New Citizen Science for air quality campaign

Mapping for Change, the social enterprise that I co-founded, has been assisting community groups to run air quality studies for the past 5 years. During this period we have worked in 30 communities across London, carrying out studies with different tools – from collecting leaves, to examining lichens, to using diffusion tubes. We have also followed the development of low-costs sensors – for example, through participation in the AirProbe challenge EveryAware project or hosting a discussion about the early stages of the Air Quality Egg.

We found out that of the simple tools that are available to anyone, and that require little training, NO2 diffusion tubes are very effective. We’ve seen them used as a good sign of the level of pollution, especially from traffic. They sense pollution from diesel vehicles.

We also found that reliable equipment that can measure particulate matter known as PM2.5 (very small dust considered harmful) and other pollutants is expensive – as high as £5000 and more. Unfortunately, low-cost equipment cannot give accurate information that can be used in making a case for action.

Now, after developing the methodology for working with different groups and supporting local efforts, we are launching a crowdfunding campaign to support a large scale data collection campaign using diffusion tubes, with an aim to go beyond and create an equipment library that can be used by communities – free of charge apart from disposable parts (filters) and delivery – that can be shared across London and beyond.

With a community investment of £250 we will deliver 10 diffusion tubes and support the creation of a local NO2 map. There are other levels of support to the campaign – including sponsoring a specific piece of equipment.

Use this opportunity and organise a local air quality map for your area! 

Giving time – randomised experiments on volunteering and citizen social science

As the event blurb explained  “the Giving Time experiments were led by a team from four UK universities, who wanted to know whether sharing information about how others have volunteered could help to improve volunteering… this was about giving time – and whether volunteers can be nudged. The methodology was randomised control trial (RCTs) in real-life field settings involving university student volunteers, Parish Councils, National Trust volunteers, and housing association residents.  The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).” The discussion of RCTs and Citizen Science in the same event was bound to generate interesting points.

In the first session, Prof Peter John (UCL) discussed The research challenges of large scale RCTs with volunteers and volunteering organisations. Peter covered the principles for Randomised Control Trials  (RCTs) – using randomness in trying something: assuming that two random groups will behave the same if you leave them alone, so you do things only to one group and observe the results. Start with baseline, random allocation to programme and control group, and then compare the outcome. Tying the outcomes to random allocation and – they are unbiased estimates of the impact of outcomes. Key distinguishing features of RCTs: need to deliver an intervention and the research at the same time. He suggests a 10 steps process – assessment of fit for RCTs, recruitment of partner organisations in which the work will be carried out, select a site, decide treatment, specify control, calculation of sample size, develop the procedure for random allocation, collection of data on the subjects, preparation of research plans, and assessment of ethical principles. The things can go wrong include: loss of subjects – people drop out along the way; failed randomization – deciding on who will be included in the process; treatment not given or modified; interference between treatment and control – when the groups meet; unavoidable confounds – when something come along in policy or media and policy change; poor quality data – what the data mean and what is going on with it; loss of cooperation with partners; and unexpected logistical challenges.
The Giving Time was the first RCTs on volunteering experiments – volunteering is more complex than giving money. The question is if behavioural methods can impact on the changes in the process. Working with the volunteering sector was challenging as they don’t have detailed records of volunteers that can be used to develop RCTs. There was willingness to participate in experiments and it was quite interesting to work with such organisations. There was a high level of attrition for those who are staying in the study – just getting volunteers to volunteer – from getting people to be interested until they do something. Is it possible to make it easier, get better quality data? RCTs required changes in organisational practices – if they are information based they are not hugely costly. It is possible to design trials to be sensitive to organisational practice and can be used quickly in decision making. There are issues with data protection and have a clear data sharing agreement.

Against this background, the second session Towards ‘Extreme Citizen Social Science’ – or volunteering as a tool for both social action and enquiry explored a contrasting approach. The session description already explored challenge: “For many, the scale of engagement with volunteers undertaken through Giving Time brings to mind related questions about the role of citizens in formal research – and then of course Citizen Science – or perhaps ‘Citizen Social Science’? At the same time we see the emergence of “Extreme Citizen Science” aimed at stimulating debate and challenging power relationships through citizen involvement in large scale scientific investigations. Extreme citizen science often starts from natural and physical sciences and has citizen researchers working with formal researchers to define the central research questions, and methods of investigation. But what is the potential for Extreme Citizen Social Science – characterised by being large scale, focused on social science questions, exploiting digital technology, having a high degree of participant control, and orientated towards influencing policy?”

