutions might work with the public effectively and fairly.

Extreme Citizen Science is a situated, bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.

In this talk, I discussed the work of UCL Extreme Citizen Science group within the wider context of the developments in the field of citizen science. I covered the work that ExCiteS has already done, currently developing and plans for the future.

Citizen Science Data & Service Infrastructure

Following the ECSA meeting, the Data & tools working group workshop was dedicated to progressing the agenda on data & infrastructure.

Jaume Piera (chair, Data and Tools working group of ECSA) covered the area of citizen science data – moving from ideas, to particular solutions, to global proposals – from separate platforms (iNaturalist, iSpot, GBIF, eBird) but the creation of different citizen science associations and the evolution of ideas for interoperability, can allow us to consider the ‘Internet of People# which is about participatory sharing of data. We can work in similar way to standards development in the area of the internet, and starting to consider the layers: interoperability, privacy/security, data reliability, infrastructure sustainability, data management, intellectual property rights, engagement, Human-Computer Interaction, Reference models and testing. By considering these multiple layers, we can develop a roadmap for development and consider a range of solutions at different ‘layers’. The idea is to open it to other communities – and aim to have solutions that are discussed globally.

Arne Berra explained the CITI-SENSE platform. There is a paper that explains the architecture of CITI-SENSE on the project site. He proposed that we use the European Interoperability Framework — legal, organisational, semantic and technical. in the technical area, we can use ISO 19119 and OGC – with 6 areas: boundary, processing/analytics, data/model management, communication, systems. We can use reference models. Also suggested considering the INSPIRE life cycle model. There is a challenge of adapting standards into the context of citizen science, so in many ways we need to look at it as conceptual framework to consider the different issues and consider points about the issues. In CITI-SENSE they developed a life cycle that looked at human sensor data services, as well as the hardware sensor application platform.


Ingo Simonis (OGC) – a standardised encoding to exchange citizen science data. He describe work that OGC is doing in sensor web for citizen science, and they collected data from different projects. Through citizen science data, information come from different surveys, in different forms and structures. The requirements are to have citizens + environment + sensor. Who did particular measurement? We want to know about the environment – e.g. that it was rainy while they collected the data, and then know about the sensor. So OGC O&M citizen observatories model is conceptual. It’s an observation model – assigning a value to a property – they also look at standards for sensors – OGC SensorML. He used the ISO 19100 series of standards. The observation model is trying to address issues of observations that are happening offline and then being shared. The model also deal with stationary and mobile sensing activities, and allowing for flexibility – for example having ad-hoc record that is not following specific process.


Alex Steblin – The Citclops project includes applications such as Eye on Water ( The Citclops have a challenge of maintaining the project’s data once the project finished.

Veljo Runnel covered EU BON work ( – mobilising biodiversity ata is challenges. They want a registry of online tools for citizen science projects – tool that will allow people who work with citizen science to record information about the project as related to biodiversity – such as link to GBIF, recording DNA, use of mobile app. Finding the person that run the tool is difficult. On EU BON they have ‘data mobilization helpdesk’, the elements of the standard were discussed within the the EU BON consortium and how they are going to explore how to provide further input.

JRC is exploring the possibility of providing infrastructure for citizen science data – both metadata and the data itself.

Translation of technical information into a language that is accessible is valuable for the people who will be using it. We need to find ways to make information more accessible and digestible. The aim is to start developing reference material and building on existing experiences – sub divide the working group to specific area. There are many sub communities that are not represented within the data groups (and in ECSA) and we need to reach out to different communities and have including more groups. There are also issues about linking the US activities, and activities from the small-scale (neighbourhoods) to large organisations. As we work through information, we need to be careful about technical language, and we need to be able to share information in an accessible way.

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,, 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.


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

Originally posted on 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 (Day 2 – Afternoon) – Cost of knowledge, citizen science & visualisation

The first afternoon session was dedicated to Understanding the Costs of Knowledge – Cost of Data Generation and Maintenance (my second day morning post is here)

DSCN1220The session was moderated by Thomas Brooks (IUCN) – over the last couple of days we heard about innovation in mobilisation of environmental and socio-economic data. All these innovations have price tag, and some are quite large. Need budget for it and pay for it accordingly. Establishing costs for knowledge products in biodiversity is important. First, four products are explored and then the costs analysed.

