New paper: Associations for Citizen Science: Regional Knowledge, Global Collaboration

When the new journal about Citizen Science established, one of the articles that the editorial team thought should be included is a paper that describe the development of associations dedicated to the practice of citizen science. There are now several of these: the Citizen Science Association (CSA), the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), and the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA).

Following the Citizen Science 2015 conference, under the guidance of Martin Storksdieck, a Professor at the College of Education and School of Public Policy in 
Oregon State University, we set out to write the paper. The end results is a paper that discusses the need for organisations that deal with citizen science and the specific directions that each organisation adopted in order to address the local social, political, and scientific situation in which it evolved.

The abstract read: “Since 2012, three organizations advancing the work of citizen science practitioners have arisen in different regions: The primarily US-based but globally open Citizen Science Association (CSA), the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), and the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA). These associations are moving rapidly to establish themselves and to develop inter-association collaborations. We consider the factors driving this emergence and the significance of this trend for citizen science as a field of practice, as an area of scholarship, and for the culture of scientific research itself.”

Here is the paper itself Storksdieck, M. et al., (2016). Associations for Citizen Science: Regional Knowledge, Global Collaboration. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice.. 1(2), p.10. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.55

Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?

The GIScience conference is being held every two years since 2000, and it is one of the main conferences in the field of Geographic Information Science (GIScience). It is a special honour to be invited to give a keynote talk, and so I was (naturally) very pleased to get an invitation to deliver such a talk in the conference this year. The title of my talk is ‘Has GIScience Lost its Interdisciplinary Mojo?’ and I’m providing here the synopsis of the talk, with the slides.

My own career is associated with GIScience very strongly. In 1992, as I was studying for my undergraduate studies with a determination to specialise in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) by combining computer science and geography degrees, I was delighted to discover that such studies fall within a new field called GIScience. The paper by Mike Goodchild that announced the birth of the field was a clear signal that this was an area that was not only really interesting, but also one with potential for growth and prospects for an academic career, which was very encouraging. This led to me to a Masters degree which combined environmental policy, computer science, and GIS. During my PhD, I started discovering another emerging area – citizen science, with two main pieces of work – by Alan Irwin and Rick Bonney marking the beginning of the field in 1995 (I came across Irwin’s book while looking into public understanding of science, and learn about Bonney’s work much later). According to OED research, the use of citizen science can be traced to 1989. In short, GIScience and citizen science as a recognised terms for research areas have been around for about the same time – 25 years.

Over this period, I have experienced an inside track view of these two interdisciplinary research fields. I would not claim that I’ve been at the centres of influence of either fields, or that I’ve analysed the history of these areas in details, but I followed them close enough to draw parallels, and also to think – what does it mean to be involved in an interdisciplinary field and what make such a field successful? 

The use of terms in publications is a good indication to the interest in various academic fields. Here are two charts that tell you how GIScience grown until it stalled around 2010, and how citizen science have been quiet for a while but enjoying a very rapid growth now.

First, from Egenhofer et al. 2016 Contributions of GIScience over the Past Twenty Years, showing the total number of publications with the keywords GIS or GIScience, based on a Scopus query for the years 1991 through 2015, executed in July 2015. Notice the peak around 2009-2010.

gisciencepublications

And here is Google Trends graph for comparing GIScience and Citizen Science, showing that in the past 8 years citizen science has taken off and increased significantly more than GIScience:

gisciencecitizenscience

I think that it’s fair to say that these two fields as inherently interdisciplinary.

In GIScience, as Traynor a Williams identify already in 1995: “Off-the-shelf geographic information system software is hard to use unless you have sufficient knowledge of geography, cartography, and database management systems; are computer-literate” and to these observations we need to add statistics, algorithms development, and domain knowledge (ecology, hydrology, transport).

Citizen Science also includes merging knowledge from public engagement, education, science outreach, computer science, Human-Computer Interaction, statistics, algorithms and domain knowledge (e.g. ecology, astrophysics, life science, digital humanities, archaeology).