Liz Richardson (Manchester Uni) gave her view on citizen social science approach. She is doing a lot of participatory research, and you need to explore with participants what is accepted to do with them. We can solve problems in a better way, if we have conversations on wide knowledge base in science – e.g. – a rough guide to spotting bad science. Liz compared her experience to early memories of the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch – the natural sciences version of citizen science, and part of it is access to back gardens and wide area research. She also reflected on her participation in Zooniverse and the confusion about what is the science there – e.g. why scientists ask which direction wildebeest look? There are different levels of engagement in citizen science classification, such as Haklay 2013 and a version in the book community research for participation – from low participation to high level. Citizen social science  – example for a basic one is the 2011 big class survey in the BBC – just giving and sharing information – more crowdsourcing. Another, more complex example is Christian Nold emotional maps when people responded to arousal measurement, part of evolution in visualising information and sharing mapping. The app MapLocal is used in local planning and sharing information by community members. Groups can also collect data and analyse it – they then work with social scientists how to make sense of data that they collected (work carried out with White Rock Trust in Hasting). It’s not research that done alone but integrated and leading to a change – it’s community consultation. An example is a game in Boston with Participatory Chinatown – and example for a community-led action research from the Morris Justice Project with support from academics.

I provided a presentation about extreme citizen science, positioning it within social science context (similar to my talk for the Institute for Global Prosperity) with some pointers to underlying social theory – especially that the approach that we take in contrast to some behaviour change approaches that take methodological individualism for granted.

Jemma Mouland (Family Mosaic) provided the provider point of view. Head of research at large social housing provider, with about 45,000 tenants. They have done project with Liz, and she explained it from provider point of view. Family Mosaic is looking at community involvement and decision making – what affect them in their daily life and where the housing provider come in? How to work more collaboratively with the residents. They run the a citizen science project around the meaning of community. They have done that through the Giving Time project – they sent email to recruit people to become citizen scientists – from 8000 people that received the message, 82 were interested, then 13 people were involved. They provided the material to carry out workshops, and didn’t instructed how to carry out the research – that led to 50 responses, although instructed to get at least 3, so some people moved beyond just 3. They also got the citizen scientists to analyse the data and the residents interpreted the data that they have gathered. The results from the survey – different definition of community, with active minority, and barriers include time and articulating the benefits (‘why should I do it?’). The residents felt that it was great, but they weren’t sure about doing it again – and also acting on behalf of the provider can be an issue, as well as feeling that all familiar contacts where used. The issue of skills is also interesting – gave very little information, and it can be effective to train people more. For Family Mosaic – the data was not ground breaking, but prove that collaboration can work and have a potential, it gave evident that it can work for the organisation.

So, *can* volunteers be nudged? Turning the spotlight on the future of Nudge techniques. Professor Gerry Stoker (Southampton Uni) The reasons for the lack of success of intervention was the use of the wrong tool and significant difference of money donation and time donation. Nudge come with a set of ideas – drawing on behavioural economics – we use short-cuts and tricks to make decision and we do what other do and then government followed it in a way to influence and work with people and change their behaviour. There are multiple doubts about nudge – nudge assumes fast thinking, but giving time is in slow thinking mode – donating money closer to type 1 (fast thinking) and volunteering closer to type 2 (slow thinking). Second, humans are not just cognitive misers – there are degrees of fast and slow thinking. Almost all nudging techniques are about compliance. Also it’s naive and overly promotional – and issues when the topic is controversial. The individual focus missed the social – changing people mind require persuasion. Complexity also make clear answers harder to find – internal and external validity, and there are very complex models of causality. There are ironic politics of nudge and experiments – allowed space only at the margins of policy making. Need to recognise that its a tool along other tools, and need to deal with groups side by side with other tools. Nudge is a combination with structural or institutional change, wider strategies of behaviour change, and not that other techniques are not without their own problems and issues

Discussion – need to have methodologies that are responsive to the local situation and context. A question is how do you nudge communities and not work at the individual level.

