Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science – event summary

Image of UCL and the speakers in the event

On the 19th March, as part of UCL activities to the that accompany the UCL Exhibition “Disruptors and Innovators: Journeys in gender equality at UCL”, we hosted a panel of talks on how to open up science and engineering to new audiences, especially the representation of women in science. The event was called “Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science“. The event was sponsored by the Doing It Together Science project.

The event was chaired by Dr Charlene Jennett, a researcher at UCL Interaction Centre. Charlene opened the evening with a short introductory talk on citizen science and her research into this fast-growing phenomenon. Introducing an all-female panel – pointing that this is an opportunity to welcome everyone to science through citizen science – you can go outside and observe nature, or if it is a cold evening, go online and participate in projects on the Zooniverse. There are even games that can be played to contribute to citizen science – The Sea Hero Quest is a project that contributes to dementia research through a game. Citizen science is creating collaboration between citizen and scientists, and we should see it as a way to link people to science.

Following Charlene, Dr Cindy Regalado from UCL Extreme Citizen Science introduced “Doing It Together Science” project.  This is EU funded project, and the people in the room are part of the project by joining the event. This project is special – the different people and organisations that are involved in it came together with the question “what do we want to do” and this created a group of special organisations. People in the project a passionate about doing science together – creating engagement space, curiosity and interest in biodesign and environmental sustainability. We do that through a range of events and also producing different tools and information that allow sharing knowledge between organisations. Facilitators across the projects are sharing information and work together to create many types of events – over 400 of them already. Examples of that include the work of University Paris Descartes (UPD) in Paris, they run activities to engage people to create games for science. In Poland, there are” train the trainers” activities to introduce other people about sustainability. In RBINS in Brussels, people who are excited about stick insect – scientists and amateurs share their interest. People in Medialab Prado run events that are two weeks long and create new ideas and innovations. In Geneva, a biofabrication event took place, bringing people who experiment with biotechnology. The Kersnikova Institute in Ljubljana explored in Freaktion bar issues of science and ethics – provoking questions instead of simple ideas of science. A Polish delegation visited London to learn about citizen participation in air quality monitoring, and at UCL we use Public Lab’s DIY tools for environmental monitoring and invite people to do DIY biological research – enabling people to see for themselves that they too can do science. Finally, the Science Bus toured Europe and allow us to reach out groups that are usually under-represented in science engagement activities.

The next talk was given by Dr Louise Seaward, Research Associate on the Bentham Project, will introduce us to the project and Gill Hague, one of the volunteer transcribers [See Louise report of the evening on the Transcribe Bentham blog]. Louise described the Transcribe Bentham project – a flagship humanities project at UCL where a significant number of the most active volunteers are women. The project asks volunteers to transcribe papers written by UCL’s intellectual inspiration, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The project is about the writing of Jeremy Bentham. Transcribed Bentham launched in 2010 and is the first crowdsourcing project in humanities – the idea is to ask volunteers to type and transcribe papers. Volunteers worked for 7 years and almost 20,000 pages of writing. Transcribe Bentham show manuscripts by him, and volunteers are free to choose a paper and work on it. Some of them are very difficult – the handwriting is very bad and he made changes, crossing text, changing his mind. Within the project system, there are tools to markup side notes and very complex ways of marking the page. The project is creating happiness for scholars – the purpose is to create a scholarly edition of everything that he wrote – the project is running since 1959 and it’s not halfway through, this is also a resource to the wider community – allowing other people to learn about Bentham and his writing. Most of the work done by around 30 super-transcribers and they are finding the project interesting. Currently, 58% of participants are men. People have higher education and based in the UK and US. Gill then described her experience with the project – she had a career in IT, TV, and legal services, and as a freelancer working from home, she had to be available at a call and wanted something more interesting to pass the time than watching daytime television.

By Cindy Regalado

In 2011 logged on to learn more about crowdsourcing which was new at the time following an article in the Sunday Times that mentioned the project, and she saw the value in Bentham writing based on previous knowledge in economics and in legal work. She then set out to transcribe one page, and then found the content very interesting, with journeys unfolding and Bentham views on the experience. Having involved in the legal process for a long time, she found Bentham views on legal issues interesting. She can find it as something that she can join more or less as much as she can and interested to do – sometimes 10-15 hours in a week. She very much like the idea of getting an acknowledgement in the next edition of Bentham publication and that is very satisfying. Transcribing is fascinating and there is good feedback and response from the team.

