Citizen Science @ Computational Foundry, Swansea, Festival of Ideas

The Computational Foundry at the Swansea University organised two days “Festival of Ideas” as part of the activities to celebrate its opening. The first day was organised by Ben Shneiderman and focused on aspects of AI, while the second day, curated by Jenny Preece, focused on citizen science. The summary here is from the second day, which was open by Alan Dix, the Foundry director explaining that citizen science is providing new ways of understanding the social impact of data and technologies.

DSC_1716.JPGSetting the Scene: New Agendas, Broader Impacts (Professor Jenny Preece, University of Maryland).  The Computational Foundry considering how to integrate citizen science. There are opportunities for those who are coming from the science side, and the computational side – but there are tremendous opportunities for those in citizen science and Human-Computer Interaction in the field of citizen science. This is a day of action – a range of speakers on citizen science, from doing face to face – in the estuary and the field; but also an online platform on a large scale – the Zooniverse. We see also citizen science in an overseas environment, and in the context of education and public participation in science.

Jenny’s journey to citizen science came from interaction design and information studies. The aim is for interactions – new agendas research, practice, managing a local project. The broader impact – making an impact here in Swansea, but also on the wider world. We might develop a report of these new agendas and impacts. The aim is to develop a report for CSTP. Her personal journey – love the environment, and keen birders – and when NSF put out a call about social computing, she saw an opportunity to get into this area. Citizen science has a very long history within science but not within computing. In 2009, citizen science was defined by Rick Bonney and Jonathan Silvertown in papers at the time, which mostly about a partnership between scientists and volunteers to collect and analyse data. This has now shifted to a wider definition – from setting questions to producing output, and this wider understanding of citizen science is important to the way it is thought off. The work that she’s been doing recently, include small, place-based projects in NatureNet: technology for community environmental learning – see the video at and a paper in PNAS 2019. The project is addressing crowdsourcing – what are the special computational there? You are not using ML, drones, AI or any of this. The idea of crowdsourcing the design – that was something that made it different in terms of the NSF way to fund it. When started, the aim was to suggest design ideas of the things that they like and what they want to change. Very few design ideas came forward on a website that was set to allow participants, but there was an issue of confidence. They spend a lot of time to help small community groups to deal with watershed monitoring – the goal of the researchers was to have a preliminary map of local action projects.  In the participatory design process, the designers were thinking about a community of practice – but the participants thought that they are communicating with each other, so how to consider affinity network of ideas, and create a much more open software for sharing and communication, working together. Also, there is highly important local leadership – which can change over the lifetime of the project: from managing a team to dealing with technology. One of their participants, who is a plumber, noticed that in heavy rain events the rubbish is swept to the local river, and took his plumbing students to learn about water issues through citizen science. dsc_1717.jpgAnother project that is known in citizen science is eBird which includes amazing data visualisations of species distribution, migration and recently machine vision that is being used. The scale is from 2002 – but over 370m sighting of 10,313 species. Loads of opportunities for people in the visualisation area. iNaturalist is a social network with 20k observation a day, with 1.4m users, and aiming for 50M by 2020. There are many projects. SciStarter, and as a place for opportunities to computer scientists. Major issues – for scientists – enough data, trustworthy data, and long-term citizen participation.dsc_1718.jpg

For citizens – learning and contributing, but then they want to be acknowledged and valued. For computer scientists – it gives an opportunity to contribute to issues that are important: privacy, managing data. Some of the things that we can think of: people – how to diversify and involve more people? data quality; project management; technology and tools; values and ethics; and policies – have some real bite in different parts of the world. For Jenny – want to see leveraging the skills of HCI and citizen science to advance both, and use our knowledge to mitigate the impacts of climate change and biodiversity loss. Alan Dix – the messiness of this data is putting challenges that are very valuable.


DSC_1721.JPGCitizen Science in Swansea and the Gower Peninsular (Professor Geoff Proffitt  University of Swansea). Trained as a botanist and marine science. Worked in the Wetland Trust and set a nature reserve in Wales, and habitat restoration – digging holes and filling them with water. Worked in GCRF work in the Gambia, to carry out recording in people in estimating the carbon that is locked in the mangrove, as part of REDD++ funding and can lead to mangrove restoration.  Citizen science in Swansea – the type of work that is being carried out. e.g. Dan Forman works on Barn owl diet project – getting local active natural history groups and students who are examining the food and see the changes in the diet of owls. Military sites are acting as a nature reserve – e.g. in Castlemartin and that is evidence of the botany of the site. Another project is about coastal otter and diets – people are reporting on dead otters, siting of them alive, and got over 3500 records from across the UK. They are being restored and help in formulating coastal otter strategy for the UK. In the site of Cym Ivy, which is an area that is on by National Trust, there is a new salt marsh as a result of a breach in the sea wall. Since 2016, and collecting otter spraints and understanding diets – also use camera traps. Within a year there is a growing salt marsh with rapid changes. The National Trust are considering what they’ll do in other sites. They also running Bioblitzes in Swansea with 30-100 members of the public: it builds confidence, interest, and awareness. The Rosehill quarry in the centre of Swansea, it is being used as a site. There are also – Clearwing moths distribution – using traps that imitate the smell of a female and that attracts species. The information allows the recording of many observations. Another project is the Oriel Science and the Swansea Science Festival (7000 people attending). The Oriel Science is op up discovery events with a wide range of engagement across the sciences and engineering. Managing to reach out to people who are from areas that are usually not involved in science (high deprivation index). dsc_1723.jpgAnother researcher, Richard Unsworth, involved in marine aspects – seagrass project to record them and collect evidence globally. The Seagrass spotter includes 900 people in 64 countries that projects evidence with 2100 observation. There is evidence in different places. and is allowing collecting and sharing data. The BTO also carry out data collection and there are projects in the area of Swansea. The university also has an SSSI nearby – Crymlyn Burrows.

Restoring habitats – there are lots of work that is inspired by it and the UN declare the next decade to focus on restoration. Logistics – recruiting people is through places where you meet people, link to existing networks, and helping to get volunteers through connections. It is challenging to get people involved in apps.