The final talk before the panel discussion was Volunteers will save us – volunteering as a panacea. Presenter: Dr Justin Davis-Smith (National Council for Voluntary Orgs) State of volunteering in 2015 – volunteering can lead to allow social transformations – e.g. ex-offenders being released to volunteering roles and that help avoiding offending. Another success is to involve people who are far from the job market to get employable skills through volunteering. Volunteering also shown that volunteers have better mental health and wellbeing. Not volunteering has a negative impact on your wellbeing. There are volunteering that can be based on prescription (e.g. Green Gyms). Volunteers are engaged in public services, such as special constables. Social capital is also improved through volunteering. Replacement value £40Bn, and the other impacts of volunteering are not being quantified so the full value is estimated at £200Bn. So volunteer will save us?
However, volunteering is cost effective but not without cost and require investment, which is difficult to make. The discussion about engagement of volunteers in public service put the volunteers against paid labour, instead of co-production. There are also unhealthy dynamic with paid staff if it only seen as cost-saving measure. We have a small core that provide their volunteering effort, and the vast majority of volunteering is made by a small group (work on civic core by the centre for third sector research was mentioned). The search for the panacea is therefore complex. Over effort of 15 years in different forms of volunteering, there is only 5% change in the amount people report about volunteering. Some of the nudge mechanisms didn’t work – there is a lot of evidence to show that campaign on volunteering don’t work well. People react negatively to campaigns. Barrier for volunteering is lack of time, and concerned that getting involved will demand more and more of their time. Reflecting on time constraints and micro-volunteering can work.

The final panel explored issues of co-production of research and the opportunities to work with volunteering organisations to start the process – many social services providers do want to have access to research but find it difficult to start the process.

Standards and Recommendations for Citizen Science (University of Zurich)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The abstract for the talk is:

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

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

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

Citizen Science Data & Service Infrastructure

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

ECSA annual meeting in Barcelona (28-29 October)

Barcelona is becoming a hub of strong support for Citizen Science with an office for citizen science at the city level. It was therefore the site of the 2015 annual meeting of the European Citizen Science Association.

wpid-wp-1446153439017.jpgOn the day before the annual meeting, the afternoon was dedicated to a citizen science safari, with visit to the Parc de la Ciutadella and the nearby coast, learning and trying a range of citizen science projects.

Some of my notes from the meeting day are provided below.

Katrin Vohland (ECSA vice chair) open with noting that we see growing networks at national levels (Austria, Germany) and internationally. She noted that role of ECSA as a networking organisation and draw parallels to transformative social innovation theory which talks about ‘guided expansion’. ECSA can develop into multiple hubs (innovation, urban, ecology etc.) with shared responsibility and potentially distributed secretariat . We can share experiences and work load across the network and find new ways to grow.

Libby Hepburn (Australian Citizen Science Association ACSA) talked about the experience in Australia from two perspectives  – personally running the Coastal Atlas of Australia and being involved in ACSA. Starting with the Australian context – the history that it didn’t have many people (20 mil population over space larger than Europe, displacement of aboriginal groups and loss of local knowledge) and impact of weather and climate is important. Only 25% of Australian species have been described. There are lots of introduced species – from rabbits to dung beetles to cane toads, thought there are counter examples such as dung beetles are actually successful as they deal with the impact from hoofed species that were introduced. The development of science in Australia is from the late 19th century.  The political approach towards science is complex and changing, but citizen science doesn’t wait for the political environment. The Australian Museum created a project to digitise over 16,000 transcriptions of species. Projects such as Explore the Sea-floor allow people to classify images that are being taken automatically under the sea. Philip Roetman Cat Tracker project is another example, allowing to understand the damage that domestic cats causing to local biodiversity. The atlas of living Australia allow for information sharing and distribution patterns. and additional layers – including likely rainfall. They are starting to develop a citizen science project finder, and starting an association – while keeping links to the other emerging associations and projects. She noted the analysis of the Socientize white paper, OPAL, and other lessons from around the world.

wpid-wp-1446156208999.jpgA presentation from the Citi-Sense project explained the need for development of sensor-based on citizens’ observatory community. Some of the products that are ready for use. Starting to have stationary boxes that are becoming possible to produce information about air quality. They have developed the CityAir app which provide to report geolocated perceptions and visualise user community reports. Provide personal and community perceptions. There are ways of integrating the data from the models and perception.

Sven Schade (JRC) talked about the citizen science data flow survey. Received 149 projects. at different scales – from neighbourhood to multi national. The data re-usability is that while 90 projects provide data, the majority do that after embargo.

Daniel Wyler (University of Zürich) talked about the citizen science in universities – an initiative in the University of Zürich – establish citizen science at public research and education bodies, they want to establish the Zürich Citizen Science Centre, and developing two papers – a policy paper about the area, and a set of suggested standards for research universities and science funding bodies.