Jo Hurford, local artist and community leader, was part of a group of concerned citizens to approach UCL’s Extreme Citizen Science department to learn how to gather scientific data about deteriorating air quality and further environmental concerns in the context of HS2 development around Euston station. Jo opened up and noted that people who attend UCL have good opportunity to learn new things – and the work that UCL and Mapping for Change are doing with community groups has been mentioned in the report by the chief medical officer recently. The experience of the Euston communities is showing the limitations of citizen science approaches but also the new lessons that are learned from it. The community members knew about air quality issues from reading the news – they suspect that they were living in a polluted part of London – and experienced a building site for 3 years already. They wanted to have a baseline of air quality while the HS2 bill passing through parliament and wanted to know more about it. The community wanted to keep trees in the area of Euston until HS2 have a clear plan for the development of the area. The campaign to try to protect the trees fails. However, using the construction routes they positioned diffusion tubes and found that half of the monitoring locations were above the EU regulation. There are projects with big impact on the area (e.g. making Gower St two way) and they learn through citizen science and tested the particulate matter and seen that air purifiers do work in filtering them – so they ask for air filters for residents that are badly affected by the change to the plan. There are discoveries through collaborations with UCL – for example, Google Scholar is new, but the information that you get from academic publications is overwhelming, and she contacted specific people and look at different academic papers and use them to show the link between poor air and the health impact. When they spoke to HS2 in the House of Lords they used some of their information, but they weren’t convinced by the argument. Because people in power don’t listen to communities, and they have created scarves on trees and explaining the different trees in an area that doesn’t have enough green spaces. They protested against the tree panel of HS2 – they ignore personal views. The community transport working group suggested alternative schemes, but at the middle of the night, the HS2 contractors cut the trees. They organised painting of the cut off trees, and campaigning toward Sadiq Kahn – they did different activities – from chaining to trees to demonstration next to the GLA building. We need to participate in democracy and participate in science – we need to use it to bring evidence and to be listened to.

Next, Dr Alice Bell, science writer and director of communications at climate charity 10:10, drawn on her research on the radical science movement to discuss science activism and community-based research in the 1970s and 80s. Alice has a double interest – day job in addressing climate change through energy issue and hobby interest in the history of science, that talk about similar things: citizen participation in science and technology. In the 1970s we’ve seen the radical science that can be related to citizen science. Today people create DIY solar panels and creating DIY solar panels from the offcuts from solar panels and with some crafting, you can make your own and learn about it. Community events – making is connecting: people doing something together mean that they also talk about other things. Back to the 1970s, she discovered about civic science from the material that came out of clear up at the university library and found the “science for people” – magazines that were produced in the UK. One interesting example is the women’s collective issue that points to the problems that women experience in science with snakes and ladders that help male scientists and work against female scientists. Maybe the public don’t like science and technology because they have a reason – ideas about fixing science to make it batter. As a result, there were projects that are about citizen science. In the 1970s, Battersea air smell was rancid, and there are very little records of it (the Battersea smell) – the radical science group carried out a survey about the smell and the local council said that they can’t smell anything. The group helped citizens to collect evidence. The Sheffield occupational health group provided the ability to build and construct evidence – lots of groups didn’t have the ability to create the evidence that can be used about issues in the workplace. Today, in 10:10, there are projects to help communities and people to access energy and this is a way to do something about climate change: if you dismiss schools as places of social interaction, you miss a major site of activity. We can do these things not only top down through forcing people – we need to shift it in a way that worth saving and a place that community participate. There are examples of people that become experts and developing ideas about using unused energy to the train – new ways of powering electric trains through solar energy. This happens because a local community got interested in setting out energy system in a school and then developed their ideas further.