DSC_1724.JPGThe COASST Project (Professor Julia K. Parrish, Associate Dean, College of the Environment, University of Washington). COASST has been running for 19 years. Natural scientists – the science goes to scientific publications, and to decision making. We need to technology as a replacement of people, a way to play, a wall and disconnector. But let’s think of technology as an amplifier to connect to nature and community, it also can act as an extender of sense, patterns, and scale. Issues of Wellbeing, we need to extend from humans to Gaia – the planetary systems. Citizen Science is about science, community, education, and enjoyment. There are lots of goals of citizen science – she’s on the area of hand on. The usual view of science is about a process that starts with a hypothesis, then experiment, results and conclude – but there is the need to put in a discover of pattern and wonder before hypothesis and also bear witness. Coastal Observation focuses – monitoring dead bird. COASST – deconstruct science: evidence first, deduction second. Second Demystifying science – no jargon, explain the process. Using science – bear witness and take action. In the COASST programme there is a contract, to survey carcases of marine bird in a given area, collect the foot, standard measurements and digital information. Recording on paper is – because of economics, context (sun, water).

There is a process of identifying the bird according to the foot and other identifying. 950 monthly participants, 4700 people participate since inception. 33% of people are retired, and the economic means to be retired. Average age 51, 65% male. The training – only 50% of people that get into training know birds. As people collect more data they get better – over 70% accuracy and higher. There is also a seasonal pattern – after a year, most people know the about 85% get the correct answer. What are the high/low pattern over the year, and that is something that professional ornithologists don’t know and they develop a good concept of the yearly average,. Active people after a year – hands-on programmes retain people over a long time. With long term retention rates: asking new participants why they joined, and long term participants why they stayed. The new people are interested in birds, the environment. dsc_1731.jpgLong term is staying to be outdoor, to contribute to the science, and to the COASST programme. There is also an aspect of personal identity between new and long term participants. There are differences between people who are going alone and experience the data collection, and then there are people who are joining pairs – so they are going with multiple people (nexus person that goes with different people to the activities). We need to design for loners and for social connectors (nexus). The data provides a good understanding of yearly patterns. There are also die off events that happen and records. COASST help in climate impacts, harmful algal blooms, changes in predator distribution and much more. There is an ability to record a mass die-off event in St Paul Island. They back calculate how far carcasses will get to the beach and can estimate and model mortality, which was 60 to 70 times higher than normal. That led to Die-off alert, of just reporting people in Alaska – it’s a food source, and can’t collect eggs: important for local practices. DSC_1729.JPGThere are events of many events of the region – can see the large scale pattern over space and time. By looking at the temperature of above normal patterns and the heating in Alaska and you can see the impact of increased mortality of birds. There are impacts of science and people – impact on coastal communities in Alaska, and in Indian communities in Washington, and ocean acidification that harms mussels. Let’s think about technology as wellbeing: connect people to passion, creativity, allow people to learn, increase ownership and stewardship of the natural world, increase realization and help them to take action. Most people are curious, attached to a place, but a very small group of people want to become scientists – and people would fundraise for the project than the analysis, and they want to see the scientists doing the work. Not making everyone a scientist, but making everyone involved.

DSC_1733.JPGThe Wisdom of the online crowd – Citizen science with the Zooniverse (Dr. Helen Spiers, Biomedical Research Lead of the Zooniverse Platform,  Department of Astrophysics, University of Oxford). Coming from developmental epigenetics and started in 2016 and covering some of the work of the universe. Currently the development of mobile apps etc. Zooniverse started from the story of Big Data in many fields of science, and especially in astronomy – we need data curation and human pattern recognition. The story started with Galaxy Zoo. The algorithm of the time couldn’t provide morphological information of galaxies, as Kevin couldn’t calculate all the galaxies – but analysed 50,000 galaxies, and it became Galaxy Zoo. The project was successful – 70,000 classification per hours, but that allows to complete analysis in a matter of months instead of years. The data was of better quality than the expert could do – more eyes on each image. There are many scientific outputs from Galaxy Zoo, but also unknown unknowns – e.g. Hanny Voorwerp. That has moved into cells with electron microscopy (with Crick Institute). There is much data that need annotation – annotation tools that allow providing recognition of cell data. The volunteer data quality is as good as experts. This allows understanding the nuclei of different cells – it opens up the ability to new areas in biology. DSC_1734.JPGThe work of volunteers can form the basis for ML. 1.75m registered users, and projects across science, humanities, and supporting humanitarian efforts. The Zooniverse project builder allows the growth in the projects and supporting different types of source data and the types of activities that you can carry out with it. Challenges include the need to understand how to facilitate engagement and scientific efficiency and it provides an opportunity to learn across projects. Looked at the volunteers’ behaviour across 63 Zooniverse projects, but found out several things: artificial scarcity can be associated with engagement – in most projects that shows a peak at the start and then dropping to an activity. when the research team upload the data in each time when it was available on a weekly basis, it raised the interest in the project and provided multiple peaks. The lessons need to be learnt with caution. Some projects get into high participation inequality, and also age and gender bias and there is a tension between social inclusivity in contrast to scientific efficiency. There is a need to be inclusive in study design – e.g. a project about body organs and checking people anatomic knowledge – there was an aim to have a more inclusive reach. This is an unusual project: it’s about data collection and how it can be used in a different way. There is also exclusivity – specialised crowds can provide specific skills – when there are needed expertise or local knowledge, or maybe you want task naivety crowd. Zooniverse also offer a linkage between ML and human contribution. e.g. throwing images that are surely not relevant, and asking the crowd to classify only those that the computer wasn’t confident about. Algorithms and volunteers offer different behaviour. There is also a lot of value in algorithmic diversity – computers can also be used to create engaging tasks, but need to be careful about using it – removing images without anything, reduced engagement in the project (the Snapshot Safari example of removing all the blanks which reduced engagement). There is an ethical issue – are you wasting people time. The future of Zooniverse is about Human:Computer collaboration, need to have a smart subject assignment – allocating tasks and ensure an engaging experience and combining modes of citizen science – interoperable systems, giving feedback. The communities are changing – e.g. DSC_1735.JPGGalaxy Zoo is very proactive which meet offline, and there are questions about the nature and characteristics of communities. Don’t waste people time – the commitment is to ensure scientific efficiency and find other ways of engaging people in an interesting way. The issue of inclusivity – how is the Zooniverse management team gatekeep the community? there is a review process, and also sharing it with volunteers who are happy to review project application – 50,000 repeat volunteers, which are self-selected, who provide feedback and say if the project is suitable for the Zooniverse. Very few of the projects that are scientifically valid, failed. There was a project that was thrown out – about facial characteristics. There is a different review of scientific relevance.

