Citizen Science 2019: Citizen Social Science for Environmental Public Health Research


There are specific challenges for citizen social science – e.g. personal information, ethics Lisa Lundgren (NCSU) and Steve Prince (EPA).

DSCN3306Steve Prince – behavioural economist, and covering the SmokeSense app. Smoke Sense is about wildfire Smoke exposure. The problem that is addressing is thick smoke that blanket an area – different people might react differently to the issue. There is an increase in mortality but also impact across the population with more people impacts at the bottom of the pyramids. So they wanted to understand the behaviour and the impact of people – from a runny nose to asthma. They wanted to understand how people react and therefore to think about heuristics and biases to decide what to do. People use information that is available, and the EPA want to understand how people understand this information. Want to have Smoke Sense so it gives the feedback in the hand of many people – a smartphone app for people who are interested in smoke pollution and health, and want to contribute and understand the health impacts. They wanted an iterative impact – download and use it once is not helpful, and the repeated use is helping. The interface explains to people the air quality index and what it means. The EPA tries to link numerical levels to information. People are interested in things next to them, but also give the indication across the USA. But by showing a map it is possible to visualise that the impact of west coast smoke is going nationwide. Users need to interact with their health but also share this information with the EPA – DSCN3307from scratchy throat to Wheezing. They are looking at Symptom Mitigating Behaviour and Exposure Reducing Behaviours (ERB) – e.g. leaving the area, or using a mask. There is in the app information about other people – providing a weekly summary of the symptoms. They are trying to consider personalised messages vs. more generic messages – they are also considering what are the nudge-able moment for people in terms of behaviour change, so they are asking the users to provide information about estimating what other people do, and do you think that other people are supposed to do it – e.g. changing the circulation of air in the car when passing smoke. Smoke Sense got motivated participants – high education participants and not representative of the whole population. In terms of the health profile, they try to understand the context. Also, want to consider if it is a serious concern. What tools are available to reduce smoke exposure? what happens when smoke hits? The circular goal is for users to leverage the tool and use it in their community.

DSCN3308Lisa Lundgren – Sound Around Town (by Caren Cooper). When we listen to different sound set the mood of people even before we process sight. There are questions – what kinds of noise exist in the US? What sounds people here? So Sound around Town is about using sound in environmental justice – the noise paradox: noise that is annoying: machines, aeroplanes can be below the thresholds. The request of the project is to have listening sessions, while accurate listening devices collect objective measurement. The project meld citizen science and social science. Sound is subjective – the perception of sound is personal. There are ethical issues – the devices might pick up a conversation, also who should consent to the participation. The ethics require third-party consent in terms of the volunteers. There is a new classification of the privacy issues in citizen science projects according to the type of issues with participants in the Cooper et al. paper in the new issue of Citizen Science Theory and Practice. Project collect Private information and we have to consider the impacts. There are questions about how IRB should proceed and who should deal with the oversight.

Liam O’Fallon – NIEHS – like the link between citizen science and environmental justice. Looking at citizen science from environmental health and justice. Looking at such issues across the country. It is one approach in the wider context of community engagement in EJ. In this type of partnerships, people bring something unique in terms of skills and knowledge. There are different levels of engagement in terms of community ability. Motivation is important – how we motivate people? They have lived experience, and they want to understand the questions of how things impact their health. How they can collect data and visualise the evidence about the impact. In citizen science, there is a potential for developing equitable relationships with communities. The grant part on NIEHS is providing funding to enable communities to participate in health issues: citizen science is part of education and learning about soil, air quality etc. Community groups manage to achieve change in their area and inform decision-making practices. There is a community air monitoring network in California that impacts the operation and lots of other communities. Work in Rutgers helped communities in understanding the impact of track routes. There is also local histories and knowledge – the role of anthropology and the challenge of data collection. Collecting local knowledge require special skills and ask who own this. Also how it is used. We need to think about the purpose and what is the goal. Social Science issues are an important area in environmental health.