Both fields are more than a methodology – they are contributing to scientific research on different problems in the world, and only a very reductionist view about what they are will see them as ‘a tool’. They are more complex than that – which is why we have specific scholarship about them, periods of training, dedicated courses and books, conferences and all the rest.

A very shallow comparison will note that GIScience was born as an interdisciplinary field of study, and experience consolidation and focus early on with research agendas, core curriculum which was supposed to lead to stability and growth. This did not happen (see Patrick Rickles comments, from an interdisciplinary research perspective, on this). Take any measure that you like: size of conferences, papers. Something didn’t work. Consider the Esri UC, with its 15,000 participants who are working with GIS, yet only a handful of them seem to be happy with the identity of a GIScientists.

In contrast, Citizen Science is already attracting to its conferences audience in the many hundreds – the Citizen Science Association have 4000 (free) members, The European Citizen Science Association 180 (paid) – and that is in the first 2 years since they’ve been established. It doesn’t have an explicit research agenda, and have an emerging journal, but the field also benefits from multiple special issues – there is almost a competition among them.

As a GIScientist this is a complex, and somewhat unhappy picture. What can I offer to explain it? What are the differences between the two fields that led to the changes and what we can learn from them? It is worth exploring these questions if we want the field to flourish

Engaging with Interdisciplinary research

The wider engagement with these fields is also linked to my personal and direct engagement in GIScience research that goes beyond disciplinary boundaries. Over the years, I was also involved in about 20 multidisciplinary, cross-disciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary projects. I also found myself evaluating and funding x-disciplinary projects (where cross, inter, multi or trans  stand for x). The main observations from all these is that many times, projects that started under the interdisciplinary flag (integrating knowledge from multiple areas), ended with mostly multidisciplinary results (each discipline addressing the issue from its own point of view). However, here are nine lessons that I’ve learned, which can also help evaluating the wider fields of GIScience and citizen science.

First, Get them young & hungry – when established professors are joining an interdisciplinary project, usually they have a clear personal research agenda, and the likelihood that they will be open to radically new ideas about their area is low. You can get excellent multidisciplinary projects with experienced researchers, but it is much harder and rarer to have interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary project – there is too much to lose. That mean that early career researchers are the most suitable collaborators who can develop new directions. At the same time, in terms of job potential and publications, it is very risky for PhD students to get into interdisciplinary research as this can reduce their chances of securing an academic job. With appropriate funding (as we done in Bridging the Gaps) and specific support to people at the more secured stage of early career (after securing a lectureship/assistant professor position), we’ve seen interdisciplinary collaboration evolve.

Second, in x-disciplinary projects, you’ll find yourself being undermined, unintentionally which will hurt. Disciplines have different notion of ‘truth’ and how to get to it (in philosophy: epistemology and ontology). What is considered as an appropriate methodology (e.g. fixation with randomised control trials), how many people need to participate, how they are selected and more. When people from another discipline use these concepts to question your practice it can feel as undermining the expertise, and the disciplinary knowledge that you are offering to the project…

logo-ercThird, there are also cases of being undermined, intentionally. Interdisciplinary proposal are evaluated by experts from different fields, and no matter how much they are told to focus their comments on their discipline, they will comment on other aspects. Moreover, proposal evaluators can assess the novelty in their area, not the overall innovation, reducing the likelihood of ‘outstanding’ mark that make it more likely to get funded. For example, in an early version of what was now funded by both EPSRC and ERC, a Research Challenges Board rejected the proposal because it “seemed so high risk to us is that there are many links in the chain… is it clear that even if everything works there would be real value from these sorts of devices? You use the example that the forest people might be able to tell if there were poachers in the area. Yet can that really be shown? Do forest people understanding probabilistic reasoning? If there any evidence that illiterate people can use maps, digital or otherwise?“. It’s important to note that both ERC and the EPSRC programmes were aimed at risky, interdisciplinary projects, but in more standard programmes, it is difficult to get funded.