Extreme Citizen Science Professor Muki Haklay, Professor of
Geographical Information Science and co-director of the Extreme Citizen
Science group, Department of Geography, UCL

DSC_1736.JPGCitizen Science Inquiry: Contemporary Approaches (Professor Eileen Scanlon, Open University) talking about citizen science enquiry – the nQuire team. Citizen science inquiry is the general approach to it. Eileen sees citizen science as a way to enthuse people in science and engage them. There is a lot of things that were talks: scientific literacy and wider STEM learning. Then there are issues of volunteers and how they are involved in data collection and analysis. From the point of history, citizen science goes back to the 17th C and been going for a long time. Modern citizen science provides new ways of engaging online – such as Zooniverse or iNaturalist. At the Open University, they’ve done nQuire-it, iSpot and Situ8 that is about annotating physical places.dsc_1737.jpg First, they look at the personal inquiry project – inquiry-based learning across formal and informal settings ( Was coming from an interest in digital technology and learning, and was focusing on 12-16 old, and were searching for outdoor settings that allow students to link to issues that are relevant to them and within their areas. Inquiry-based learning is appearing in the education literature, and scaffolding the process can help people to learn through inquiry. It can be used through different stages in the learning process. Personalisation is important, but you do need to have a limitation – e.g. you can’t work with teenagers about issues of their daily diet: sharing it with other people in their immediate social circle is problematic. In Milton Keynes and Northampton, they manage to engage students in the investigation of urban heat islands. The work is summarised in the book “orchestrating inquiry learning”. The work was developed within the formal approach. At the same time, work by Vickie Curtis lead to the analysis of online citizen science (in her book). dsc_1738.jpgThe research on who engage and to what extent, you get a different picture – Vickie was a participant observer, and in Foldit where the science was very high – the participants were interested in games. The positioning of the people who participate in citizen science. Next, they worked with Nominet Trust and developed nQuire-it – so using smartphone sensors. They’ve done a co-design of an informal system with students and created different ways of exploring the world. The investigations were called “missions” – develop things that the participants are personally interested in and also to the book on “Citizen Inquiry” – citizen science + collaborative inquiry learning + crowdsourcing. The way that they are seen Citizen Inquiry is to think about a link between inquiry learning and citizen science. Trying to think about how these things are brought together. Another project, by Jess Carr is looking about representing ‘publics’ – e.g. developing the workaround advocacy research groups. In inclusive research is part of the work. By the collaboration with the BBC lead to extend citizen inquiry to allow mass surveys (in which include confidential survey missions, and open social missions. The BBC helped in developing a joint platform and different missions were developed – from survey of sleep pattern, to work with FutureLearn, and to an authoring tool. One work that is currently happening is in the Forst 404 Experiment about different environmental sound and running a podcast. There are issues with owns data and ethical questions about such projects. There are also other activities – such as iSpot and Treezilla. Citizen science inquiry can provide about participation and personally relevant research. Evaluating learning is tricky. Open questions include how can citizen science projects raise interest in STEM and provide appealing science learning? Can citizen science have an impact on the participant’s identity – allow them to identify roles for themselves in the practice of science? The reputation system of iSpot is especially valuable (the Zookeys paper cover that).

The speakers had a common panel, exploring what are the new ideas and agendas that are emerging from the day. point of impact on the world, and science in general and can help; social inclusion that came in both days; growth in computing in challenges; including computers as participants; education;

From today – how we maximise the impact of the data that we produce and that we’re going to produce? How can we take the datasets that are being produced and how they are being used? Data can be repackaged and reused. Another thing is education and there is no impression of getting young people engaged with these types of project – informal involvement and practical science activity. There is a certain “flight from science” and we need to consider how to involve the youth into it. There are both men and women, and there are people who are leaving education (e.g. young males in the UK). There are lessons in museums that engage with citizen science: learning citizen science, DITOs, and the awareness of Ecsite and Aztec. From COASST there are issues about finding older adults because of the year-long needs of the project, but they do have cross-generation participation. There are also issues about the integration of citizen science and inquiry into education – but we need to be articulate about what we’re doing within citizen science. There is also a lot of data on different platforms, and linkage between seagrass and specific birds that are eating it and direct connection is something that ecologists don’t know how to link. There are also people who collected data over a long time and the data and in some cases, this is not shared. There is plenty of information on hatching and egg laying day when they are a very long time, but it is in small notebooks that need to be digitised and used – and this information needs to be collected, as otherwise will be lost. There are issues of a lot of unexpected information within environmental information – examples include the ozone layer reprocessing, or that looking at old records or mass die-off events are showing information that was not known before. This is an issue that we might want ML and other methods of uncommon analysis to provide us. There are also cultural identity issues – about the role of experts and the disrespect of experts: is citizen science are amateur scientists? Or are they are not like experts? Choice c – and there is a wider distribution. Mass mortality events that started in early 2000 made the front page, and right-leaning business groups wanted to hear about it as much as to conservation groups. The business groups was a demonstration of local people collecting information and managing their place. Citizen science is not left or right leaning and it gives a lot of communities to hold information and interpret it – that’s the democratisation. We are not doing the deficit model – bringing people to be like us. But is it useful to link citizen science to political debate? Citizen science can take out the politics and focus on the fact – using an agreed measurement and approach that is societally agreed. In the water projects, people became more educated about the situation so they could lobby the officials to act. There is also an opportunity to bring it the data as a way to challenge difference: it is about empowerment and not about right or wrong. Back to the engagement of kids – the ethical assumptions: if there is data collection then the parent is responsible for the data? In the OU system, there is a concern and that need to be addressed and it is an issue in school settings. There are also options for managing data by the teachers and let students deal with data, pictures, etc. It is tricky on how to engage in advance with parents and children – but it can lead to impacts on parents, too. There are also issues – e.g. reporting about the impact of pollution on an ecological site, and then claims that the site is spoiled so it can be used for development. There are lessons to be learned from Citizen Science: Theory and Practice special issue on ethics, and the Citizen Science Association ethics working groups. The ideas that are emerging and resources that are coming along is to find new questions.