Rebecca Jordan (MSU) asking questions about citizen science from an academic perspective. When people are engaged, there is an authenticity to the data that is not there is other forms of engagement with science – there is gathering information that will have consequences. Something happens with this information and that really matter. Adding a layer of collecting data with people, and we have an interplay between human and natural systems. The data about humans – there are questions about who is the scientists in citizen social science with the participants analysing the information. We can be gathering social data from humans – e.g. Likert scales. We now have people that play a role in the data that was collected around them. There are parallels with Facebook social experiments that raise issues about trust and the consent to dealing with the data. We need to help society and human psychology – we conflate what we think is happening and what they observe and we need to pay attention to it. We need to deal with consent, and it relates to the ownership of information.

Bethany Cutts (NCSU) there is confusion between citizen science and community-based participatory research, not only because in participatory research there are differences in perceptions of citizen science. In EJ, there is a clear use of citizen science but their scientific results were dismissed regularly and we need to consider the societal changes that are required to achieve the change. We need to think about knowledge extraction and traumatisation – it can inflict a new trauma on participants. Anthropology and other social science dealt with that for a long time. We need to think about collecting data about people and the collection social data – e.g. in Sound around Town to pay attention to notice the individual experience and disregarding the experiences. We see move away from regression to describe the wider range of experiences. She’s doing a storytelling project but it included recording e-coli in the soil was an important element to move people beyond traumatisation,

Mary Clare Hano (EPA) social scientists at the EPA and there are very few social scientists at EPA. Asking the question about citizen social science is significant. Coming from action-oriented and leadership work, and had to make sense of citizen science and how it differs from CBPR. There is a wider range of views with people bringing different views. So consider what are the impacts of citizen science and how it can influence organisational change. There are other research projects that ask questions about how we motivate organisations to get involved in citizen science projects? Will they have a bigger impact and change?

DSC_1516.JPGAl Richmond (Community Campus Partnership for Health) based in NC and – – looked at 5 distinct communities and checked the process of engagement and protection of individuals. However, we have minimal assurances for individuals but not for communities. In the communities that they looked at, they have seen how community organised themselves in a community review process – for the very early stages of the project to the final part of the project. They are not competing with IRBs but how the community is being described in the publications about the project. Do we describe communities as distress or as the soundscape of the community? How do we tell the story of communities that won’t re-traumatise the community? Think about how a specific place is associated with historical issues.

Digital divide issues of using apps and smartphones – actually a need to engage with the researchers in a way that take into account the limitations and characteristics of the people that you work with.

Need to think about activism – trying to lead a change, and how we create jobs and change ecosystems within communities. There is burnout from communities that are being researched and explore – academic institutions are thinking in silos. If you do research in eastern North Carolina, map who is there, work with them and collaborate with them




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.

Citizen Science 2019: Getting your project off the ground workshop

DSC_1504.JPGThe workshop was held as part of the Citizen Science 2019 conference and organised by Katrina Theisz (National Institutes of Health), Jennifer Couch (National Science Foundation), Ellen McCallie (National Science Foundation), Alison Parker (EPA), Pietro Michelucci (Human Computation Institute, Inc) , Claire Baert (Thin Crowd)

DSC_1503.JPGEllen McCallie started the day on how to write a competitive proposal for federal agencies. Looking at the experience of NSF, NOAA, and NIH. There is an existing community of people who are interested in citizen science and supporting it in within the funding agencies. Ellen role in the NSF and supporting informal STEM learning – from TV, crowdsourcing, to citizen science. John McLaughlin from NOAA got involved in GLOBE programme and became more and more engaged, through the office of education of NOAA. Liam O’Fallon is at NIH, in the environmental health institute – from involvement in global health, and focusing on environmental justice and community-based participatory research.