The last speaker was Professor Sarah Bell, director of Engineering Exchange. Sarah’s talk was as follows: “I’m here because of my work with the Engineering Exchange at UCL, which is about providing opportunities for better engagement between engineering researchers and local communities in London. We work on a model of two-way engagement. The Engineering Exchange give a pro-bono engineering service and we work with community groups and engineers to generate new research projects together. We’ve covered topics such as demolition and refurbishment of social housing, green infrastructure, air quality, traffic congestion.
Our work is relevant to tonight’s discussion for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m a woman, as are many of the people I work with. Secondly, engineering is vitally important to democracy in a complex technological society. And finally, there seems to be a connection between opening up engineering to women and opening it up to the wider public.
Firstly, I am a woman, and I lead a programme at a research-intensive university that is doing some form of what might be called civic science, or indeed civic engineering.
Which inevitably brings me to civil engineering. I’ve just recently become a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the oldest professional engineering institution in the world. The ICE is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, so is 100 years older than women’s suffrage in this country.
The first woman to be admitted to the ICE was Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan in 1927, 9 years after the ‘Representation of the People Act’, which we are talking about tonight, and 8 years after the 1919 ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act’. It was the 1919 Act that meant they could go to university and enter the professions. It became illegal to disqualify anyone from entering a ‘civil profession or vocation, or admission into any incorporated society’ on the basis of sex or marriage. It is not a coincidence that access to education and the professions followed on so quickly from the right to vote. They are equally, if not more, important to democracy. And so in the 1920s Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan could earn her BS in Civil Engineering at Edinburgh University, sit the entry exams for the ICE and join the engineering profession.
And haven’t we moved a long way since Dorothy’s time? No. Not really. Only 9% of all engineers in the UK are women. I am one of only 2% of the Fellows of the ICE who are women. In its 200 year anniversary, 12% of Members and 2% of Fellows of the Institution of Civil Engineers are women.
I’m one of the 2%. Which is actually significant – personally and strategically. For most of my career, I’ve wondered if I was really an engineer. I’ve always struggled a bit on the edges of the profession. But now, there’s no doubt. I am mainstream. You don’t get more mainstream than Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It’s nice to have my own work recognised in this way, but it is even more important for the work itself. The Engineering Exchange, which we might call civic engineering, is civil engineering. This is not some radical, outsider practice, it’s mainstream.
And that’s how we’ve positioned ourselves. The Engineering Exchange takes a very conservative line. We are not activists. We are engineers and researchers. As academics, we are encouraged to work with industry and government – the people with power and money. I’ve always pitched the Engineering Exchange as supporting the third leg of the stool of democracy – the public who are impacted by decisions by industry and government. Our basic premise is that by widening access to engineering knowledge, we will improve the overall quality of democratic debate about technical issues. The engineering profession claims to serve the public, so we provide a mechanism for engineers to do that.
And I often wonder is there a connection between my gender and the work I choose to do. This has been a long-standing question for me. I am Professor of Environmental Engineering. Around half of my undergraduate cohort in Australia back in the 1990s were women, and here at UCL, I ran an MSc programme in Environmental Systems Engineering that had consistently more than 50% women. Even given the low numbers of women in the profession, within engineering, women tend to cluster around particular specialisms, which might be related to why we end up more engaged in civic facing work. In the case of environmental engineering, given the public value of what we do, there’s a logical progression from working on environmental issues to engaging with the public in citizen and civic science programmes.
So why is there this clustering of women in public facing engineering? I don’t know the answer. It can’t be because ‘women are nurturing and caring’. It might be because of that outsider experience I mentioned, which operates in two ways – firstly to exclude women from more conventional career paths, and secondly to make us more aware of others who are excluded from the structures of power that operate in our society. If you are in the middle of the engineering establishment, with all the other powerful men, you are less likely to see those on the margins. They are just not in your field of vision. If you are hanging around the edges, you might make friends with others on the outside, and build your own career accordingly. As a woman, I’ve developed a critical framing of my own professional experience in order to stay sane, and this critical framing of my profession has opened up creative possibilities that may be less obvious to those who are actively embraced by conventional constructions of engineering.
So the Engineering Exchange is doing engineering differently. The good news is that the engineering establishment recognises our value. Our budget and our achievements are modest, we are much less powerful than the big firms and government departments. But we are able to do interesting work in partnership with communities, and in our own way are contributing to opening up a very powerful way of knowing the world to wider publics and local communities. ”

Some of the issues that came through the Q&A session:

Louise pointing to that Bentham material available online and in some ways he is showing his forward thinking. Gill has found information in the Sunday Times, and then followed it – and the website said that anyone can do it, and doesn’t need to ask for permission. Sometimes there is interesting correspondence that describes the social history and brings history to life and make this real and it is enjoyable and serving the purpose. She didn’t find the technology problematic and her background in law and IT helped in getting going.

Science for People that jump out – how much work done about what it is to be scientists and how they started looking at the option of co-operative science: instead of the very hierarchical structures – everyone is equal and co-manage each other. Then have community-based cooperative laboratories,. Thinking about the workers in science – cleaners, administrative, and everyone to make it

There was also a question about reaching different populations, including people in jail. Also about the collaborations across disciplines and the nature of expertise.

And at the end, Cindy carried out a quick evaluation of the evening

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Learning from the Arava Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research workshop

DSCN2472The Eilot region, near Eilat in Israel, is considered locally as a remote part of the Negev desert in Israel (it is about 3.5h drive from the population centres of Tel Aviv). It is an arid desert, with very sparse population – about 4000 people who live in communal settlements – mostly kibbutzim in an area of 2650 sq km (about the area of Luxembourg. This is a very challenging place for Western-style human habitation, in an area with a fragile desert ecosystem. The region and the Arava Institute at the centre of it, provided the stage for a workshop on Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) network with participants from the European network and supported by the eLTER H2020 project. LTER and LTSER are placed-based research activities that are led from the ecological perspective, with the latter integrating social aspects as an integral part of its inquiry and research framework.