Fourth, look out for the disciplinary scrounger. They might not be aware that they are disciplinary scrounger, but this is how it happens: Interdisciplinary research open up new tools and methodologies and people who know how to use them for the research team as a whole. While there is a supposed shared goals that will provide benefits to all sides, a savvy researcher will identify that there is an opportunity for using resources to advance their own research in their discipline, and find ways to do that, even if there are no apparent benefits to the side that give the resources. This act is not necessarily malicious – from the researcher perspective, it is exactly a demonstration of interdisciplinary contribution.

Fifth, in an interdisciplinary research it is critical to develop a common narrative, early. As the project progresses, it will shift and change. Because of the disciplinary differences, it is very easy to diverge and work on different issues, with some relationship to the original proposal. Especially in case where the funder evaluate the project against the proposal (e.g. in Horizon 2020), it’s critical to have a common story. The project can be harmonious and show good progression, but without a common narrative that is shared across the team, there can be troubles when it come to evaluation by external people as the outputs do not all fit neatly to their idea of what the project is about. In another project, Adaptable Suburbs, we deliberately shared reading lists between teams to help understanding each other, which bring us to…

Sixth, highstreetconsider the in-built misunderstanding. Terminology is an obvious one. For Anthropology, scale, from small to large is individual, household, community – and for cartography city is small scale, while house is large scale. However, these are easy – it can take time, and long discussions to discover that you’re looking at the same thing but seeing something completely different. As Kate Jones suggested when she worked on the Successful Suburban Town Centres project. In the image above urban designers see the streets, but not the people, while human geographers who look at census data will tend to see the people, but not the urban structure that they inhibit. There are many other examples of subtle, complex and frustrating misunderstanding that happen in such projects.

Seven, there will be challenges with publications – those that are written. Publications are critical academic outputs, and important for the individuals, teams, and the project as a whole. Yet, they are never easy – different disciplines have very different practices. In some, the first position in the author list is the most important, in another, the last. Some value single author monograph (Anthropology), other conference paper with multiple authors (Computer Science). This creates tensions and a need for delicate discussions and agreement. Moreover, and linked to Six – writing joint publications is an opportunity to expose interdisciplinary misunderstanding, but that make the writing process longer.

Eight, it is important to realise that many times interdisciplinary publications will never be written  – because academic careers, promotion criteria, visibility, and recognition depends on disciplinary practices, within projects disciplinary papers and outputs are written first. The interdisciplinary outputs left to a later stage – and then the project end and they never get written. They are actually dependent on voluntary investment of multiple contributors, which make it very difficult to get them done!

Finally, nine, is the importance of coffee and lunch breaks (and going out together). Team members in interdisciplinary projects are usually coming from different departments, and it is challenging to organise a shared space. However, by putting people together – computer scientists sitting next to a geographer, designer, anthropologists – it is possible to achieve the level of trust, relationship and the development of new ideas that are needed in such projects. In ExCiteS, we have a designated ‘social officer’ for the group.

On the basis of these experiences, I’d argue that Interdisciplinarity is always hard, risky, require compromises, accommodations, listening, and making mistakes. The excitement from the outputs and outcomes does not always justify the price. Frequently, there is no follow-on project – it’s been too exhausting. The analysis that Patrick Rickles done across the literature can provide you with further information on challenges and solutions.

From projects to research fields

Considering the project level challenges, viewing interdisciplinary areas of studies emerging is especially interesting. You can notice how concepts are being argued and agreed on. You can see what is inside and what is outside, and where the boundary is drawn. You can see how methodologies, jargon, acceptable behaviour, and modes of operations get accepted or rejected – and from the inside, you can nudge the field and sometimes see the impact of your actions. Here are some observations about GIScience and citizen science evolution.

First, citizen science seem to be growing organically, without a deliberate attempt to set a research agenda, define core curriculum, or start with nationally focused research centres, in contrast to GIScience, who had all of these. There is an emergent research agenda: data quality, motivations & incentives, interaction design, management of volunteers, and more. These are created according to views of different people who join the research area, opening opportunities for new collaborations. It is noted that GIScience, in practice, allowed for many other areas to emerge – for example crowdsourcing, which was not in the last version of the research priorities that are listed on UCGIS website, and also seemed to stop doing these exercises.