In terms of the proposal – what are the funding programme that is right for you? If you are going after a programme that is not focused on your attention, then there will be mismatched. Learning the criteria of the research programme, and you have to remember what kind of people will be involved in the evaluation – for example, in the NSF informal education area, they include practitioners, museums, and people from outside academia. A proposal needs to explain the vision and the minute details – you need to get the details clear enough. Knowing the audience for the proposal is critical – e.g. NSF covers sci, tech, eng & math as basic research – and you need to ask what is the intellectual centre of gravity of the proposal. For the NSF, it has to be basic research, while the NIH is the biomedical research institutes, the NIEHS has a strong emphasis on community-engaged research approaches and environmental health literacy. The NIH does support applied research on resources, models and tools. NIH requires hypothesis-driven research. For NOAA, they focus on climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. NOAA’s citizen science projects are run in collaboration as part of their monitoring element. The research programmes that create new programmes and then at the end of the project, there isn’t a clear continuation of funding and the whole issues of continuity.

In terms of an organisation structure, there are limitations of funding in terms of the type of organisations that can receive US federal funding because of financial and reporting requirements, so small actors (say an innovator) need to join forces with an organisation that can work with such funding, and be a contractor of some form. In NOAA and NIH, there is a potential of working with a US entity and then to team up with international partners – but this is dependent on eligibility in a specific call. There are issues with community organisations and the need to team up with bigger organisations that are taking a significant part of the funding.

In NIH, the citizen science and crowdsourcing have people with a specific role to support community science and citizen science research, and ability to work with community-led organisations.

In NSF, there isn’t a specific citizen science programme, and they try to do it throughout the programme – it can be part of the methodology or part of the public engagement element. The NSF focuses on the science of the proposal and suggesting the PPSR as integrated into the rest of the range. Looking at cit sci and crowdsourcing is now being looked at as a tool in the toolkit following the Holden memo on citizen science in 2015, o that changed the aim. It is a tool that can be used in multiple areas – education, outreach etc. The citizen science and crowdsourcing act also made a difference, and there is still an effort for the cultural change inside the funding organisations. The community of practice on citizen science mean that when proposals that include citizen science are getting into NOAA, people like John are being asked to help and select appropriate reviewers. The community of practice at is providing help to Federal Agencies in linking to people who understand the issues of citizen science and crowdsourcing. In NIH, the open call responses, there is an issue about identifying the right fit for investigator-initiated research proposals. In NSF, informal is the leading directorate, then bio, and then education. The NSF set an agency goal of learning about PPSR across the whole set of directorates, so there is knowledge about the existence of PPSR. There is an internal work inside the agencies to educate and inform the different officers to provide appropriate support for the reviewing process.

Back to proposals: call the call text at least three times. Pay attention to what kinds of ideas are requested – check previous awards. Pay special attention to the criteria. Check what was funded before in their existing projects and funded in the past, and you must acknowledge them, and learn from previous projects. Read the funding officer when you have a one page summary of the project idea – explain how it matches the criteria. Worth talking with a colleague – project officers are very careful not to give away ideas. It is OK to call people who are responsible for the programme. In some regions of NOAA, the success rate is high with small grants. In NSF/NIH/NOAA the success rate is close to 10% with many high-quality projects that are not funded.

A lot of PPSR is coming in informal STEM education within the NSF. Some programmes are repeated across directorates. The NSF has established 10 big ideas that are integrated into many programmes – and NSF Includes (about broadening participation). There is also a dedicated website for Informal science: NSF continues to use Public Participation in Scientific Research as its core term.

In terms of criteria, the two critical criteria are intellectual merit and broader impact. The NSF has a very strict anonymity principle of not publishing anything about who is in the panel, or reviewed. When a panel image is shared, the whole panel is nullified and the whole process starts from scratch. NIH share information about panel membership after the panel process. Reviewing is 6-10 months process until answer.