The workshop run from 4-8 March on location, which allowed the immersion into the issues of the place, as well as exchanging experiences and views across the different “platforms” (the coordination bodies for the different sites that are used for LTSER research). While the people who are involved in the network were mostly familiar with one another, I was the external guest – invited to provide some training and insight into the way citizen science can be used in this type of research.

Its been over 21 years since I’ve been in this place – which I visited several times from my childhood to my late 20s. With a long experience of living in the UK, I felt like an outsider-insider – I can understand many of the cultural aspects while, at the same time, bringing my thinking and practice that is shaped through my work at UCL over this period. Also in disciplinary terms, I was outsider-insider – I’m interested in ecology, and with citizen science, linked to many people and activities in this area of research – however, I’m not an ecologist (leaving aside what exactly is my discipline). Because of that, I am aware of their framework, research questions, and issues (e.g. limited funding and marginalisation in science and research policy) which helped me in understanding the discussion and participating in it.

Visiting the area, discussing the social and ecological aspects, and progressing on a range of concepts, brought up several reflections that I’m outlining here:

DSCN2468First is the challenge of sustainability and sustainable development in such an area. It was quite telling that the head of the region, who is an active scientist, was pointing out that they want to have progressive development, and not exactly sustainable development. As we visited and travelled through the area, the challenges of achieving sustainability – with a wish for limited demographic growth and economic development that will ensure the high quality of life that the communities carve in a hostile environment can continue. This means attracting younger people who want to be part of the specific kibbutz community (the average age in the current settlement is quite high); bringing in commercial activities that match the characteristics of the area without altering them hugely – such as renewable energy activities (the area is already receiving 70% of energy from renewable energy during the day), agriculture (the area is a large producer of Medjool dates), and tourism (a new airport is about to be finished for flights from Europe); and all this while paying attention to the environmental and natural aspects of the area.

Second, the importance of cultural shaping of human-environment relationship in the area. The social organisation, the focus on agriculture (in addition to the dates there is an important milk dairy in ), and a strong belief in the power of technology to offer solutions to emerging problems stood out as major drivers of the way things happen. Each Kibbutz have a specific culture, which influences its social and operational characteristics so each is making collective decisions according to the specific organisation, and this has an environmental impact – for example, with the increase in heat due to climate change it must be that Yotveta, with a big herd of milk cows that are maintained in the desert conditions, is facing tougher challenges – and we heard from Ketura who made the decision not to maintain their herd. The impact here is an increasing use of water to cool the cows, not to mention that need to bring the feed from outside, I’d guess through Eilat port which is a short drive away. The agriculture is important in both the general ethos of the Kibbutz movement, but also significant economic income – and at the moment the dates are suitable in terms of the income that they provide. The way technological optimism is integrated into this vision is especially interesting and was pointed out by several participants. Several local presenters (some of them decision makers) mentioned that the region wants to be “silicon valley of renewable energy” and there is already rapid development of various solar energy schemes in different settlements, a research centre, and the cadaver of Better Place battery replacement station, but clearly nothing on the scale of say, Masdar Institute or anything similar in terms of the scale and R&D effort, so it is not clear what is standing behind this phrase. It seems more like a beacon of energy independence of some sort, and the provision of energy to the nearby city of Eilat as a source of income. The local presentation and discussions show a strong “frontier” conceptualisation of a personal and collective role, and this comes first in term of the relationship with the environment. The result is odd – organic palm dates which are planted next to fragile sand dunes, and with issues with waste management…

DSCN2431Third, it was not surprising to hear about citizen science activities in the area, including a recent winter bird survey that was initiated by several environmental bodies in the area, and which includes the use of Esri Survey123 forms to collect data in several specific sites, by providing the participants shelter and food during a weekend and which had excellent results. The area is perfect for citizen science activities – it got a highly educated population, large areas of nature reserves, very good mobile connectivity even off the roads, and environmental awareness (even if actions are contradictory). It is also a critical place for migrating bird, and there is a small visitors and research park near Eilat. At least from the point of view of LTSER, there’s a potential for a range of activities that can cater for local and for tourists.

Fourth, it was interesting to have discussions about citizen science that moved well beyond concerns over data quality (although I did have some of those too – as expected!). Amongst ecologists, the term citizen science is familiar, though not the full range of possibilities and issues. There were many questions about potential cross sites projects, recruitment and maintaining work with participants, creating new projects, and even using the results from citizen science in policy processes and gaining legitimacy.