Josep Parelló talked about creativity and innovation in Barcelona – BCNLAb is collaboration with the city council – providing a hub that allow grass-roots to create activities. Providing open scope – they established a citizen science office and promoting participatory practices in scientific research, enjoy from multipliers of research, sharing resources, having a large base of committed participants, common protocol, data repository. He used inspiration from Michel Callon (2003) Research in the wild concept.

Daniel Garcia wpid-wp-1446153467202.jpgtalked about the Responsible Research and Innovation Challenges and the linkage to citizen science. RRI includes concept such as CBPR, Science Shops , Open Science. Citizen Science is concerned in the political acceptance to inform policies. There are multiple links between RRI and Citizen Science.


Anne Bowser and Elisabeth Tyson described the Wilson Center commons lab and the emerging legal landscape in the US: the crowdsourcing and citizen science bill of 2015 that is being offered in congress – it’s about educating policy makers to the topic. There was also memo from the Office of Science and technology Policy. The memo asked to have point of contacts for citizen science, secondly standardising metadata and cataloguing citizen science activities. A toolkit was published to assist with the implementation. There is an effort of creating a shared database across the CSA,, SciStarter and other sources. There is value in these database for end users, and also use the database as a research tools.

From the ECSA meeting itself there are several news: ECSA have 84 members from 22 countries 30% individual members, the rest organisational members. New badge for ECSA – you can have a badge that recognise ECSA members. The working group on the principle and standards published the 10 principles of citizen science. The new working group deal with best practice and building capacity. Data working group exploring interoperability, privacy/reliability, and intellectual property rights. The international conference is now in planning in 19-21 May 2016, and there is an emerging social media representation on Instagram and Facebook. The policy group is engaging at EU policy levels, but also noticing international developments in the area of citizen science and policy. Planning policy briefing. Responding to policy consultations, and there are some proposals for  areas that ECSA can impact policy. A new working group was suggested to coordinate the work of citizen science facilitators. New members selected to the advisory board: Malene
Bruun (European Environmental Agency), Alan Irwin (Department of Organization at Copenhagen Business School), Michael Søgaard Jørgensen
(DIST, Aalborg University), Roger Owen (Scottish Environment Protection Agency) and Ferdinando Boero (University of Salento).


There is more information on the TagBoard platform, where the hashtag #ECSAbcn captured the

Environmental information: between scarcity/abundance and emotions/rationality

The Eye on Earth Summit, which was held in Abu Dhabi last week, allowed me to immerse myself in the topics that I’ve been researching for a long time: geographic information, public access to environmental information, participation, citizen science, and the role of all these in policy making. My notes (day 1 morning, day 1 afternoon, day 2 morning, day 2 afternoon, day 3 morning & day 3 afternoon) provide the background for this post, as well as the blog posts from Elisabeth Tyson (day 1, day 2) and the IISD reports and bulletins from the summit. The first Eye on Earth Summit provided me with plenty to think about, so I thought that it is worth reflecting on my ‘Take home’ messages.

What follows are my personal reflections from the summit and the themes that I feel are emerging in the area of environmental information today. 

wpid-wp-1444166132788.jpgWhen considering the recent ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs by the UN Assembly, it is not surprising that they loomed large over the summit – as drivers for environmental information demand for the next 15 years, as focal points for the effort of coordination of information collection and dissemination, but also as an opportunity to make new links between environment and health, or promoting environmental democracy (access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice). It seems that the SDGs are very much in the front of the mind of the international organisations who are part of the Eye on Earth alliance, although other organisations, companies and researchers who are coming with more technical focus (e.g. Big Data or Remote Sensing) are less aware of them – at least in terms of referring to them in their presentations during the summit.

Beyond the SDGs, two overarching tensions emerged throughout the presentations and discussions – and both are challenging. They are the tensions between abundance and scarcity, and between emotions and rationality. Let’s look at them in turn.

Abundance and scarcity came up again and agin. On the data side, the themes of ‘data revolution’, more satellite information, crowdsourcing from many thousands of weather observers and the creation of more sources of information (e.g. Environmental Democracy Index) are all examples for abundance in the amount of available data and information. At the same time, this was contrasted with the scarcity in the real world (e.g species extinction, health of mangroves), scarcity of actionable knowledge, and scarcity with ecologists with computing skills. Some speakers oscillated between these two ends within few slides or even in the same one. There wasn’t an easy resolution for this tension, and both ends were presented as challenges.


