One of the joys of the Doing it Together Scienceproject is that it provides opportunities to work closely with different partners from very different areas. One such a collaboration is with Bruno Strasser and his group at the University of Geneva who are researching citizen science from an STS/history of science perspective.
Over the first part of 2018, Bruno and I developed a report for the Swiss Science Council on citizen science. Here is the summary of the report:
“Citizen science” refers to a broad range of activities where people produce scientific knowledge outside of traditional scientific institutions. From mapping natural phenomena to analyzing scientific data, sharing health information, and making
new technologies, citizen science occurs across all the disciplines of science and involves a number of different methods of inquiry, both orthodox and alternative. It includes projects directed by scientists and by grassroots organizations as well as projects where power over the design, implementation, and the use of outputs is shared among participants and organizers.
Citizen science is not a completely novel phenomenon since it was the main mode of practicing science for centuries. But the professionalization of science and the rise of experimentalism since the mid-nineteenth century has increasingly separated professional scientists from the public, and this accelerated in the second part of the twentieth century. Citizen science, and other participatory research activities, reconnect ists and the public in new ways. Unlike previous attempts at bridging the gap between science and the public through science communication or through deliberative forums, in citizen science the public directly contributes to the production of knowledge, though in many cases their role is restricted to data collection or simple analysis.
Citizen science is witnessing a rapid growth and is increasingly being recognized by national governments and science funding agencies as a promising solution to three sets of problems affecting the relationships between science and society. First, citizen science can contribute to science by providing a large workforce to solve research problems that require extensive observations (mapping biodiversity) or the analysis of big data sets (classifying galaxies). It can also contribute new do-it-yourself (DIY) research tools, foster Open Science, and bring more inclusive methods to scientific research. Second, it can contribute to improving citizens’ scientific literacy, specifically with regard to the nature of science and scientific inquiry, which is crucial for the ability of citizens to position themselves in democratic debates about scientific and technical issues. Third, it can contribute to making science more democratic, both in the sense of including more diverse people in the practice of science and in making science better aligned with the public interest. It can also increase public trust in science and help governments fulfil their international monitoring obligations, for example for biodiversity or air quality.
The great opportunities of citizen science for science, education, and democracy, but also the risks of cooptation by scientific institutions and of populist undermining of professional expertise deserve serious critical attention from scholars and policy makers.
Common conceptualisations of participation assume high-level participation is good and low-level participation is bad. However, examining participation in terms of high and low levels of knowledge and engagement reveals different types of value in each case.
The spectrum of citizen science activities means some are suitable for people who have education and knowledge equivalent to PhD level, while some are aimed at non-literate participants. There are also activities suitable for micro-engagement, and others requiring deep engagement over time.
Issues of power, exploitation and commitment to engagement need to be explored for each citizen science project, as called for by the ECSA Ten Principles of Citizen Science, in response to the need for a more nuanced view that allows different activities to emerge
The chapter was written in a way that it can be used to encourage universities’ senior leaders to adopt citizen science activities into their operations. We describe how it can enhance research activities, teaching, linkage to society, as well as open up the scope for new funding and resources. We also emphasise the unique role of universities in the field of citizen science and list nine challenges: identifying what is the right balance of citizen science projects in the wider range of projects; maintaining quality and impact; improve openness and transparency; strengthening learning and creativity; optimising organisation, communication, and sustainability; establishing suitable credits and rewards; increasing funding for citizen science projects; and striking a new balance between researchers and society.
The highlights of the chapter are:
Universities are an integral part of citizen science activities.
Universities gain breadth and strength in research by adopting and supporting citizen science, which consolidates their position and recognition in society, brings new resources and increases public trust in universities.
Universities contribute to citizen science by providing professional infrastructure, knowledge and skills; ethical and legal background; educational facilities for present and future citizen scientists; sustainable teaching; and funding.
University engagement in citizen science faces a number of challenges, which can be managed through project planning and the support of funders and policymakers.
The previous post described the opening chapter of “Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Policy, Science and Society“, which apart from the first 7 pages, is following a fairly standard pattern of introduction chapters – an overview of the sections and explaining the logic behind organising the chapters and the order that they appear, and description of the case studies in the book.