Second, there is an interesting difference in inclusiveness. Although there are different variants of citizen science, across events, conferences and projects, there is an attempt to be inclusive to the different variants (e.g. volunteer computing or ecological observations) though tensions remain and need maintenance. In GIScience, there have been inclusive activities, of workshops that brought together people from Human-Computer Interaction in the late 1980s, or the excellent series of meetings about GIS and Environmental Modelling. There is clear separation, for example in spatial analysis, where different methods are now appearing in ecology, but they are not shared back with the general GIScience. It is worth considering how to make such events and consider active inclusiveness, where researchers from different areas will find their place and reasons to participate.

It might be that citizen science is also more inclusive because of the interaction with people outside academia (participants) and the need to focus on things that matter to them, whereas GIScience has largely been for/by scientists. However, citizen science gets backlash for “not doing REAL science”, but it’s still grown. Maybe, in the process of GIScience trying to validate itself, it’s cut itself off from other research areas (even though GIS use continues to grow)?

Third, there is a sharp difference in the relationship with practitioners – GIScience decided to focus on fundamental questions and laws, while citizen science is a deliberate integration between researchers (the science of citizen science) and practitioners who are running volunteering programmes. The interaction between practice and science is bringing research questions to light and provide a motivation for addressing them with interdisciplinary teams. It might be that separation between science and systems in GIScience need to be blurred a bit to open up new opportunities.
bookcoverFinally, GIScience benefited from having a disciplinary name, and attention by a growing group of researchers who are committed to the field – job titles, positions, journals and conference do matter in terms of visibility and recognition. Citizen science, on the other hand, is only now starting to have a proper home and networks. There are ongoing discussions about what it is, and not everyone in the field is using the term ‘citizen science’ or happy with it. The actual conference that led to the creation of the Citizen Science Association was titled ‘Public Participation in Scientific Research'(!). The coherence and focus on understanding how important key phrases are, more than dislike of their potential meaning is valuable for the coherence of a field and stating that you have knowledge that can be shared with others.

New areas for Interdisciplinary research

To complete this discussion, I point to the opportunities that citizen science open for interdisciplinary collaborations with GIScience – It provides examples for longevity of VGI data sources, that can be used to address different research questions. There are new questions about scales of operations and use of data from the hyper local to the global. Citizen science offer challenging datasets (complexity, ontology, heterogeneity), and also a way to address critical issues (climate change, biodiversity loss). There are also usability challenges and societal aspects.

In final account, GIScience got plenty of interdisciplinary activity in it. There are actually plenty of examples for it. In terms of ‘mojo’ as being attractive for researchers from other area to join in, there are plenty of opportunities – especially if the practice of using GIS within different research and practice problems is included in the framework of GIScience.


This post benefited from discussions and comments from Patrick Rickles, who is our local expert in GIS use in an interdisciplinary settings. You should check his work.

Leveraging the power of place in citizen science for effective conservation decision making – new paper

During the Citizen Science conference in 2015, a group of us, under the enthusiastic encouragement of John Gallo started talking about a paper that will discuss the power of place in citizen science. John provides a very detailed account about the way that a discussion and inspiration during the conference led to the development of the paper. Greg Newman took the lead on the process of writing, and the core analysis was based on classifying and analysing 134 citizen science projects.

My contribution to the paper is mostly in exploration of the concept of place including the interpretation within Human Geography of places as spaces of flows (so the paper cites Doreen Massey). I was also involved in various discussion about the development of the dimensions of place that were included in the analysis, while most of the work was done by Greg Newman, Bridie McGreavy  & Marc Chandler.

The paper is now out and free to read and reuse.

Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.
Place-based citizen science framework (a) before and (b) after leveraging the power of place. Note that after leveraging the power of place, the citizen science circle is enlarged to reflect a potential increase in participation, data collection, and quality of conservation decision making and that the overall influence of decision making also grew. Note also that the relative size of Zone One increased while the inherent capacity of the power of place remained the same size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While it is, for me, expected that place will have an important role in citizen science, it is excellent to see that the analysis supported this observation through consistent classification of citizen science projects across three collections. The model above suggest how it can be used.