Mistakes in the proposal – “trust me” (without references of evidence), oversell as the best thing ever. General, vague, rambling. Overemphasis of the rationale for the project at the expense of details of what will be done. Kitchen sink proposal that includes everything and hopes that it’s interesting for reviewers. Not having a properly qualified team. Remember deadlines.

Check also this thread from @CitSciBio:

Panel on specific project stories:

Seth Cooper (Foldit) – development and support – how we did it. Foldit is the multiplayer game – been around 10 years, over 500,000 participants. Have puzzles and leaderboard to do the work in this area. Players managed to create new algorithms for refining, and redesigning enzymes. There are new proteins that are being designed. Foldit is across many universities – UW, northeastern, Vanderbilt, UC Davis and UoM Dartmouth. To continue and run it, lots of people work on it and lots of people try and sustain the projects. The Rosetta Commons is an organisation that helps the collaboration – you can see it in the credits on the portal. Started as a PhD student, and now a faculty member so not part of the original funding. The funding came from DARPA, NSF, NIH, NHMI, Microsoft, Adobe, and RosettaCommons was able to give funding – putting lots of funding from multiple sources. For example, looked at NIH Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K call). Another one is the NSF call for enhancing community infrastructure. How to continue a project and maintain the funding to it over time – the science research infrastructure is about maintaining activities over time. There are also support from Amazon with cloud credits for research. They are developing a Tile-o-scope demo of AT citizen science.

DSC_1507.JPGDarlene Cavalier – describe her journey from Discover Magazine on publishing, but got interested in the science issues. She looked at areas when it is possible to contribute more to science. During her masters’ studies, stumble on participatory research and citizen science and started as a blog in graduate school on projects in the area of participatory research. In 2006 there was a blog, which then evolved into a grant in 2010 with the development of a website that provides support to people who want to do something – curiosity and concerns are main motivators. The first grant was secured from NSF, and then continue to develop it since – they also embed information about projects into places that people already use: from magazines to PBS. There are waves of funding to SciStarter, and they go after funding on things that interest them. Joining ASU in the school for innovation. SciStarter collected much data about referral sources (e.g. through The Crowd and The Cloud), or the journey of participants, and a lot of metadata about the participants’ journeys. Working in collaboration with universities who are contributing to the platform as part of their grants. There is support on the project, and there are also services – e.g. girls scouts. A specific interest group can have their own interest and management of their own groups. The Museum of Science also has its own portal, which can then be shared back with the portal funders. The service model provides further support. ASU grant for setting citizen science kits in libraries is a great example that shows the synergy between SciStarter and a university. Each side wouldn’t be able to do it without another.

DSC_1508.JPGAndrew Robins – QuestaGames – started in Australia. The focus on QuesaGame is a passion in the area for 25 years. The passion is to save life on earth, wanted to deal with extinction in Australia. There is a need to engage people on screen and not engage them outdoors – kids create taxonomies within games in a fantasy world, then it is possible to engage them in taxonomy in the real world. There are expertise that dies out, as in curators and entomologists who are disappearing. QuestaGame is a mobile game to encourage people to learn about the classification of species. Working as a private company, but spending a lot of effort of securing funding to continue and develop it. Spending lots of time on securing funding. A lot of it is about building teams. Biggers revenue came from competition that people can pay for – different bioQuest that they run using the platform. Using a University bioQuest that start in April 2018. Many sitting and classifications. They also have – collective intelligence is important, and there are contextual observations and details. Citizen science should push forward to economics and making revenue streams and to build up relations. Biosecurity threats are a new revenue area – for example invasive species.

DSC_1509.JPGPietro Michelucci – the challenges of getting into people are working on collaborations between humans and machines. Background in cognitive science and worked in US funding agencies, and been involved in different panels and programmes. Citizen Science is about 2 of the most powerful tools: science as a way to deal with the world, and crowdsourcing. There are chicken and egg problem. The StallCaatcher project started from coming across a problem of identifying issues: it is not possible to solve it with machines; people care about the issue (Alzheimer); etc. There was also an existing platform – from Startdust@Home in 2006. The problem is that to start the idea you need funding, but funders want to see evidence that it is possible. Problem 1 – will funders trust the data – although the research question was about data quality, a reviewer responded that it is not possible to trust the data from the crowd (!?!). This was a failure in communication.  While waiting for funding, decided to try and start the project and there is so much to learn. Build some prototype before applying for funding.