The concluding chapter, on the other hand, was created with special effort to make it a synthesis and analysis of the themes that emerge from the book. The chapter “Citizen science to foster innovation in open science, society and policy” was created in a joint effort of the editorial team in the following way: first, we’ve asked each of the chapters lead authors to agree with their co-authors and provide 3 to 5 bullet points that summarise the main messages of the chapter. The purpose of these points is to be a quick reference for the readers about the chapter with more focused information than an abstract. You can find these “Highlights” in each of the chapters (though not in the case studies).
These highlights also served another purpose – as a starting point for the synthesis. We copied all the highlights into a Google Document, and then, in mid-September 2017, with all the chapters completed and ready for the final stage of production, Aletta, Susanne, Anne, and myself joined in two online workshops in which we discussed the themes and collaboratively moved the bullet points around so we can gather them into common headings (science, society, science-policy interface, technology, science communication and education, and organisational/institutional). With the bullet points grouped, we started composing paragraphs from this “raw material” – it is fascinating to follow the versions of the Google Document and see the sections emerging in a short period of time.
As with the rest of the book, we were fortunate that Susanne, the lead editor, is also a very talented science communicator with a very good eye to graphic design. The final chapter includes pictograms that represent different audiences for the recommendations that are emerging from the book – policymakers, researchers, educators, etc (see example below). The effort by Aletta and Susanne on this chapter produced an excellent synthesis from the joint output of 121 authors – an excellent way to conclude the book in a meaningful way. The end result can be found here.
As part of the editorial team of the book “Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Policy, Science and Society“, I have contributed by working with the authors of chapters, organising the orders of the chapters, managing the peer review process, and so on. In addition, I was involved in the writing to 4 chapters out of the 31 in the book – this post, and the three that will follow it, are here to provide some context to them.
As common in edited books, the editorial team collaborated on the opening and closing chapters. For the opening chapter which is titled, similarly to the book “Innovation in open science, society and policy – setting the agenda for citizen science” the editorial team as a whole collaborated. In this chapter, we start by helping people who are not familiar with citizen science with some definitions, a bit of history of where it came from, and a note about the diversity of citizen science across scientific areas. We then introduce the three areas that the book covers in its sections: policy, society, and science. We start with policy and the way in which citizen science is being integrated into government operations and policies, with an example of the process in Germany. We then move to the societal contributions – such as outreach to new communities that are under-represented, or linkage to the higher-education system; Finally, we discuss the link between citizen science and Open Science. We then describe the different sections of the book and the logic of organising the chapters in the way they are, and finally cover the extensive set of case studies that are included in the book – One of the elements that we focused on during the development of the book so it includes a large number of them.
I am very happy that the chapter is opening with a quotation from Sharman apt Russel’s Diary of a Citizen Scientist (p. 14): “This is renaissance, your dentist now an authority on butterflies and you (in retrospect this happened so pleasantly, watching clouds one afternoon) connected by Twitter to the National Weather Service. This is revolution, breaking down barriers between expert and amateur, with new collaborations across class and education. Pygmy hunters and gatherers use smartphones to document deforestation in the Congo Basin. High school students identify fossils in soils from ancient seas in upstate New York. Do-it-yourself biologists make centrifuges at home.
This is falling in love with the world, and this is science, and at the risk of sounding too much an idealist, I have come to believe they are the same thing.”
About a week ago, the journal Nature published a feature article about Citizen Science No “PhDs needed: how citizen science is transforming research“, with the subtitle: “Projects that recruit the public are getting more ambitious and diverse, but the field faces some growing pains.” The report was written by the science journalist Aisling Irwin who contacted me, among many other people that are linked to the European networks of researchers that promote citizen science as an important research approach that achieves multiple goals – progressing our scientific understanding, developing new links to society, and raising awareness about environmental issues, amongst other. The European bias in the interviews is somewhat unfortunate, as it misses some divergence in views (e.g. the US view from the leadership of the Citizen Science Association).
The article is excellent and provides an up to date description of some of the activities that are currently happening, especially in projects that are funded as part of the EU Horizon 2020 programme. It focuses on large-scale projects, which can involve many thousands of participants. From air quality Antwerp, to Geo-Wiki project in IIASA, and the range of the applications in Ground Truth 2.0. It also raises some of the challenges – including, as expected, complaints about data quality, though it does recognise that there is a need for appropriate methods that are designed for citizen science to ensure quality. The article is describing mostly the European perspective of citizen science, and the US, Australia, and other parts of the world are not covered as well.