DSCN1221Richard Jenkins – IUCN read list of Threatened Species. He explain the list and the essential procedures and components that created it. The red list is a framework for classifying threatened species with different classifications with vulnerable, engendered or critically engendered are included in the list. It’s critical source for conservation – over 75,000 species, with over 3,000,000 people visiting the website each year to find information. The foundation of the information is a structured process with ongoing cycles of evaluation and analysis. They are based on donor support – volunteer time in data collections, as well as professional time to evaluate the information and running an on-line database. Costs include workshops, training and travel, for professional time there is communications, researchers, developers, fund raisers and ICT costs: hosting, maintenance, software licensing, hardware etc. The costs can be one-off (setting new system), recurring costs (evaluations) and annual costs (systems and people). Need partnerships, voluntarism – essential and need to be recognised. Re-assessment are needed and also developing tools & uptake

DSCN1222Jon Paul Rodriguez – IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, as an emerging product – ecosystem collapse is transformation beyond typical situation. Example for this is Aral Sea – with impact on wildlife and human life around it. They use a risk model for ecosystems with 4 symptoms as criteria. Similar categories to the species red list. They do global assessment at continental scale and national scale. Costs: compilation of data which are spatial information is complex, time consuming and challenging. There is economy of scale is you do it at regional / global analyses, and first assessment is costly, but updates will be cheaper. The benefits: ecosystem mapping can be used for other knowledge products (e.g. protected areas), capacity-building model, and doing it with open access data. The potential of integration with the two red lists there is a more effective products. Commercial users will need to pay.

Ian May – birdlife international –  key biodiversity areas (KBAs). Set of information about sites that are identified for biodiversity conservation using standard criteria by a range of bodies. There are important bird areas, critical ecosystem partnership fund areas (particular hotspots in multiple taxa). Future direction is to standardise the KBAs. They are used into IFC Performance Standard 6 that force development banks to take them into account, they are integrated in Natura 2000 Birds Directive and in CBD Aichi Targets.

DSCN1224Naomi Kingston – WCMC – protected area (Protected Planet product) – it’s a project about deliver, connect, analyse and change – world database on protected areas. Have been in development since 1959, evolving from list of national parks and equivalent reserves. There are 700 data providers globally but also NGOs and community groups. Database that evolved over time need to be treated carefully and consider what each polygon and point mean. There is 91.3% polygon data, and grown from 41,305 sites in 1998 to 200,000 today. They raise profile through different activities. There is a website – . Data is supposed to be updated every 5 years, and is used in SDGs, academic research and strategic plan for biodiversity. They want to see decisions that are based on it – e.g. IBAT that support business. There is direct connection between resources that are available to the ability to provide training, outreach and capacity building .

DSCN1225Dieggo Juffe – costing the knowledge products – he assessed the financial investment in developing and maintaining biodiversity information. evaluating development costs to 2013, maintenance and future costs. The datasets that were covered are used in decision making, academic research and more. They developed methodology to evaluate primary data collection costs, network supporting costs, national red lists of species, and the costs of producing scientific papers. They looks on different aspects: personnel, infrastructure, workshop & travel and publication and outreach, looking at all the funding – from donors, private sector, government, NGOs etc., including volunteer time and converted it to USD in 2014. Looked at data since the 1980s to 2013. Today, investment between $116 to $204 USD in development and maintenance. 67,000 to 73,000 volunteer days – almost 200 years. Annual investment 6.5 Mil and 12.5 volunteer days/year . Most was funded from philanthropy (53%) and government 27%. Very large investment in personnel. They exect that future investment to 2020 will be in the range of 100 mil USD. That will give us a comprehensive baseline. Without data we can’t make decision, This is very small compare to census running to other systems. Some of the open questions: what’s the impact of this investment? are there better way to make the products even more cost-effective? what is the real cost of volunteer time? How to avoid duplication of effort?