CBC – The Current – How citizen science is changing the research landscape?

Following the publication of a paper in Nature Communications on the use of eBird data for conservation planning, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) dedicated a segment of their “The Current” programme to the role of citizen science. The section explored “How citizen science is changing the research landscape? Online communities and new technology are making it easier than ever for anyone to get involved in scientific research. But how reliable is user-generated data? And what value does it bring to major studies?”

I had the pleasure to be interviewed by Anna Maria Tremonti for this programme, and you can hear the section on citizen science here.

Figure 2 from Schuster et al. 2019: Spatial clustering of species abundance comparison of areas prioritized for weekly and yearly planning. The geographical coverage would not be possible without citizen science data.

Doing It Together Science (DITOs) final event talks (part 1)

This is a reblogging of the reporting from DITOs final event, which was blogged by Alice Sheppard (which I’ve edited, lightly):

Introduction to the day

Camille Pisani, the Director of RBINS praises numerous volunteers and collaborators who have worked together, and the way different activities have been aimed at reaching many different audiences. There have been many localised events, such as waste management or coastal environmental issues. What makes DITOs different in her views is the integrative approach to the multiple meanings of “citizen science”. Citizen science goes back a long way, but for some people it’s still a new thing, and we’re still in the process of reaching out, even with simple things like communication. At the other end of the scale are people who have been volunteering or experimenting in science outside the professional environment for a very long time. When Camille met Muki four or five years ago, she was extremely interested in the idea of the escalator model.



Muki Haklay is next on “The DITOs journey”. He starts with “the world needs more citizen science” and the DITOs video. The DITOs story started in the middle of 2013 with the launch of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). As a fledgeling organisation, the question was how to get it going. In 2014, DITOs was set with a process in which UCL asked partners what they’d be interested in doing during the next few years, and design a project around these plans. They not only thought up the escalator, but also the thought of aiming at more bottom-up citizen science. UCL would lead, because ECSA was still building capacity and was not ready to lead a project. The initial bid was lost to Sparks, which was a wonderful project, but in 2015, a second call came out and in May 2016 DITOs began just after the 2016 ECSA conference. DITOs is very diverse, with a museum, NGOs, SMEs, universities, labs – a very diverse team with an original promise to run 500 events and engage 290,000 participants plus 1.3 million online. It was quite an ambitious target! Muki next mentions the “onion diagram”, which put UCL and ECSA at the centre with many activities and areas going on around them. The objectives included “deep public engagement”, a broad range of public activities, to strengthen ECSA, to do cross-European fertilisation and knowledge-sharing by way of a lot of interaction between the partners, and to reach out to excluded groups. Muki has rewritten the escalator model a few times to develop the ideas and have some exact numbers, such as precisely how many people in the UK are active in DIYBio, and how many watch Blue Planet or visit the science museum. Many more people “passively consume” science (such as the above activities) versus taking a more active role, such as recording birds in their garden. In many cases, people run out of time to do science, for example, while trying to support a family; the escalator allows people to move up and down according to their preference and ability. All the knowledge-sharing leads to project partners spending a great deal of time together, including in local citizen science such as visiting lakes or rivers, and all becoming friends.








Linden Farrer from the European Commission DG RTD (the department that is responsible for research and innovation) is next – DG RTD chooses which projects to fund, or not fund through open calls. DITOs was funded out of a part of H2020 which is dedicated to bringing people and science together (Science with and for Society – SWAFS). The objectives are, of course, bringing science and society together, but also fostering more talent for science and pairing scientific excellence with social responsibility. This can involve co-creation of agendas and policies by several stakeholders – which is quite broad, with a wide range of activities, and maybe discussing results or doing science with citizens. DITOs got funding under a topic called “Pan-European public outreach”, with the aim of increasing public awareness of science and RRI. Now, 2/3 of the way through H2020, they are concentrating on increasing the impacts and effectiveness of the programme, focusing on fewer topics but more closely – and one of such topics is exploring and supporting citizen science (others include institutional change, gender equality, etc – there are still quite a few you can find if you google Citizen Science in SWafS!). Linden lets us know that the future of H2020 and SwafS very likely involves working directly with citizens and civil society organisations.












The next several presentations are results of DITOs by many of its staff, taking five minutes each, moderated by Margaret Gold.

Judy Barrett, UCL, on the escalator model
Extreme Citizen Science group conceived the idea of DITOs in 2014, with the idea that citizen science should be driven by local needs, practices and cultures. UCL has mostly focused on WP6, “coordination, support and management”, which surrounds all the other work packages (such as policy). We’ve also produced a study of business models of citizen science. Our outputs from WP6 is itself a DITOs legacy, because other projects will be able to use it. We carried out 90 events, which we’ll see more of later. We implemented a MOOC (massive open online course) which has now been operating for 2 years, which has been signed up to by about 1000 people, and is also part of MSc programmes at UCL. Our events are aimed at equipping people with tools to answer their own scientific questions. We’ve made our own escalator model as “the consortium journey” – for several of us, it was our first experience of interdisciplinary work, or citizen science, or many other topics. It was therefore vital to create a supportive, communicative environment, with practice-sharing and exchange of ideas being vital. Some staff of partners were scientists with little experience of citizen science. But many individual staff members felt they had personally grown. Individual highlights include a dedication to progress in citizen science, collaboration with experts, and multi-stakeholder engagement.