With emotions and scientific rationality, the story was different. Here the conference was packed with examples that we’re (finally!) moving away from a simplistic ‘information deficit model‘ that emphasise scientific rationality as the main way to lead a change in policy or public understanding of environmental change. Throughout the summit presenters emphasised the role of mass media communication, art (including live painting development through the summit by GRID-Arendal team), music, visualisation, and story telling as vital ingredients that make information and knowledge relevant and actionable. Instead of a ‘Two Cultures’ position, Eye on Earth offered a much more harmonious and collaborative linkage between these two ways of thinking and feeling.

Next, and linked to the issue of abundance and scarcity are costs and funding. Many talks demonstrated the value of open data and the need to provide open, free and accessible information if we want to see environmental information used effectively. Moreover, providing the information with the ability of analyse or visualise it over the web was offered as a way to make it more powerful. However, the systems are costly, and although the assessment of the IUCN demonstrated that the investment in environmental datasets is modest compared to other sources (and the same is true for citizen science), there are no sustainable, consistent and appropriate funding mechanisms, yet. Funding infrastructure or networking activities is also challenging, as funders accept the value, but are not willing to fund them in a sustainable way. More generally, there is an issue about the need to fund ecological and environmental studies – it seem that while ‘established science’ is busy with ‘Big Science’ – satellites, Big Data, complex computer modelling – the work of studying ecosystems in an holistic way is left to small group of dedicated researchers and to volunteers. The urgency ad speed of environmental change demand better funding for these areas and activities.

This lead us to the issue of Citizen Science, for which the good news are that it was mentioned throughout the summit, gaining more prominence than 4 years ago in the first summit (were it also received attention). In all plenary sessions, citizen science or corwdsourced geographic information were mentioned at least once, and frequently by several speakers. Example include Hermes project for recording ocean temperatures, Airscapes Singapore for urban air quality monitoring, the Weather Underground of sharing weather information, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team work in Malawi, Kathmandu Living Lab response to the earthquake in Nepal, Arab Youth Climate Movement in Bahrain use of iNaturalist to record ecological observations, Jacky Judas work with volunteers to monitor dragonflies in Wadi Wurayah National Park  – and many more. Also the summit outcomes document is clear:  “The Summit highlighted the role of citizen science groups in supporting governments to fill data gaps, particularly across the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development. Citizen Science was a major focus area within the Summit agenda and there was general consensus that reporting against SDGs must include citizen science data. To this end, a global coalition of citizen science groups will be established by the relevant actors and the Eye on Earth Alliance will continue to engage citizen science groups so that new data can be generated in areas where gaps are evident. The importance of citizen engagement in decision-making processes was also highlighted. ”

However, there was ambivalence about it – should it be seen as an instrument, a tool to produce environmental information or as a mean to get wider awareness and engagement by informed citizens? How best to achieve the multiple goals of citizen science: raising awareness, educating, providing skills well beyond the specific topic of the project, and democratising decision making and participation? It seem to still be the case that the integration of citizen science into day to day operations is challenging for many of the international organisations that are involved in the Eye on Earth alliance.

Another area of challenging interactions emerged from the need for wide partnerships between governments, international organisations, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), companies, start-ups, and even ad-hoc crowds that respond to a specific event or an issue which are afforded by digital and social network. There are very different speeds in implementation and delivery between these bodies, and in some cases there are chasms that need to be explored – for example, an undercurrent from some technology startups is that governments are irrelevant and in some forms of thinking that ‘to move fast and break things’ – including existing social contracts and practices – is OK. It was somewhat surprising to hear speakers praising Uber or AirBnB, especially when they came from people who familiar with the need for careful negotiations that take into account wider goals and objectives. I can see the wish to move things faster – but to what risks to we bring by breaking things?

With the discussions about Rio Principle 10 and the new developments in Latin America, the Environmental Democracy Index, and the rest, I became more convinced, as I’ve noted in 2011, that we need to start thinking about adding another right to the three that are included in it (access to environmental information, participation in decision-making, and access to justice), and develop a right to produce environmental information that will be taken seriously by the authorities – in other words, a right for citizen science. I was somewhat surprised by the responses when I raised this point during the discussion on Principle 10.

Final panel (source: IISD)

Finally, Eye on Earth was inclusive and collaborative, and it was a pleasure to see how open people were to discuss issues and explore new connections, points of view or new ways of thinking about issues. A special point that raised several positive responses was the gender representation in such high level international conference with a fairly technical focus (see the image of the closing panel). The composition of the speakers in the summit, and the fact that it was possible to have such level of women representation was fantastic to experience (making one of the male-only panels on the last day odd!). It is also an important lesson for many academic conferences – if Eye on Earth can, I cannot see a reason why it is not possible elsewhere.