The paper development process, however, demonstrate the power of cyberspace, as the team met regularly online and shared documents, details and drafts along the way, with important regular online meeting that help it to come together. The paper started with all of us at the same place and at the same time, but this interaction was enough to sustain our team work all the way to publication.

The paper is open access and the abstract for it is:

Many citizen science projects are place-based – built on in-person participation and motivated by local conservation. When done thoughtfully, this approach to citizen science can transform humans and their environment. Despite such possibilities, many projects struggle to meet decision-maker needs, generate useful data to inform decisions, and improve social-ecological resilience. Here, we define leveraging the ‘power of place’ in citizen science, and posit that doing this improves conservation decision making, increases participation, and improves community resilience. First, we explore ‘place’ and identify five place dimensions: social-ecological, narrative and name-based, knowledge-based, emotional and affective, and performative. We then thematically analyze 134 case studies drawn from CitSci.org (n = 39), The Stewardship Network New England (TSN-NE; n = 39), and Earthwatch (n = 56) regarding: (1) use of place dimensions in materials (as one indication of leveraging the power of place), (2) intent for use of data in decision-making, and (3) evidence of such use. We find that 89% of projects intend for data to be used, 46% demonstrate no evidence of use, and 54% provide some evidence of use. Moreover, projects used in decision making leverage more (t = − 4.8, df = 117; p < 0.001) place dimensions (View the MathML source= 3.0; s = 1.4) than those not used in decision making (View the MathML source= 1.8; s = 1.2). Further, a Principal Components Analysis identifies three related components (aesthetic, narrative and name-based, and social-ecological). Given these findings, we present a framework for leveraging place in citizen science projects and platforms, and recommend approaches to better impart intended outcomes. We discuss place in citizen science related to relevance, participation, resilience, and scalability and conclude that effective decision making as a means towards more resilient and sustainable communities can be strengthened by leveraging the power of place in citizen science.

Patterns of contribution to citizen science biodiversity projects increase understanding of volunteers’ recording behaviour

One of the facts about academic funding and outputs (that is, academic publications), is that there isn’t a simple relationship between the amount of funding and the number, size, or quality of outputs. One of the things that I have noticed over the years is that a fairly limited amount (about £4000-£10,000) are disproportionately effective. I guess that the reason for it is that on the one hand, it allow a specific period of dedicated time, but the short period focuses the mind on a specific task.

A case in point is the funding through the UCL Grand Challenges Small Grants programme. In 2014, together with Dr Elizabeth Boakes and Gianfranco Gliozzo, I secured funding for a short project on ‘Using citizen science data to assess the impact of biodiversity on human wellbeing‘. We have enlisted other people to work with us, and this has led the analysis of citizen science contributions across London. On the basis of this work, and in collaboration with researchers in ExCiteS (Gianfranco Gliozzo, Valentine Seymour), GiGL (Chloe Smith), Biological Records Centre (David Roy), and the Open University (Martin C. Harvey), we have developed a paper that is now published in Scientific Reports. The paper experienced a rejection and subsequent improvements along the way, which have made its analysis more robust and clear. Lizzie’s perseverance with the peer reviews challenges was critical in getting the paper published.

At the core of the paper is examination of the information from citizen science projects, and using this information to understand the behaviour of the volunteers, and what we can learn from this about biodiversity citizen science projects in general.

The paper full citation is: Boakes, E., Gliozzo, G., Seymour, V., Harvey, M.C., Roy, D.B., Smith, C., and Haklay, M., 2016, Patterns of contribution to citizen science biodiversity projects increase understanding of volunteers’ recording behaviour, Scientific Reports

The abstract of the paper reads:

Citizen science has become a well-established method of biological recording but the opportunistic nature of biodiversity data gathered in this way means that they will likely contain taxonomic, spatial and temporal biases. Although many of these biases can be accounted for within statistical models, they are usually seen in a negative light since they add uncertainty to biodiversity estimates. However, they also give valuable information regarding volunteers’ recording behaviour, thus providing a way to enhance the fit between volunteers’ interests and the needs of scientific projects. Using Greater London as a case-study we examined the composition of three citizen science datasets – Greenspace Information for Greater London (GiGL), iSpot and iRecord – with respect to recorder contribution and spatial and taxonomic biases. We found each dataset to have its own taxonomic and spatial signature suggesting that volunteers’ personal motivations for recording may attract them towards particular schemes although there were also patterns common to all three recording systems. We found most volunteers contribute only a few records and are active for one day only. Our analyses indicate that species’ abundance and ease of identification of birds and flowering plants are positively associated with number of records, as was plant height. We found clear hotspots of recording activity, blue space (waterbodies) being associated with birding hotspots. We note that biases are accrued as part of the recording process (e.g. species’ detectability, media coverage) as well as from volunteer preferences.

New book: European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information

COST EnergicCOST ENERGIC is a network of researchers across Europe (and beyond) that are interested in research crowdsourced geographic information, also known as Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI). The acronym stands for ‘Co-Operation in Science & Technology’ (COST) through ‘European Network Researching Geographic Information Crowdsourcing’ (ENREGIC). I have written about this programme before, through events such as twitter chats, meetings, summer schools and publications. We started our activities in December 2012, and now, 4 years later, the funding is coming to an end.

bookcoverOne of the major outcomes of the COST ENERGIC network is an edited book that is dedicated to the research on VGI, and we have decided that following the openness of the field, in which many researchers use open sources to analyse locations, places, and movement, we should have the publication as open access – free to download and reuse. To achieve that, we’ve approached Ubiquity Press, who specialise in open access academic publishing, and set a process of organising the writing of short and accessible chapters from across the spectrum of research interests and topics that are covered by members of the network. Dr Haosheng Huang (TU Wien) volunteered to assist with the editing and management of the process. The chapters then went through internal peer review, and another cycle of peer review following Ubiquity Press own process, so it is thoroughly checked!

The book includes 31 chapters with relevant information about application of VGI and citizen science, management of data, examples of projects, and high level concepts in this area.

The book is now available for download hereHere is the description of the book:

This book focuses on the study of the remarkable new source of geographic information that has become available in the form of user-generated content accessible over the Internet through mobile and Web applications. The exploitation, integration and application of these sources, termed volunteered geographic information (VGI) or crowdsourced geographic information (CGI), offer scientists an unprecedented opportunity to conduct research on a variety of topics at multiple scales and for diversified objectives.
The Handbook is organized in five parts, addressing the fundamental questions:

  • What motivates citizens to provide such information in the public domain, and what factors govern/predict its validity?
  • What methods might be used to validate such information?
  • Can VGI be framed within the larger domain of sensor networks, in which inert and static sensors are replaced or combined by intelligent and mobile humans equipped with sensing devices?
  • What limitations are imposed on VGI by differential access to broadband Internet, mobile phones, and other communication technologies, and by concerns over privacy?
  • How do VGI and crowdsourcing enable innovation applications to benefit human society?

Chapters examine how crowdsourcing techniques and methods, and the VGI phenomenon, have motivated a multidisciplinary research community to identify both fields of applications and quality criteria depending on the use of VGI. Besides harvesting tools and storage of these data, research has paid remarkable attention to these information resources, in an age when information and participation is one of the most important drivers of development.
The collection opens questions and points to new research directions in addition to the findings that each of the authors demonstrates. Despite rapid progress in VGI research, this Handbook also shows that there are technical, social, political and methodological challenges that require further studies and research

 

Opportunistic Citizen Science in central California

iNaturalist MapAs I’ve noted in the earlier post, I’ve travelled through central California in August, from San Francisco, to Los Angeles. Reading Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, made me think about citizen science, but this was my holiday – and for the past 4 years, as I finish setting the email away message, I disable the social media apps and email on my phone, and only use it for navigation, travel apps like TripAdviser, weather, taking images, and searching for the opening times of the local supermarket (more on this in the next post). In addition to the phone, I do use a digital camera with an integrated GPS receiver which somewhat surprisingly, displays a map of the world with data from HERE . As I was travelling along, I wasn’t aiming to take part in any specific citizen science project, just to experience the landscape, and understand the places and people.