Gaia Agnello, ECSA, environmental sustainability
The aim was to introduce citizen scientists and policy makers on developing methods for involvement, bolstering networks, promoting knowledge exchange and events all over Europe. ECSA particularly established the European BioBlitz Network, facilitating best practice exchange between anyone who runs BioBlitzes. Three DITOs partners subsequently established their first BioBlitz. MediaLab Prado created “Interactivos” of discussions and workshops on different topics each year, such as sustainable mobility, food systems, waste management etc. Kersnikova organised the Sister’s Lab, promoting transdisciplinary activities and gender equality, empowering women to collaborate through teaching and learning. UCL ran all-age workshops on air quality, including teaching people how to make environmental monitoring devices. European Green Week last year included discussions of environmental citizen science’s impact on policy. Lessons learned include: balance your organisation’s mandate with the values of the poeple involved; care for participants; co-design events as much as possible – talking to people before designing events; make sure the project has been felt by communities as their own because this will increase impacts; and take care of your team and yourself!


Imane Baiz, CRI-Paris, UPD and BioDesign
WP1 is Biodesign, which even the project leaders found a mysterious word at the beginning! It may mean art, or integrating buildings into the ecosystem, or synthetic biology (including the tools and methods). It connects people – for example, scientists with artists. It is interdisciplinary. It also connects ideas, too. We had a total of 700 events, which involved a lot of travelling and creating exhibitions, and partners showing their work to each other, going into schools, designing the Science Bus. It can be about empowerment – designing a sustainable future, inspired by nature. There were also different notions from different people – for example of extensive travel, but in fact, it’s like a group of superheroes who are trying to make the world a better place.

Paweł Wyszomirski, Eco21/Meritum, air quality
Polish cities are suffering from serious air pollution, especially in autumn and winter. Eco21 began to work with policy makers. They were creating data, which they decided to use to empower people to do something about the pollution – which involved teaching people how to use numbers to make decisions. This also allows people to talk with others in their neighbourhoods. Membership of ECSA allowed Eco21 to be invited to an air quality workshop, to learn how to empower and engage people in citizen science and in being able to do something about poor air quality. Pawel hopes that many people will come and ask him about European Clean Air Day.

Carole Paleco, RBINS, the escalator model at the museum
A way that RBINS have tried to apply the escalator model is to evaluate their activities and events, and also trying to involve the citizens at an early stage. At a citizen science cafe, for example, the monitoring and evaluation of feedback from participants has led to being able to give the facilitator feedback each time. They have a small touring exhibition that goes to schools in the Brussels region. They’ve organised biodiversity workshops with volunteers. They asked participants what they would put on a “Z-Card” which would go out to schools to raise awareness of biodiversity. She gave a report on a Phasma Meeting at RBINS, and organised their first BioBlitz last year. It was very focused with five scientists. The XperiBird has given out nestboxes to schools so that the children can observe birds nesting and bringing up chicks.

Simon Gmajner, Kersnikova, Bridging the Gap
Kersnikova aims to bridge the gaps between scientists and artists, also with participants and events. There was no phrase for “citizen science” in Slovenian, so it was translated best as “participatory science”. They then decided to organise exhibitions which would spur discussions. They did a BioArt exhibition which included science cafes which deepened discussion and complimented the artists’ and scientists’ modes of engagement. They managed to host the author of a book on biotechnology. A problem they ran into was people asking “What is art and what is science here?” which they found they could not always answer! They wanted to build an ecosystem that would support itself, which involved training people in interdisciplinary matters. They have a biotechnology lab and also ran workshops on biorobotics and soil tasting! They also trained mentors, so that citizens who had been coming for a long time could teach newer people.

Claudia Gobel, ECSA, Policy Engagement
DITOs has many public engagement activities, but also wants to talk to decision makers, which ECSA has focused on – at European, national and local levels. They’ve held 16 discovery trips, 17 stakeholder round tables, a pan-European policy forum and many more additional workshops and events. These took place in various countries. Policy briefs have come out of this, with a focus on open science and on responsible research and innovation. There is a diversity of voices in citizen science. It is very important to understand how citizen science is conceptualised and done – which is where the escalator was very important. There are different communities of practitioners. Citizen science needs cultural change and a plurality of voices, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness and these must be very important in our organisations. They also want to build more networks of stakeholders. Claudia also highlighted the citizen science book – if you’re here, please help yourself to a copy, or download it here.

Ted Fjallman, Tekiu UK, WP4 Policy Engagement
Across the project, we’ve managed to achieve 50% more events than we originally planned – DITOs has been very successful in the policy area, too. Tekiu is a for-profit organisation, though is not seeking to make a profit from DITOs. Ted observes that people are learning differently. He asked how many of us go to the cinema (nearly everyone); how many would be willing to pay what you’d pay for the cinema to attend a policy event? It was fewer people. Tekiu joined DITOs to understand how society is changing as a whole (which they cannot ask a single company). Discovery Trips are Tekiu’s brand; they take 10 to 25 people on a trip from one country to another to meet with their counterparts abroad so both parties can learn what the others do. Sometimes, participants may go on for example to join their city council. They plan to keep linking scientists with policymakers. They feel the future lies in active monitoring – we all have a phone, which has technology we wouldn’t have been able to imagine 30 years ago. It is, therefore, time to update the way we think.

Participants’ panel:
Cindy Regalado and Pawel Miedzinski from eutema moderating – Adam, Bernard, Roland, Mark, Pen-Yuan