One unfortunate thing in the article is a piece that is attributed to me: “Muki Haklay, a geographer at University College London, has outlined a taxonomy of involvement, from ‘crowdsourced’ citizen science, in which lay people contribute data or volunteer computing power, to ‘co-created’ and ‘collegial’ research, in which members of the public actively engaged in most aspects of a project, or even conduct research on their own.” I find this statement rather amusing since it is a mash-up of two typologies of citizen science. My classification from 2013, with the one by Jennifer Shirk and her colleagues from 2012 (which I call the 5C’s). I tried to compare the different typologies – the one by Andrea Wiggins and Kevin Crowston, the 5C’s and mine – you can see that they don’t match completely which might explain the confusion?
During the 22 to 29 October, I visited Shanghai & Shenzhen together with Michael Norton (CIVA), who organised the visit, and Liz Barry (Public Lab). This was a packed tour, with two all-day workshops that are dedicated to citizen science (one in Fudan University, Shanghai, and the other as part of the Asian Environmental Innovation Forum (AEIF) 2018 in Shenzhen at the Open FIESTA facility in Shenzhen), talks and visits to social enterprise hubs and social innovation activities, as well as participation in the Asian Environmental Innovation forum. This was my first visit to China, and as a result, it was an overwhelming experience – with a lot of things to try to make sense of, such as considerations for cultural practices (in other words, trying not to offend anyone unknowingly), or how the internet and mobile applications are experienced within the Great Firewall. This post is about some of the things that I’ve noticed during this visit.
Despite the fact that the three of us are focused on community action, the workshops and talks were designed as a general introduction to the area of citizen science, highlighting the potential for participation that is suitable for people who want to do something with little time investment, all the way to the DIY science approach that Public Lab promotes and dedicate significant time to such an activity. We also emphasised the link between getting involved in an activity as part of a wider awareness and actions that address social and environmental challenges. In the workshops, we started with an introduction to citizen science (me), followed by a talk on the ethos and activities of Public Lab (Liz), and finally about the use of information and insight for action (Michael). Next, we designed a session in which participants could experience different types of activities – from using two Zooniverse projects – the Wildes’ Wildlife Watch and Snapshot Serengeti, which provide different complexity in wildlife classification; A second group used their phones to install soundscape monitoring apps – the Chineses-based Participatory Soundscape Sensing using the SPL Meter app, and the German-based HushCity with the HushCity app. The participants downloaded and registered in class (only HushCity require registration), and then went out to collect information for about 10 minutes; A third group build the Public Lab DIY microscope and examined water taken from a local river; The last group focused on balloon mapping, which was the most involved task, culminating in all workshop participants going outside for an aerial selfie. We have repeated the session twice, and allowing people to experience two areas of activities. Finally, there was a group work, on developing ideas on how to address plastic pollution with the help of citizen science.
The workshop in Fudan attracted about 35 participants, while 60 came to the one at Open FIESTA. In both cases, there were many students (with more postgraduate students in Fudan) as well as people from NGOs and civil society organisations. We also had a talk with about 10 people present and many more online through webcasting at Bottledream office which is an online network for social innovation and change makers, and a talk to about 30 people, many of them expat who live and work in Shanghai at Green Initiatives.
Across the workshops and the talks, it was a pleasure to receive questions that were insightful and show real engagement with the potential of citizen science. The “data quality monster” (or should it be a dragon?) was dormant most of the time, although the second common question on motivations and reasons for participation did appear. I was asked several times about the inclusion of game elements and competition in citizen science project as a way to increase participation, and I pointed to the challenges that such an approach requires (dealing with cheating to score points, short engagement cycles etc.). There was a good question about the ownership of data and images and the intellectual property rights from a law student, and another one about ethics and the way in which consent is being secured in citizen science. Another valuable question was about the implications of Machine Learning (AI) on citizen science. People also asked about a specific area of application – e.g about projects that deal with coastal and marine issues. At the Bottledream talk, we explored the potential for social enterprise and investment in the area of citizen science. Finally, and not surprisingly, in each talk and workshop, the issue of collaboration with officials and the potential conflict in government did appear, with a lively discussion about different types of citizen science – those that are about helping progressing scientific knowledge vs. projects that are more aimed at civil action, and how to navigate these challenges based on our experience.