wpid-wp-1444253313774.jpgA second afternoon session focused on Everyone is a supplier: Crowd-sourcing and citizen science and indigenous knowledge. Craig Hanson (WRI) opened with a comment that there is a lot of data from remote sensing, professional scientists – but what the role of citizens? there are 7 billion mobile phone and worldwide and with near global Internet connectivity, citizens anywhere are now capable of being the eyes and ears of the planet.  The session looked at successful approaches for engaging people to crowd-source data and contribute to citizen science, and how indigenous knowledge can be systematically integrated into decision-making. With applications from around the world. WRI is  also involved in this process, and in global forest watch – started from partners processing data, but satellite can’t see everything, and JGI and WRI use ODK  to provide ground truth on forest clearing.

Jacquie McGlade covered UNEP Live – citizen science mentioned many time in the summit, but now we need to make voices heard. We need alternative models of how the world operate. All UNEP assessment will include alternative views of mother earth – a challenge for western science point of view. UNEP Live was designed to give citizen access to data that was collected by governments, but now it also include citizen science – there are now legislations that include rights for people to gather data and making sure that these data are used in decision making. It’s all about co-production of knowledge. From the structured world with metadata and schema to the unstructured data of social media and NGOs. The idea of co-prodcution of knowledge, require management of knowledge with ontologies, and noticing 23 different definition of legal, many definition of access or forest and this is a challenge. SDG interface catalogue is providing the ontology. Example from climate change in the Arctic or in species monitoring in ecosystem capital account that involve forest communities. Motivating people is important – air quality is a great opportunity for citizen science with local interest with information. People in Kibera were willing to pay for access to air quality equipment as they see it as important for their children.

Brian Sullivan (Google Earth Outreach) – everyone is supplier. Indigenous groups using tools for telling stories, environmental monitoring and the protected area of the Surui is been included in partnership with Google. They’ve done cultural mapping with the Surui and worked with other communities who decide if they want to make it public or private. Environmental monitoring was another activity – using ODK. They build resource use and other information that help to protect the land. They are working with other groups in Brazil. Another project is Global Fishing Watch – visualising fishing fleet. Using machine learning, they have been monitoring fishing, and it also allow you to zoom in to specific ship. Monitoring areas when there are limited resources and they can’t enforce by sending ship.

wpid-wp-1444253326705.jpgTunitiak Katan looking at his tribal territory in Ecuador – the national context, indigenous people, in climate change and measurement. Ecuador have many indigenous groups – 11 different cultures. He was involved in carbon estimation and ecosystem assessment. Working with different groups using traditional ecological knowledge (ancestors knowledge). The explore the issues of climate discussions with different groups from 9 cultures, with 312 people discussing REDD/REDD+. They carried out measurements in the Amazon demonstrating carbon capture. Now they carry out a project at Kutukú-Shaim region for conservation, restoration and management, selected because the area got a lot of rivers that feed the Amazon river. They aim to achieve holistic management. “We and the forest are one”.

Nick Wright from @crwodicity – belief that in each organisation or community that are transformative ideas that are not seeing the light of day. We are more connected than ever before. Technology change the way people link and interact and becoming the norm. Connectivity make technologies part of the solution, and the vast majority of the world will benefit from this connectivity. It’s about not just collecting the information but also to connect the dots and make sense of it. Increase connectivity is challenging hierarchy. How can citizens participate in decision making and opportunity to participate. The crowdsourcing is a way to strengthen relationship between government and the people. Crowdicity worked with Rio to explore the Olympic legacy. They created Agora Rio to allow people to discuss issues and make the city better. They started on-line and move to the real world – pop-up town hall meetings – coordinate community groups and reach out from the on-line to those who didn’t access.They had a process to make it possible to work on-line and off-line. Led to 24 proposals for projects, of which 4 are going forward and done in cycle of 12 week. The importance is to create social movement for the period of time – sense of energy. Crowdsourcing can work in the UN system – post-2015 development agenda, help to amplify the conversation to 16 million people around the world – take views from across the world – BYND 2015 is the first ever crowdsourced UN declaration.