Adam: Was part of Science has no Borders at UCL. Had a stall with an artist friend who collaborated on art and science of complexity. Attended film nights which included discussions of uneasy topics such as the history of eugenics. Attended Do It Together bio workshops, which taught him how to do simple biology experiments and procedures, use cutout microscopes, and learning about work at an aquarium and how to sample from the wild.
Bernard: Also worked with Rachel at the aquarium (as above), organised some workshops in Ireland with aerial kite mapping to which some environmentalist groups were invited; they hope to map their waterways in the future. They have also worked with young people from youth work in Ireland – they took some cameras which would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, and allowed young people to take the cameras apart to see what was inside them and convert them into near-infrared.
Roland – OpenWetLab evenings at Waag. His background is biology but he’s learning a lot of DIYbio and technology this way. Went to Kersnikova for a Bio-Art project and conference – all these were funded by DITOs; many participants in a Bio-Art movement came from around the world.
Mark – Was a Science Bus captain. Had already done a lot of outreach and engagement activities around Ireland. Science Bus involved travelling in a camper van around Europe collaborating with museums etc to work with the local public and get them engaged in workshops. The bus captains travelled together but didn’t always know each other beforehand! They taught the public how to carry out small DIY projects and gave them tools to investigate the world around them, also encouraging them to investigate and critique the world around them in this way. His favourite part was getting people interested who had never carried out scientific activities this way before. They were interested in the public’s life hacks and traditional remedies – how did people get information about what to do about (for example) what to do about bruises or mosquito bites when they didn’t engage much with science? A commonly stated solution was “urinate on it”!
Pen: worked with Cindy on delivering electronics workshops for the public, learning about open hardware and taking control over it and understand it. Has also worked with Cindy on DIY environmental sensing. He has also been investigating the nature of knowledge and creativity, such as creative commons licensing – how to creatively subvert copyright laws to share knowledge. He has, therefore, run many workshops in different places such as Italy, Scotland etc, and worked with hackerspaces. He has found that many people don’t know how to solder, so has used conductive thread.

Q: Has DITOs changed the way you do your work or practice?
Adam: Yes, now collaborates and gives talks, and works with many different people – DITOs was a big confidence-booster.
Bernard: Current role means diverting mattresses from landfill; quantifies work, work done manually – makes that work visible. Does mapping, community gardens, working with young people and getting them to understand the importance of data.
Roland: Has trained biohackers who then go on to train each other; has enjoyed watching skills spread. DITOs has personally influenced him to give workshops, feeling there is a mix between arts and science.
Mark: The Waag had the idea of the science bus; when he met them he felt they were wonderful but had a different way of thinking from how he would have carried out his work, so it taught him a new way of seeing things, which he felt was progressive. He applied these ideas to the science bus and his own work in Ireland. He returned to Ireland trying to find out how to engage the largest number of people possible – and has used the opening of Ireland’s new science centre to engage more people in citizen science and to see what they can do themselves.
Pen: Worked with a citizen scientist who built his own tools and developed his own methods for ecology – and discovered a population of deer near his village. This caught the attention of the local authorities, who built a protected area for the deer. Citizens do not just passively collect data. Science can make all of us become more engaged citizens.

Citizen Science 2019: opening talk “The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science.”

The first day of the conference started with Angel Hjarding, the conference chair opened the conference, with over 800 participants. The conference was strongly supported by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Welcomes addresses came from the North Carolina Secretary of Natural and Cultural Resources, Susi Hamilton who highlighted the state support to the natural sciences museum and its citizen science activities, and from the Dean of the College of Natural Resources in NC State University Mary Watzin. NC State publicly engaging with citizen science including 6 faculty positions. There was a recognition of the ownership of the land by American Indians – many local tribes lived in the area of North Carolina – there are 8 recognised tribes.

A keynote from Max Liboiron, from Memorial University in Saint Johns, Newfoundland, “The Power (Relations) of Citizen Science.”

Her version of the keynote talk is available here.

As a Marine Scientist she is running a laboratory on marine micro-plastic, and running a lab that is feminist and anti-colonialist, the lab is doing environmental justice work without appropriating it. A very diverse lab and the issue is how you do it. Also doing research with people who are not involved in science in a way that matter to them. The values are being from Mary O’Brien (1993) on the politics of science – Being a scientist means taking sides. She points out that political decisions are being made in science: who you work with, where the money come from etc. Science is not value free. It got elements of politics – getting data at all costs, entrepreneurial activities etc. Her focus is on humility and equity. Everything is about power – making scientific questions, deciding who to work with or not, some ways of doing thing flourish and some not – power is in the infrastructure. Power is noticeable when you disagree with comments. We need to think of the difference between equality and equity – the first is about treating everyone in the same way, and equity is about paying attention to different people. For example, there is a very specific protocol from the UN Environment on how to collect data – which, for example, assume sieving sand, but that doesn’t work in New Foundland. There are different things that don’t work – you can’t rely on delivery. Need to consider new protocols that are locally relevant. Need to consider technologies that can be built from available material in the rural area. Can’t rely on electricity or cell phone, Need to be less than $50. Equity is not universal and they won’t necessarily move to other places and fit other communities. The guidelines are also that anyone can do it, and don’t need to check with the scientists – make yourself obsolete. In action – the usual instrument for checking for marine microplastics which costs $3500, and therefore not relevant for other places. Instead, they build an instrument for $12. In terms of capacity thinking about communities, many people assume that deficit model and it is lots of times a category mistake – understanding things in the way that they are. Her first participatory citizen science experience was when she worked for the first time and started with fisherman (prefer term for man and women) and on the island that she researched, people want to see the temperature changes. At some point, the fisherman wanted to see the data, and looked at the data and started to tell things. Fishermen are very good judgement loggers, and they know how to understand the information including the catches and others. The fishermen are knowing what the data. We can say that “how western science is finally catching up to indigenous knowledge”. Equity is contextual.

Humility – modesty and humility are confused. Modesty is about not stating how important you are. Humility: people are looking over our place, doing the work, cleaning and humility are about recognising the networks and the contributions of these people. In the area of science, it can express itself in papers such as the paper Liboiron et al. “Equity in Author Order” (2017) and that came from. Understanding the full network of people that are contributing to scientific work will end with very large – noticing the effort of cleaning the lab. It is possible to have papers with 300 papers. Or a paper with 900 undergraduate students who done crowdsourced DNA sequencing. But something is being lost in the process and this creates tensions. A principle that she had is that she feels that everyone need to be paid, whenever they do science – e,g, Virginia Eubanks who pointed – democratizing [science] is an endless meeting, so pay me for my time”. The reason that she doesn’t associate with citizen science is that it is based on sacrifice economy where the benefits accrue to the more privileged people. When she works with a community, she hires someone from the community as a fully paid member of the lab that will be involved in the project in a completely fair way. Engaging with local people, when working locally, the local connection was also helping the people who contributed fish to know what was discovered. Having local people that are involved in the project making it a full packed meeting, and the community meetings are community peer review. The community have the right to stop the publication. This happened in anthropology where there is refusal – ethnographic refusal is allowing people to object to the research in their area. The scientist has a stake, but the community have rights. So far, haven’t been told not to publish. We don’t know what are the harms and benefits to communities and they have the right to decide what happen to the knowledge. Some knowledge is not best going to academia but should go to the fisheman union or maternity wards.