Fifth, and something that I think worth exploring further – I couldn’t escape the thought that it will be very interesting to compare the kibbutz social and cultural organisation over time with open source and open knowledge projects. A concern that we heard through the visit is about the need for demographic growth but with very specific and testing conditions for anyone who wants to join – beyond the challenging environmental conditions. There is a fascinating mix of strong ideological motivations (settling the desert, leaving in communal settings, doing agriculture in the desert) with actions that are about comfort and quality of life, and as a result, concern about the ageing of the core population many of them from the founding generation. I can see parallels with open knowledge projects such as  OpenStreetMap, or citizen science projects, where you hear two contradictory statements at one – a wish to bring more people on, combined with a strong demand for commitment, and practical barriers to entry, which as a result create a stable core community which slowly age…

The workshop was summarised graphically by Aya Auerbach, in the following way.

SummaryLTSER

From environmental management to organisational strategy development: Using Drivers-Pressure-State-Impact-Response with ECSA

This week, together with Margaret Gold, I facilitated a strategy meeting of the European Citizen Science Association.31520287784_20489a734e At the moment, because a recent lecture in the Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing course that was dedicated to environmental citizen science, the “Driving forces-Pressures-State-Impacts -Responses” (DPSIR) is in the front of my mind. In addition, next week I’ll participate in a workshop about Long-Term Socio-Ecological Research (LTSER) where I would discuss citizen science in another context where DPSIR is a common framework.

However, if you are not familiar with large-scale environmental management, where it is widely used since the mid-1990s,  you’re not expected to know about it. It got its critics, but continue to be considered as an important policy tool. DPSIR start by thinking about driving forces – trends or mega-trends that are influencing the ecosystem that you’re looking at. The drivers lead to specific pressures, for example, pollution or habitat fragmentation. To understand the pressures, we need to monitor and understand the state of the system – this is lots of time where citizen science and sensing data are used. Next, we can understand the potential impacts and then think of policy responses. So far, hopefully clear? You can read more about DPSIR here.

I haven’t come across the use of DPSIR outside the environmental area (but maybe there is?). However, as I was thinking about it, as we prepared for the meeting, I suggested that we give it a go as a way to consider strategic actions and work for ECSA. It turns out that DPSIR is a very good tool for organisational development! It allowed us to have a 20 minutes session in which we could think about external trends, and then translate them into a concrete action. Here is an example (made up, of course, I can’t disclose details from a facilitated meeting…). I’m marking positive things, from the point of view of the organisation, as (+) and negative as (-).

Let’s think of a citizen science coordination society (CitScCoSo). in terms of drivers, an example will be “increase recognition of citizen science”, as Google Trends chart shows. Next, there are the pressures which include (-) the growth in other organisations that are dedicated to citizen science and compete with CitScCoSo, which mean that it will need to work harder to maintain its position, (+) increase in requests to participate in activities, projects, meetings, talks etc which will create opportunity to raise profile and recognition. CitScCoSo current state can be that the organisation is funded for 5 more years and have a little spare capacity for other activities. The impacts can be (+) more opportunities for research funding and collaborations or, (-) demand for more office space for CitScCoSo (-) lack of IT infrastructure for internal organisational processes. Finally, all this analysis can help CitScCoSo in response – securing funding for more employees or a plan for growth.

When you do that on a flipchart with 5 columns for the DPSIR element, it becomes a rapid and creative process for people to work through.

As I pointed, a short exercise with ECSA board showed that this can work, and I hope that the outcomes are helpful to the organisation. I will be interested to hear if anyone else know of alternative applications of DPSIR…

 

Participatory soundscape sensing – joint paper with Dr Chunming Li

One of the lovely aspects of scientific research is its international dimension – the opportunity to collaborate with people from different places, cultures, and necessarily practices and points of view.

PSSonline-CMLiDuring 2017, Dr Chnming Li, of the Institute of Urban Environment of the Chinese Academy of Science, was a visiting researcher in ExCiteS. Dr Li research is on participatory sensing and the development of sensors and applications for the urban environment. We collaborated on a paper that described the Participatory Soundscape Sensing project that he is developing, with an app on Android mobile phones, called SPL Meter, that is used to carry out the participatory sensing.

One demonstration that culture matter is in the app request for classification of sound as “harmonious” – a qualification of the sound in the right place, such as traffic noise on the road, or birds in the park. This is a quality that I haven’t encountered in studies in Europe or USA.