I have also presented in the session the DITOs policy brief on business models of citizen science.


The second part of the workshop looked at specific project plans and was moderated by Kelly Edwards of UW. Looking at the following questions: What is the need? What’s your vision to fill this need? How does it fit into the bigger picture? What’s the plan? What do you need – Collaborators, support, expertise, and resources.

The last part of the workshop included pitching ideas and developing basic concepts of projects and receiving feedback from other participants.

EU-Citizen.Science project kick-off meeting

DSCN3286The EU-Citizen.Science is a new project that is part of a family of citizen science projects that are funded through the Science with and for Society (SwafS) stream of the Horizon 2020 programme. The project started in January and will run for 3 years. It is coordinated by the Natural History Museum of Berlin (the Museum für Naturkunde – MfN) and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).

The meeting was opened by Johannes Vogel, the director of MfN and the chair of ECSA who set a target for the project, with the German presidency of the European Union in 2020, and the need to prepare activities that will emphasise the role of citizen science in cities.


Men stand in front of a lectern with slides
The range of SwafS projects

Next, Linden Farrer from DG RTD provided the context for the project. The SwafS is about 500m Eur part of H2020, that tries to build effective co-operation, foster the recruitment of new talent for science and pair scientific excellence with a connection to societal needs. These goals have been turned into eight lines of activities. Citizen Science is falling under public engagement. The interim evaluation of SwafS in 2017 found it highly relevant, that there is satisfactory efficiency with a low success rate in calls – it’s the home for civil society organisations. SwafS is highly coherent with internal and international policies, and very high added value – it is not competing with local funding, and because of the level of funding, there is limited effectiveness. As a response to the evaluation, the focused the calls on sustainable institutional changes, focus on “doing R&I” through citizen science and user-led innovation, encourage collaboration among projects, and identify SMART impacts that can be measured. They align with overall goals: RR (MoRRI) SDGs, COP21 etc. The strategic orientation includes building the knowledge base, exploring and support citizen science, and other activities. There are future calls within the area of citizen science and there are 41 projects of which 31 are still active. There are many other H2020 projects that have an element of citizen science. Finally, RRI is an important element that is cross-cutting in H2020 and it is aimed to involve citizens, civil society organisations (CSO) and other non-traditional actors in EU research programmes. There is an aim to change the governance of research. The MoRRI D3.2 report is showing the interaction between different areas of the agenda. There are different projects that are taking an RRI approach is different between projects across the H2020 goals. There is almost no project in the ERC portfolio that is falling under the RRI framework. There are also projects that are going beyond the EU – with international partners that are no in the EU – from Japan to Chile.

Beyond H2020 and into Horizon Europe, the Lamy report pointed the need to mobilise and involve citizens. In Horizon Europe, there is more mission-based science – there is a bigger budget – 400 mil Eur to enhance citizen science and enhancing the European R&I system. The is an article on open science in general, and different R&I missions – a portfolio of actions that require a multi-stakeholder and transdisciplinary approach to achieve goals within a given time frame. The Open Science Policy Platform included in its recommendation citizen science (recommendation 8 in a document from 29/05/2018). OSPP build the visibility of citizen science – opening a roadmap, vision and skills to increase the recognition of it.

DSCN3283Colombe Warin, the Project Officer in charge of the project point that the consortia have a strong obligation for dissemination – need to freely share research strategies, methodologies, raw data, and methodology – to show commitment to citizen science and to the principles of RRI. It is also important to notice the difference between communication and dissemination as a concrete activity of the project,  although these are mixed in citizen science projects.