Yet, I had several encounters…

DSCN1815 DSCN1822 On t he way back from a visit at Yosemite valley, by coincidence, we decided to stop at a vista point along the road, and as I was getting out of the car, I realised that the sign looks familiar. There was a board with information about the Rim Fire  and the need to protect the forest from tree disease and fire. But one familiar sign, which I’ve seen in photos, and just read about it, was now in front of me. Here’s the description from Hannibal’s ‘Citizen Scientist’:

…A succinct two-and-a-half-minute video explains it here: monitorchange.org.
“The concept uses little more than a camera phone and a stout piece of bent steel to start,” reads the site. Droege figured out that using photo-stitching software and images periodically captured from the same place, he could create a mural of change over time…
DSCN1818Droege’s idea is being put to use by a sui generis citizen science group in the Bay Area, Nerds for Nature. …In their emphasis on improvisation and community the Nerds embody the grassroots spirit of citizen science. Two Nerds projects using Droege’s camera-bracket idea currently underway are both trained on documenting and observing fire recovery … in the Stanislaus National Forest in Yosemite … if you happen to be hiking in either place, here’s what you can do to be a cool Nerd. Find a bracket and take a picture. On Mount Diablo, post it to Twitter using the hashtag #diablofire01. At Yosemite, use the hashtag indicated at each bracket. For example, #firerim01. The Nerds will harvest the photos and “create time-lapse views of change.” The effects of fire on the ecosystem here are imperfectly understood, probably subject to climate change, and of the utmost interest to figuring out the deep truth of the landscape, so you will be doing a good deed.” (p. 348-349)

DSCN1821So I had to take a picture with my camera, as well as a zoomed-in image to see a little bit better how the recovery is happening around the burnt trees. I have tweeted the images (and I hope that the project will prove successful) but only after I’ve went back to use social media. If you follow the hashtag, you’ll see the steady stream of images…

DSCN1814I have also captured many pictures of birds, flowers, and animals that we came across (see the map at the top of the post), from a bird that landed on the side mirror of the car, to Sea Lions we’ve seen on a boat tour to the Channel Islands. Last Friday, I finally organised the pictures and uploaded them to my iNaturalist account. I’m not familiar with the wildlife in California, and I didn’t know that in these three weeks, I’ve seen American Robin, California Scrub-Jay (in the picture), Turkey Vulture, Cottontail Rabbit and much more. A truly amazing experience of uploading the images into iNaturalist is to see, within an hour, identification for most of the species. Not only that, my observations were added to “Wildlife of the Santa Monica Mountains”, “California Birds”, and pleasingly  “2016 National Parks Bioblitz – NPS Servicewide” collections. It all happened very rapidly. It’s odd and pleasing to contribute to citizen science by basically uploading holiday photos.

DSC_0081DSC_0084
The last encounter was planned. Being close to Los Angeles was an opportunity to meet Lila Higgins and her wonderful team at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum who are doing extensive outreach through citizen science. One of the most impressive areas in the museum is the Nature Lab with its wall of invitation to many types of citizen science, and an interactive, continually updated map of observations from iNaturalist in the area of L.A.. The lab is full of exploration areas, each of them inviting the visitors to explore nature through ‘memory maps’ – and in many cases, join citizen science activities such as observing birds, insects, or listening to the sounds at night.

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Birding…
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…Ladybird (Ledybug) observations …
DSC_0088
or audio recording at night

At the time of the visit, two interns were working on classifying flies which were captured in a citizen science project across the city, and their view in the microscope was projected overhead. The live exhibits in the lab are also full of hints and information on how the visitors can join in and contribute to the collection. It was good to see the utilisation of the opportunistic and directed data collection that the museum provides – the synergy of professionals and volunteers which is integral to citizen science. Personally, the visit motivated me to upload my photos to iNat.