The paper is: “Li, C., Liu, Y., and Haklay, M., 2018, Participatory soundscape sensing, Landscape and Urban Planning 173: 64-69

Here is the abstract of the paper, and a link to the paper itself:

“Soundscape research offers new ways to explore the acoustic environment and potentially address challenges. A comprehensive understanding of soundscape characteristics and quality requires efficient data collection and analysis methods. This paper describes Participatory Soundscape Sensing (PSS), a worldwide soundscape investigation and evaluation project. We describe the calibration method for sound pressure levels (SPL) measured by mobile phone, analyze the PSS’s data temporal-spatial distribution characteristics, and discuss the impact of the participants’ age and gender on the data quality. Furthermore, we analyze the sound comfort level relationships
with each class of land use, sound sources, subjective evaluation, sound level, sound harmoniousness, gender, and age using over a year of shared data. The results suggest that PSS has distinct advantages in enhancing the amount and coverage of soundscape data. The PSS data distribution is closely related to the temporal pattern of the human work-rest schedule, population density, and the level of cyber-infrastructure. Adults (19–40 years old) are higher-quality data providers, and women exhibit better performance with respect to data integrity than men. Increasing the proportion of natural source sounds and reducing the proportion of humanmade sources of sound is expected to enhance the sound comfort level. A higher proportion of sound harmoniousness
leads to higher sound comfort, and the higher proportion of subjective evaluation sound level does not lead to decreased sound comfort. We suggest that the crowdsourcing data with participatory sensing will provide a new perspective in soundscape investigation, evaluation, and planning.”

The paper is available on ScienceDirect or also here

DITOs, Doing It TOgether Science – introductory video

The Doing It Together Science (DITOs) project is now in its 20th Month. It is a 3-year project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, that is aimed to increase awareness of and participation in citizen science across Europe and beyond. As such, it is focused on communication, coordination, and support of citizen science activities. Therefore, the project promotes the sharing of best practices among existing networks for a greater public and policy engagement with citizen science through a wide range of events and activities. Some of these activities include doing citizen science, as ‘engaging by doing’ is central to the effort of the project. Other activities, both online and offline, are focused on communicating different facets of citizen science, from in-depth engagement with small and organised groups to large-scale engagement via social media.
DITOs supports existing and new projects across the landscape of citizen science: top-down projects, in which people join an activity that is designed and coordinated by scientists; bottom-up science activities, in which people, scientifically trained or not, organise a research project around a problem of direct concern (this is sometimes known as DIY (Do It Yourself) science); as well as collaborative projects that are created jointly by scientists and participants.

In collaboration across the consortium, the Waag Society produced a short video of less than 3 minutes about the project. It was made from material from our events and it is good to such a short introduction to explain what the project is about…

Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing – week 5 – Data quality

This week, in the “Introduction to Citizen Science & Scientific Crowdsourcing“, our focus was on data management, to complete the first part of the course (the second part starts in a week’s time since we have a mid-term “Reading Week” at UCL).

The part that I’ve enjoyed most in developing was the segment that addresses the data quality concerns that are frequently raised about citizen science and geographic crowdsourcing. Here are the slides from this segment, and below them a rationale for the content and detailed notes

I’ve written a lot on this blog about data quality and in many talks that I gave about citizen science and crowdsourced geographic information, the question about data quality is the first one to come up. It is a valid question, and it had led to useful research – for example on OpenStreetMap and I recall the early conversations, 10 years ago, during a journey to the Association for Geographic Information (AGI) conference about the quality and the longevity potential of OSM.

However, when you are being asked the same question again, and again, and again, at some point, you start considering “why am I being asked this question?”. Especially when you know that it’s been over 10 years since it was demonstrated that the quality is beyond “good enough”, and that there are over 50 papers on citizen science quality. So why is the problem so persistent?

Therefore, the purpose of the segment was to explain the concerns about citizen science data quality and their origin, then to explain a core misunderstanding (that the same quality assessment methods that are used in “scarcity” conditions work in “abundance” conditions), and then cover the main approaches to ensure quality (based on my article for the international encyclopedia of geography). The aim is to equip the students with a suitable explanation on why you need to approach citizen science projects differently, and then to inform them of the available methods. Quite a lot for 10 minutes!

So here are the notes from the slides:

[Slide 1] When it comes to citizen science, it is very common to hear suggestions that the data is not good enough and that volunteers cannot collect data at a good quality, because unlike trained researchers, they don’t understand who they are – a perception that we know little about the people that are involved and therefore we don’t know about their ability. There are also perceptions that like Wikipedia, it is all a very loosely coordinate and therefore there are no strict data quality procedures. However, we know that even in the Wikipedia case that when the scientific journal Nature shown over a decade ago (2005) that Wikipedia is resulting with similar quality to Encyclopaedia Britannica, and we will see that OpenStreetMap is producing data of a similar quality to professional services.
In citizen science where sensing and data collection from instruments is included, there are also concerns over the quality of the instruments and their calibration – the ability to compare the results with high-end instruments.
The opening of the Hunter et al. paper (which offers some solutions), summarises the concerned that are raised over data

[Slide 2] Based on conversations with scientists and concerned that are appearing in the literature, there is also a cultural aspect at play which is expressed in many ways – with data quality being used as an outlet to express them. This can be similar to the concerns that were raised in the cult of the amateur (which we’ve seen in week 2 regarding the critique of crowdsourcing) to protect the position of professional scientists and to avoid the need to change practices. There are also special concerns when citizen science is connected to activism, as this seems to “politicise” science or make the data suspicious – we will see next lecture that the story is more complex. Finally, and more kindly, we can also notice that because scientists are used to top-down mechanisms, they find alternative ways of doing data collection and ensuring quality unfamiliar and untested.