DSC_1462Katrin Vohland, the project PI pointed to the complexity of citizen science, the complexity of interpreting citizen science, and variety of ideas about what it is, how to call the people who participate, and which disciplines which bring with them different ways of understanding it, the methodologies… There are many approaches to data quality and accessibility. The project itself is the creation of a central hub for cross European Knowledge Sharing, including best practices, and there are lots of material that is emerging and need to be collected. We need a co-design of tools and guidelines so they are relevant to different audiences. The project includes 6 main work packages – first platform, community and network building; WP3 – the content of the platform which includes context, quality assurance and curation to consolidate the citizen science knowledge base; WP5 is about empowering diverse stakeholders to become citizen scientists, start citizen science project or adopt the professionally through training; WP4 that is about exploring new pathways of participatory governance with the public and policymakers, and finally WP6 that about advancing citizen science into mainstream of public engagement, science communication and education by dissemination and exploitation.

Approach to the platform in WP2 with a focus on the platform, community and network building – technology decisions are still open in order to support different audiences: participants, practitioners, policy makers, and science journalists. The groups made the first steps of recognising what are the training needs, how they are linked to specific tools and formats, and what user-centred design principles should guide the implementation.

WP3 is focusing on identifying quality criteria that will be used to judge which tools and resources will be curated on the platform. It is led by IIASA. This was done by identifying specific tools and then considering what quality criteria apply to them – for example, ECSA’s 10 principles of citizen science. About 20 “tools” were recognised in a 20 minutes exercise.

WP4 is about awareness and engagement and is led by Earthwatch – it will share a conceptual model for awareness, empowerment, and engagement and then develop tools and strategies for citizen engagement. It will also provide a coordinated approach to citizen science with other SwafS initiatives. There is also an element of reaching out to policymakers.

WP5, which UCL is leading on, is focusing on training. First, a core objective is to assess the training needs of those inexperienced in citizen science and those that are involved in it. Based on that, aggregate, curate, and create a suite of innovative training resources to address these needs and enhance European knowledge sharing in this area. There will be a specific effort to increase linkages with SDGs. Finally, the WP5 will try to identify and develop a delivery model that reaches citizen scientists and potential practitioners/citizen science project leaders in all countries of Europe. This work package starts only in the summer of 2019 with the gap and needs analysis. There are multiple target groups: Public (newcomers and citizen scientists), Practitioners (coordinators), Academia (career scientists, primary and secondary school teachers), Policymakers (and civil servants), Press (journalists and media experts), and SMEs and industry (and new entrepreneurs). So identifying needs and considering what form of training suit them will be quite a task…

WP1 is led by MfN and deals with management is also tasked with coordination with other projects that are funded from the same call – the SwafS 15 which is about exploring and supporting citizen science. There is a whole group of projects in the call that can be linked to the coordination effort of EU-Citizen.Science. For example, MICS, a project that is coordinated by Earthwatch is focusing on measuring the impact of environmental citizen science and in particular on river restoration, and they aim to provide tools that support the process of understanding and measuring impacts. In WeObserve, there is a CoP on Impact. The Super-MoRRI provide another set of impact evaluation. Integrating these into EU-Citizen.Science so information can be shared widely is important. The ACTION project will include cascading grants for participatory science toolkit about pollution.

The communication approach to address the vision and objectives of the project

WP6 which is focusing on dissemination and communication is led by ECSITE and Daphnie Daras and Suzanna Fillipecki presented it – the European Network of Science Centres and Museums. The effort of Ecsite effort will include helping with communication with science journalists and science centres across Europe. The project will inherit the social media channels of DITOs. The need to reach out to the multiple target groups with different messages to reach out to them. Some early analysis involved identifying specific messages – for example, for researchers who are not involved in citizen science, to find a way to encourage them to understand and consider it.