On reflection, I can see the potential of opportunistic observations and participation in simple activities such as sharing photos. I did had to prepare the photos before uploading them to iNat, mostly to adjust the time-stamp from UK to California (I forgot to adjust the time at the beginning of the journey), but this was fairly simple and easy. I’m also pleased to micro-contribute to the monitoring and understanding nature in the places that I visited…

Reading ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction’ in place

9781615192434At the beginning of the year, I received an email from Mary Ellen Hannibal, asking for a clarification of the ‘extreme citizen science’ concept. Later on, Mary Ellen provided me with an early copy of ‘Citizen Scientist: Searching for Heroes and Hope in an Age of Extinction‘, and asked if I will be willing to recommend it. I read the first part of the book before travelling to Sci Foo Camp, and was happy to provide a statement (I wouldn’t overstate the value of my endorsement when she received ones from Bill McKibben and Paul Ehrlich).

The part that I read captured my interest, and I finished reading it on the way to Sci Foo and shortly after it. I’ve enjoyed reading it, and at many points I stopped to think and absorb the rich information that Mary Ellen provided within it. At the beginning, I was expecting an account of the personal experience of doing citizen science and understanding its place in the world – much like Sharman Apt Russell ‘Diary of a Citizen Scientist’ (a wonderful book which I highly recommend!). However ‘Citizen Scientist’ is a very different type of book, with a much richer internal ‘ecology’. The book is weaving five themes – the impact of the mass extinction that we are experiencing around us; a very personal account of losing a parent; the history and development of ecological knowledge of coastal California; Joseph Campbell’s literary framework of the ‘hero’s journey’, and the way it can be linked to John Steinbeck and Ed Rickets work around Monterey; and the current practice of citizen science, especially around the Bay Area and coastal California. These themes are complex on their own, and Mary Ellen is doing a great job in exploring each one of them and bringing them into interaction with each other. As I went through the book, each of these was explained clearly from a well researched position, with the experiential aspects of citizen science – including the frustration and challenges – beautifully expressed. As you read through the book, you start to see how these themes come together. It most be said that most of these themes are worrying or raise the notion of loss. Against this background, citizen science plays the role of ‘hope’ at the corner of Pandora’s box – offering a way to connect to nature, nurture it and redevelop a sense of stewardship. A way to preserve the cultural practices of the Amah Mutsun tribe, nature, and a sense of connection to place.

Near Yosemite I felt very lucky that Mary Ellen got in touch and shared the book with me – it was just the right book for me to read at the time. After the Sci Foo Camp, I have stayed in central California for 4 weeks, touring from Mountain View in the Bay Area, to Ripon in Central Valley, to Oak View in Ojai Valley, near Ventura and Los Angeles. Reading the book while travelling through places that are linked to the book gave the visits deeper and richer context and meaning. Many of the encounters throughout journey were linked to the topics that I mentioned above – you don’t need to be any kind of hero to experience these! Some of these encounters include the following.
DSCN1924First was the fascinating session at Sci Foo Camp, in which Tony Barnosky discussed the issue of global tipping points (which are discussed in the book) and their wider implications, with few days later travelling towards Yosemite and experiencing the change in very large landscapes following fires and thinking ‘is this a local ecological tipping point, and the forest won’t come back?’. Then there was a visit to San Francisco Golden Gate Park, and passing by the California Academy of Sciences (Cal Academy, the San Francisco Natural History Museum), whose story is covered in the book. Another reminder of extinction came while travelling down the famous California State Route 1, which was eerily quite and empty of other cars on a weekend day, because of the Soberanes Fire that was devastating the forest nearby (and has not stopped). Or stopping by the Mission in Santa Barbara and thinking about the human and natural history of the coast, or just looking at the kelp on the beach and appreciating it much more…

I’ll try to write more about citizen science and its hopeful aspects later, but as for the book – even if you don’t travel through coastal California, I am happy with what I’ve said about it: ‘an informative, personal, emotional and fascinating account of a personal journey to ecological citizen science. It shows how our understanding of our environment and the need for urgent action to address the mass extinction that is happening in front of our eyes can be addressed through participatory science activities’.