[Slide 3] Against this background, it is not surprising to see that checking data quality in citizen science is a popular research topic. Caren Cooper have identified over 50 papers that compare citizen science data with those that were collected by professional – as she points: “To satisfy those who want some nitty gritty about how citizen science projects actually address data quality, here is my medium-length answer, a brief review of the technical aspects of designing and implementing citizen science to ensure the data are fit for intended uses. When it comes to crowd-driven citizen science, it makes sense to assess how those data are handled and used appropriately. Rather than question whether citizen science data quality is low or high, ask whether it is fit or unfit for a given purpose. For example, in studies of species distributions, data on presence-only will fit fewer purposes (like invasive species monitoring) than data on presence and absence, which are more powerful. Designing protocols so that citizen scientists report what they do not see can be challenging which is why some projects place special emphasize on the importance of “zero data.”
It is a misnomer that the quality of each individual data point can be assessed without context. Yet one of the most common way to examine citizen science data quality has been to compare volunteer data to those collected by trained technicians and scientists. Even a few years ago I’d noticed over 50 papers making these types of comparisons and the overwhelming evidence suggested that volunteer data are fine. And in those few instances when volunteer observations did not match those of professionals, that was evidence of poor project design. While these studies can be reassuring, they are not always necessary nor would they ever be sufficient.” (http://blogs.plos.org/citizensci/2016/12/21/quality-and-quantity-with-citizen-science/)

[Slide 4] One way to examine the issue with data quality is to think of the clash between two concepts and systems of thinking on how to address quality issue – we can consider the condition of standard scientific research conditions as ones of scarcity: limited funding, limited number of people with the necessary skills, a limited laboratory space, expensive instruments that need to be used in a very specific way – sometimes unique instruments.
The conditions of citizen science, on the other hand, are of abundance – we have a large number of participants, with multiple skills, but the cost per participant is low, they bring their own instruments, use their own time, and are also distributed in places that we usually don’t get to (backyards, across the country – we talked about it in week 2). Conditions of abundance are different and require different thinking for quality assurance.

[Slide 5] Here some of the differences. Under conditions of scarcity, it is worth investing in long training to ensure that the data collection is as good as possible the first time it is attempted since time is scarce. Also, we would try to maximise the output from each activity that our researcher carried out, and we will put procedures and standards to ensure “once & good” or even “once & best” optimisation. We can also force all the people in the study to use the same equipment and software, as this streamlines the process.
On the other hand, in abundance conditions we need to assume that people are coming with a whole range of skills and that training can be variable – some people will get trained on the activity over a long time, while to start the process we would want people to have light training and join it. We also thinking of activities differently – e.g. conceiving the data collection as micro-tasks. We might also have multiple procedures and even different ways to record information to cater for a different audience. We will also need to expect a whole range of instrumentation, with sometimes limited information about the characteristics of the instruments.
Once we understand the new condition, we can come up with appropriate data collection procedures that ensure data quality that is suitable for this context.

[Slide 6] There are multiple ways of ensuring data quality in citizen science data. Let’s briefly look at each one of these. The first 3 methods were suggested by Mike Goodchild and Lina Li in a paper from 2012.

[Slide 7] The first method for quality assurance is crowdsourcing – the use of multiple people who are carrying out the same work, in fact, doing peer review or replication of the analysis which is desirable across the sciences. As Watson and Floridi argued, using the examine of Zooniverse, the approaches that are being used in crowdsourcing give these methods a stronger claim on accuracy and scientific correct identification because they are comparing multiple observers who work independently.

[Slide 8] The social form of quality assurance is using more and less experienced participants as a way to check the information and ensure that the data is correct. This is fairly common in many areas of biodiversity observations and integrated into iSpot, but also exist in other areas, such as mapping, where some information get moderated (we’ve seen that in Google Local Guides, when a place is deleted).