WP7 is about evaluation and impact assessment. It is led by the centre for social innovation in Vienna (ZSI), with Barbara Kieslinger and Teresa Schafer. ZSI is a not-for-profit that works on different social innovation and got into citizen science through an interest in maker spaces and DIY science, and provided input into the Socientize project in 2014 and many activities since. The WP is assessing the usefulness and user acceptance of the project’s activities. Although we have described objectives, we need to define the details of what will be the measurements of success and knowing that we’ve reached the objectives.



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.




Opportunity: come and help us create the ExCiteS Social Enterprise!

1. children explore and discuss icons after a particiaptory software development session in their camp. longa, republic of congo 2013The Extreme Citizen Science group, set up about 8 years ago, has developed two main technological infrastructures – Sapelli software to allow data collection by low-literacy participants, and GeoKey, a data management system for community mapping. We have also developed an engagement approach that allows for the co-production of the data collection process, and for sharing of the information in a culturally sensitive and ethical way. These developments were funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

We now have funding to grow these activities (and in particular the use of Sapelli) into a social enterprise, and we’re looking for a consultant (who will be encouraged to apply for the post of director once the organisation is set up). We have £40,000 to enable the consultant to dedicate themselves to develop the organisation over a year and a bit.

Apply for this post by responding to the tender available here

Further details:
UCL’s Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) group has recently been awarded EPSRC Impact Acceleration funding from the “Discovery To Use” initiative at UCL. The funding has been awarded to launch a social enterprise – the ExCiteS Social Enterprise (or ESE), via the Accelerated Market Entry and Upgrade project (AcuMEn). This tender represents one of several work packages to help launch this process. Each work package (see below) will be tendered separately.

Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) 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. Over the last decade, ExCiteS has worked with indigenous and traditional communities in Cameroon, the Congos (RoC and DRC), Central African Republic, Ghana, the Brazilian Amazon, and Namibia on a range of projects – be it using participatory mapping to combat illegal resource extraction or invasions (often in the context of logging and poaching), or to monitor wildlife populations or a community’s territorial boundaries. This work supports environmental justice and strengthens conservation efforts as well as promoting and protecting the rights of these often vulnerable communities who sometimes live under the constant threat of exploitation and violence.
Our custom-developed mobile data gathering platform called Sapelli supports rapid adaptation to local conditions in the field through our unique approach that centres on participatory design with non-literate, non-technologically familiar users – developing locally-specific configurations of Sapelli to address problems identified by the community. Over the last 10 years we have carefully honed our methodology based on the Free and Prior Informed Consent (FPIC) of participants into the development of a clear Community Protocol (CP) for the use of the technology and the data that is collected with it. These methodological approaches are integral to the successful application of the technologies we have developed.

The purpose of the AcUMEn project is to transform research collateral (the technologies and know-how) of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group into a set of commercially viable yet socially focused offerings in what we will describe as the ExCiteS Social Enterprise (ESE). We have reached a point of maturity with our tools and methods whereby we are able to transpose these research projects into a standardised approach suitable for various forms of service delivery. Whilst this is workable in a research context, they are barriers to usability when positioning it as a commercial proposition. This project is designed to remove those barriers, to establish a core operating model and branding, a clear set of commercial offerings supported by a clear business strategy, and to obtain an initial tranche of work.

This project will consist of three work packages (WPs), of which this project is the first:

WP 1: Secure initial funding for contracts, consolidate project delivery approach and build initial team, as well as control WP 2 and WP 3 in consultation with UCL ExCiteS. Towards the end of 2019, the role of a permanent director will be advertised via an open application process.

WP 2: Hire expert social enterprise consultants to develop a clear commercial strategy and 18-month roadmap in line with ExCiteS’ ethos of social responsibility and collaboration.

WP 3: Software consultancy to deliver key improvements to Sapelli, the mobile data gathering platform developed by the group through the last decade of research.

Please note that the exact constitution of the other work packages may be subject to change, depending on how this first phase of work proceeds.

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!