Citizen science has a special place and potential to make things different in science. It can be its own thing to do humility better, equity better, and engagement. The sacrifice economy of citizen science is understood mostly as volunteering and doesn’t mean that it can’t be used in different contexts.

There are already set methods and projects and framework, need to think what is the domain and how you are able to change the system.

Vespucci / COST action training school on digital transformation, citizen science, and social innovation

As part of the COST action that is dedicated to citizen science across Europe, I have participated in a training school about digital transformation, citizen science, and social innovation.  The training school set out to be a five-day event for doctoral students, researchers, policymakers, civic entrepreneurs, designers, and civil servants who are interested in exploring and learning about:

  • how citizen science can be understood and/or used as a strategic or intentional approach to social innovation;
  • the intertwinement of social innovation with socio-technical developments, including the impacts of digital transformation;
  • the relationship between policy framing, participatory research, and social innovation.

With the guidance of six trainers: Myself, Mara Balestrini, Ideas For Change, Barcelona; Stefan Daume, Scitingly Project, Stockholm; Cristina Capineri, University of Siena, Italy;  and Sven Schade and Marisa Ponti, the EU Joint Research Centre who supported the whole training school in addition to the COST action.

The students came from across Europe – from places such as Turkey, Sicily, Hungary, Austria and Scotland, with the usual internationalisation of the academic world – such as Lithuanian working in Italy or Spanish working in Scotland. Although some of the students were already familiar with the world of citizen science, other were new to it. We’ve started the week with a mapping exercise to help us set mixed groups with different skills across the spectrum of social innovation and citizen science.


During the week, four groups of students (some of them experienced researchers at an advanced stage of their career!) started to develop research activities around the intersection between the three core topics. Some noticeable outcomes are the realisation that within a highly multidisciplinary area, there are challenges in case study selection and analysis; the need to define concepts such as impact, uptake, value, success, failure and so on… There was also the constant issue of finding bout failures so other people can learn from them.

After about a day and a half of lectures, discussions, and organisation, the participants started to look into four interesting areas. The first group started to ask questions about the social impacts of projects and in particular the difference between co-created projects which tend to be short term, and long-term projects, which tend to be top-down and highly structured. They started working on analysing 30 case studies to understand the trade-offs. The second group questioned the differences in “triggering events” for citizen science and especially “stress” vs “shock”. The stress events are ongoing issues such as noise or air quality, while shock are events such as disaster response. The third group started looking at the meaning of “value” in citizen science and ended with the clash between the neoliberal interpretation of citizen science vs the more communitarian and humanistic interpretation of its role in society. They have done their data collection by interviewing the trainers – a good way of utilising the knowledge in the room. Finally, the fourth group explored project reports on the Horizon 2020 portal as a way to understand the social value that emerges from EU funded projects that are relevant to the areas of social innovation and citizen science – they have identified over 90 projects that are worth exploring further.

The value of a training school is in the immersion that participants and trainers have for the five days and the fact that this school was running in the winter meant that there was an extra incentive to stay inside and focus. This adds to other good experiences at the same location through the Vespucci Initiative. At the end of it all, it is about building networks of researchers which will hopefully continue to develop.




10 years of Mapping for Change

November 24 marks 10 years since Louise Francs, Chris Church and myself set up Mapping for Change. It’s a proud moment when the social enterprise that was set out of a research project at UCL is now well established, and the work that it does is mentioned in the annual report of the Chief Medical Officer, appear in the Guardian, and develop projects in many places far from its origin in London – including in Barcelona, Katowice, Valletta, and Kampala.

Mapping for Change came out of the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) funded “Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities. Originally, we’ve approached Steve Coast and Nick Black to develop a community mapping platform, but they got busy with CloudMade and we were lucky that Claire Ellul stepped forward and developed the first version of the community mapping platform during her postdoctoral research. Claire is our unofficial co-founder and acted as technical lead for a long while. Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities was about to end in December 2008, and Louise, Chris and myself decided that we’re going to continue to utilise the platform and engagement methodologies that we’ve developed through a new organisation, so we set up Mapping for Change for this purpose. Originally, Mapping for Change was supposed to be set as a collaboration between London 21 Sustainability Network and UCL, but with the demise of London 21 in 2010, UCL became the main owner of it.

As to celebrate the 10 years, I’m picking up some activities and developments in Mapping for Change from each year, but first, I have to go back further – 14 years ago:

GreenMapMeeting20042004 – this email, from Vinciane Rycroft, at London21, who at the time developing their innovative online Green Map for London, was to establish a connection between UCL and the organisation. Following this, I learned about London 21 effort to record community-led sustainability activities across the city and represent them. The meeting in 2004 eventually led to the development of “Mapping Change for Sustainable Communities” project and the creation of Mapping for Change

2008HWCommunityMap6-Workshop-MCSC.JPG the basis for Mapping for Change was an extensive set of workshops that were carried out in different areas in East London. The image is taken from a workshop at Hackney week in March 2008, which was eventually digitised and shared on the new community mapping platform – and in this image both Louise Francis and her London 21 colleague, Colleen Whitaker, leading a participatory mapping workshop.

MfCBrochure2009 – With the first brochure and also a description of existing activities, we started securing the first projects that were paid for. These included working with different faith communities across London on sustainability issues, and also a map of food growing in Brixton (linked to the Transition Town group there). Another project started at the time was with UCL Development Planning Unit around Hackney Marshes.