[Slide 9] The geographical rules are especially relevant to information about mapping and locations. Because we know things about the nature of geography – the most obvious is land and sea in this example – we can use this knowledge to check that the information that is provided makes sense, such as this sample of two bumble bees that are recorded in OPAL in the middle of the sea. While it might be the case that someone seen them while sailing or on some other vessel, we can integrate a rule into our data management system and ask for more details when we get observations in such a location. There are many other such rules – about streams, lakes, slopes and more.

[Slide 10] The ‘domain’ approach is an extension of the geographic one, and in addition to geographical knowledge uses a specific knowledge that is relevant to the domain in which information is collected. For example, in many citizen science projects that involved collecting biological observations, there will be some body of information about species distribution both spatially and temporally. Therefore, a new observation can be tested against this knowledge, again algorithmically, and help in ensuring that new observations are accurate. If we see a monarch butterfly within the marked area, we can assume that it will not harm the dataset even if it was a mistaken identity, while an outlier (temporally, geographically, or in other characteristics) should stand out.

[Slide 11] The ‘instrumental observation’ approach removes some of the subjective aspects of data collection by a human that might make an error, and rely instead on the availability of equipment that the person is using. Because of the increase in availability of accurate-enough equipment, such as the various sensors that are integrated in smartphones, many people keep in their pockets mobile computers with the ability to collect location, direction, imagery and sound. For example, images files that are captured in smartphones include in the file the GPS coordinates and time-stamp, which for a vast majority of people are beyond their ability to manipulate. Thus, the automatic instrumental recording of information provides evidence for the quality and accuracy of the information. This is where the metadata of the information becomes very valuable as it provides the necessary evidence.

[Slide 12] Finally, the ‘process oriented’ approach bring citizen science closer to traditional industrial processes. Under this approach, the participants go through some training before collecting information, and the process of data collection or analysis is highly structured to ensure that the resulting information is of suitable quality. This can include the provision of standardised equipment, online training or instruction sheets and a structured data recording process. For example, volunteers who participate in the US Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow network (CoCoRaHS) receive standardised rain gauge, instructions on how to install it and online resources to learn about data collection and reporting.

[Slide 13]  What is important to be aware of is that methods are not being used alone but in combination. The analysis by Wiggins et al. in 2011 includes a framework that includes 17 different mechanisms for ensuring data quality. It is therefore not surprising that with appropriate design, citizen science projects can provide high-quality data.

 

 

Citizen Science for Observing and Understanding the Earth

Since the end of 2015, I’ve been using the following mapping of citizen science activities in a range of talks:

Range of citizen science activities
Explaining citizen science

The purpose of this way of presentation is to provide a way to guide my audience through the landscape of citizen science (see examples on SlideShare). The reason that I came up with it, is that since 2011 I give talks about citizen science. It started with the understanding that I can’t explain extreme citizen science when my audience doesn’t understand what citizen science is, and that turned into general talks on citizen science.

Similarly to Caren Cooper, I have an inclusive approach to citizen science activities, so in talks, I covered everything – from bird watching to DIY science. I felt that it’s too much information, so this “hierarchy” provides a map to go through the overview (you can look at our online course to see why it’s not a great typology). It is a very useful way to go through the different aspects of citizen science, while also being flexible enough to adapt it – I can switch the “long-running citizen science” fields according to the audience (e.g. marine projects for marine students).

An invitation for Pierre-Philippe Mathieu (European Space Agency) in 2015 was an opportunity to turn this mapping and presentation into a book chapter. The book is dedicated to “Earth Observation Open Science and Innovation and was edited by Pierre-Philippe and Christoph Aubrecht.

When I got to writing the chapter, I contacted two researchers with further knowledge of citizen science and Earth Observation – Suvodeep Mazumdar and Jessica Wardlaw. I was pleased that they were happy to join me in the effort.

Personally, I’m very pleased that we could include in the chapter the story of the International Geophysical Year, (thank Alice Bell for this gem), with Moonwatch and Sputnik monitoring.

The book is finally out, it is open access, and you can read our chapter, “Citizen Science for Observing and Understanding the Earth” for free (as well as all the other chapters). The abstract of the paper is provided below:

Citizen Science, or the participation of non-professional scientists in a scientific project, has a long history—in many ways, the modern scientific revolution is thanks to the effort of citizen scientists. Like science itself, citizen science is influenced by technological and societal advances, such as the rapid increase in levels of education during the latter part of the twentieth century, or the very recent growth of the bidirectional social web (Web 2.0), cloud services and smartphones. These transitions have ushered in, over the past decade, a rapid growth in the involvement of many millions of people in data collection and analysis of information as part of scientific projects. This chapter provides an overview of the field of citizen science and its contribution to the observation of the Earth, often not through remote sensing but a much closer relationship with the local environment. The chapter suggests that, together with remote Earth Observations, citizen science can play a critical role in understanding and addressing local and global challenges.