Technically, the Great Firewall helped in demonstrating the need for adapting apps and IT infrastructure to specific contexts – especially in view of the global initiatives for citizen science which must include China. Oddly, Zooniverse website was accessible in some networks (e.g. Fudan University), but in other places – though it was mostly accessible if somewhat slow. But the issue with access especially stood out in the soundscape mapping. The SPL Meter app was easy to set up, and the results could be shown on the website and thus providing the all-important immediate feedback. HushCity (leftmost screenshot) could not show the information because it rely on Google Maps as background – which is also not available in China (middle). In contrast, I could demonstrate Mapping for Change community maps, because it relies on MapBox tiles, which are available in China. This, turn out, is not solving the whole problem, there is also the issue that China is using a different datum for its maps, which in plain language mean that there is a GPS shift that needs to be taken into account. There is a clear interest to share knowledge and best practice beyond the challenges of accessing a specific platform. There is also the issue of language. Hopefully, resources in citizen science can be shared by CitizenScience.asia and or the Open FIESTA.
Another insight was provided by the very different “app ecosystem” in China. Because of the ubiquity of WeChat (equivalent to WhatsApp), which also have the ability of add-ons (which WhatsApp doesn’t), there is a whole range of applications that are possible which combine the intimacy of contact in a managed group with the ability to do more things. I learned about three applications which are relevant to citizen science. First Respond is a Chinese social business that provides first aid support for large public events – such as marathons. As part of the work with their volunteers, they organised crowdsourced mapping and checking of AED (Automatic Defiblerator) in which volunteers verify the location and preparedness of AED across a large area. Another example is the Sengo organisation of environmental volunteers who use WeChat to report river pollution incidents. Finally, the volunteer cleaning effort fo PickUpChina was using an app to record places that need a cleaning effort, and getting people to join and carry out a cleaning day.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were recurring theme throughout the visit at both social innovation spaces and universities – in the Impact Hub in Shanghai they are prominent, and at the workshops and the AEIF conference, they were mentioned frequently as a framing for education, social innovation, the wider regional support in the region (e.g. Laos, Cambodia), and also in thinking about the opportunity for citizen science. Thinking again about global initiatives, there is a need to link them to the SDGs since although they are not high on the agenda in say, the UK, they are a common language (as Liz describe them) between initiatives.
In addition to the SDGs, litter and addressing the challenges of plastic pollution was a recurring theme, and we have used it in the workshops as a final exercise, in which participants were split into 3 or 4 groups – government, industry, consumers, and young students (in the second workshop). The discussion between the group was lively (we asked them to discuss in Chinese), and it was clearly an issue that raises concern and interest to address it.
The social enterprise activities were also impressive in their ambition and content – from meeting Shiyin Cai, the founder of Dialogue in the Dark which provides an encounter with blindness for people who can see, to hearing from Xia Li, who founded Shenzhen Power Solution Ind who is committed to providing lighting and energy to “bottom of the pyramid” people, or Songqiao Yao, who founded Wildbound to link young people in China to global environmental issues. Visiting the two incubators in Shanghai – the Impact Hub, but also 724 Cheers Hub – was fascinating and educating.
The final note is that looking at the participants during the hands-on session was delightful. As Michael pointed to them during the feedback session at the end of their experiences, they looked interested and engaged in trying and experimenting like “someone who is 9 years old“. Indeed, there was an active learning that was apparent in every stage, but especially during the flying of the balloons. The flying of the balloons to take a picture of the participants create a “focal practice” that brings people together, make them focus on the communal activity, and bring meaning to technological design and implementation.
The level of enthusiasm across the meetings and workshops was very high, with students giving up their weekend, or professional giving up a workday to attend an event. There was also a lot of generosity and help in working through language differences, helping to navigate the city, running a group at the workshops, or volunteering to translate a discussion. I was continuously grateful to all the lovely people that we met and talked with. Below you can see the “balloon selfie” from the Shenzhen workshop.