DSC01239 (2)2010 – the official launch of Mapping for Change at UCL included an endorsement from Steve Caddick, the Vice Provost for Enterprise (in the picture on the right). We have also started working with UCL Public Engagement Unit on understanding the relationships between UCL and the local community that live around it. Most importantly, we have secured a social enterprise award from UnLtd, as part of their programme to support social enterprises in Universities. We also started to carry out air quality study in the Pepys Estate. Some of our work was covered in GIS Development.Diffusion sample3

2011 – the work on community-led air quality monitoring started to expand, with studies in Highbury and Islington. We also carried out work on mapping activities in canals and waterways and helped The Conservation Volunteers to assess their impact. As a UCL champion for social enterprise, it was possible to encourage the institution to support activities such as those of Mapping for Change in a more organised way.

2012 – the main change to the company in this year happened with the help of UCL Business, the technology transfer office of UCL (and in particular Ana Lemmo). We changed the registration to a Community Interest Company (CIC) and also made UCL the owner of the company, which made it the first CIC that is completely owned by the university.

2013 – following the transition to UCL ownership, we were selected as the social enterprise of the year. We also launched the Science in the City project in the Barbican – a year-long air pollution monitoring study in the Barbican estate in the City of London.

Street mobility toolkit2014 – Mapping for Change was used for an Impact Case Study in the research evaluation framework (REF) exercise that year. This required explaining the work that was developed in the first 5 years of operation, and in particular air quality studies. During this year, we’ve hosted Karen Martin, who carried out a participatory mapping project with people who use foodbanks (see her slides below). During this year, we also secure the first major EU research funding for our work, through the CAP4Access project, as well as UCL Street Mobility project. At the end of the year, the new database system for managing community mapping – GeoKey – was released by UCL ExCiteS and form the basis for a new Community Mapping system.

Southwark 2015 – we have started collaborating with the Engineering Exchange at UCL, and provided training in participatory and community mapping. We also released the new community mapping system – updating and replacing the software that was used from 2008. This was an extensive effort that required significant investment. The new system facilitated the creation of maps for different clients – it was possible to create a bespoke front page for Eco21 in Poland and other organisations. At the end of the year, we carried out a crowdfunding campaign to raise funding to support community-led air quality projects (see also here). We also helped the London Borough of Southwark to carry out a consultation on its development plan. You can also find notes from a talk at the Building Centre on Mapping for Change activities.

2016  – the year started with the launch of a new Horizon2020 project, WeGovNow! which is now its last stages. With the growing concern by the communities around UCL on the health impacts of HS2 development, we collaborated with a visiting researcher (Irene Eleta) on understanding the interactions between researchers and communities on air quality projects. We also had our first contract with the University of Malta and providing them with a platform for community mapping that they can use for different projects.

Participatory Mapping Methodology2017 – 10 years after it was originally developed, the participatory methodology that we use is published in the Routledge book of Environmental Justice, another major change happened in the late part of the year, with the office of Mapping for Change relocating to Mildmay Community Centre in Islington. This was, in some way, a close of a circle, since in 2008 when we just started, working with the project Citizens Science for Sustainability (SuScit) which was running in Mildmay was considering the use of community maps, and in 2012 Cindy Regalado carried out one of her playshops in the community centre as part of her research in ExCiteS.

2018 – Mapping for Change is now well established, and running multiple projects – maintaining the online maps, participating in Horizon 2020 projects – a new one, D-Noses, just begun, and being invited to participate in tenders and proposals. Nowadays, I actually know that I don’t know about many of the interesting projects that are happening. It operates in synergy with the work of the UCL Extreme Citizen Science group and continues to grow. It is a successful example of a knowledge-based social enterprise.

There were many people that helped Mapping for Change, worked or volunteered on the many projects that were carried out over the years – and this is an opportunity to thank all of them!

Citizen Science: Expertise, Democracy and Public Participation – Report for Swiss Science Council

One of the joys of the Doing it Together Science project is that it provides opportunities to work closely with different partners from very different areas. One such a collaboration is with Bruno Strasser and his group at the University of Geneva who are researching citizen science from an STS/history of science perspective.

Over the first part of 2018, Bruno and I developed a report for the Swiss Science Council on citizen science. Here is the summary of the report:

“Citizen science” refers to a broad range of activities where people produce scientific knowledge outside of traditional scientific institutions. From mapping natural phenomena to analyzing scientific data, sharing health information, and making
new technologies, citizen science occurs across all the disciplines of science and involves a number of different methods of inquiry, both orthodox and alternative. It includes projects directed by scientists and by grassroots organizations as well as projects where power over the design, implementation, and the use of outputs is shared among participants and organizers.

Citizen science is not a completely novel phenomenon since it was the main mode of practicing science for centuries. But the professionalization of science and the rise of experimentalism since the mid-nineteenth century has increasingly separated professional scientists from the public, and this accelerated in the second part of the twentieth century. Citizen science, and other participatory research activities, reconnect ists and the public in new ways. Unlike previous attempts at bridging the gap between science and the public through science communication or through deliberative forums, in citizen science the public directly contributes to the production of knowledge, though in many cases their role is restricted to data collection or simple analysis.

Citizen science is witnessing a rapid growth and is increasingly being recognized by national governments and science funding agencies as a promising solution to three sets of problems affecting the relationships between science and society. First, citizen science can contribute to science by providing a large workforce to solve research problems that require extensive observations (mapping biodiversity) or the analysis of big data sets (classifying galaxies). It can also contribute new do-it-yourself (DIY) research tools, foster Open Science, and bring more inclusive methods to scientific research. Second, it can contribute to improving citizens’ scientific literacy, specifically with regard to the nature of science and scientific inquiry, which is crucial for the ability of citizens to position themselves in democratic debates about scientific and technical issues. Third, it can contribute to making science more democratic, both in the sense of including more diverse people in the practice of science and in making science better aligned with the public interest. It can also increase public trust in science and help governments fulfil their international monitoring obligations, for example for biodiversity or air quality.

The great opportunities of citizen science for science, education, and democracy, but also the risks of cooptation by scientific institutions and of populist undermining of professional expertise deserve serious critical attention from scholars and policy makers.

The report is available as a stand-alone report, and in a version that includes the conclusions and recommendations by the council.