Andrew Hill of @cartodb covering the importance of citizen science in Planet Hunters, but wanted to mostly wanted to talk maps. How to engage people who can contribute code or technical skills. GitHub is a system that is central to technology working. Successful project can have many participants. It’s a community of 10 million users. How can we find coders for my project? But lots of time there is lack of contribution apart from the lead? We need to engage people to create technologies for communities. Hackathon can be problematic without thinking beyond the specific event. Need to consider small grant, and also thinking about people somewhere between code and use. Maps might be the data visualisation type that change people behaviour most often. Maybe a tool to make things easy – it should be a map? Website like can allow people to tell their story. CartoDB also make it possible for people to take data and show it in different ways.

Discussion: getting to the idea is possible, but then there is a challenge is to keep them engaged. Suggestion: give information back and see the value in information. Need to have feedback loop for people to see what they learned, building expertise, A personal journey of learning is important.

The final plenary was Reaching audiences through innovations in visualisation for people to act on information, they need to understand it. Visualisation can increase that understanding. Bringing together leading experts and practitioners, this plenary will showcase innovations in data visualisation and application that advance sustainable development.


Janet Ranganathan shown the WRI Resource Watch. There is a gap between data provision and data use – a lot of open data portals – you get lost. Need to help people to listen to the signal of the planet and act on it. The opportunity is the whole data that is coming out. Based on global forest watch, they focus on the Nexus: water, food, energy, forests. Provide access to data, but also analysis and then sharing the insights.

Craig Mills talked about visuality experience – it’s not data revolution but it’s about presenting information. Need to create fusion between data and story telling. He provided a walk through of ResearchWatch showing how to make information personal and need to redefine of displaying maps – following convention from GIS. There are ways of thinking about visualisation principles. Stop to think about sharing – see the connection before things are displayed on the map. How to get your data to where people are already using. Make it easy to embed in other places – make a big share button. Use emotions and feeling in terms of connection. Context is the secret – expect people to use things on phones, or tablet. Actually thinking about information as mobile first. Also voice activated and SMS and we can reach everyone

Angela Oduor Lungati – Ushahidi – explore the marginalisation is not from scarcity, but poverty, power and inequality (UN Human Development Report 2006). She show how privatisation of water reduce access to water. Usahidi is a platform that allow ordinary citizens to raise their voice and share information. Information can use SMS, web or smartphone – whatever people have. Allowing data collection, management, visualisation and alerts. Pothole theory – there is an event that trigger your action – and need to be local and personal. Kathmandu Living Labs use Ushahidi to find proper assessment in The tool is also used by theLouisiana Bucket Brigade. Usahidi was used by 18M people and 159 countries, and it is made in Africa. Suggest the metaphor of data = seeds; land = platforms and farmers are the people. Technology just 10% of the solution.

Trista Patterson – NewMedia Lab at GRID-Arendal – history of many reports and viral graphics. NewMedia Lab is to invigorate radical experimentation & rapid prototyping – moving beyond paper focus design. Connecting people with data, the audience and emotions. Dependence on technology increase, instead of envisioning what it is that we deeply need most – our need for envisioning, and we need to exercise this capability. They explore relationship with artists, envisioning with children. Data + emotions = decisions and actions. Iterations and endurance in experimentations.

The last side event Citizen Scientists and their role in monitoring of local to global environmental change – explored project in Abu Dhabi that involves divers in recording data about sharks and a project in Bahrain – regional movement of Arab Youth Climate Movement. Citizen Science programme, choose to use iNaturalist in Bahrein as a way to make people less blind to nature. Use iNaturalist, small session open to the public in a natural world heritage site – introduce the concept of citizen science which is not known to the public, and let them use the app to help to identify species, and would like to see people engage from a younger age in citizen science. Challenge in Abu Dhabi with an engagement with divers monitoring sharks when the Gulf is major exporter of fins. Initiatives take time to develop, and in Abu Dhabi they have challenge that divers are ex-pat who stay for some years and then leave, so require to continue to recruit people.