Notes from ICCB/ECCB 2015 – Traditional ecological knowledge, Conservation 3.0 & citizen science

These are my notes from the first day of the International Congress on Conservation Biology (ICCB) & the European Congress on Conservation Biology (ECCB) in Montpellier.

I’ve took notes from some of the talks in 3 sessions about traditional knowledge, ‘Conservation 3.0′ and the citizen science posters.

In the session on Traditional Knowledge and Conservation noteworthy talks include:

The role of tribal colleges in preserving traditional ecological knowledge and biocultural diversity – Teresa Newberry (Tohono O’Odham Tribal College in the US), the tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) in the US represent diverse communities and cultures. The Tribal Colleges has a mission to preserve the culture of the local nation, and engaged with their community, thus TEK is part of the education in them. Language is critical to understanding biodiversity: indigenous groups speak about 85% of world’s languages and take care of 80% of the World’s biodiversity (Nelson 2015) so it is important. There is a link between biodiversity and language diversity. Local languages encode local knowledge and they specifically adapted to their local area. 40% of the languages are in risk of disappearing and therefore this loss is monumental amount of TEK. Looking more closely, language encodes worldviews and traditional knowledge systems – it’s evolution of one group of people in a specific place, and also encode practices and rules. It includes many layers of meaning and relationships between living things. For example, in the Tohono O’Odham language there is a term that make you notice that you don’t collect the flower until a hummingbird collect the nectar – and it is included in the way you talk about local ecology. Teresa developed a local calendar that helps linking phenology to specific language and events. Another tool that she developed is the TOCC Plant Atlas – linking plants with audio that state the traditional name in addition to write it. There are multiple values in traditional knowledge: unique multi-contextual perpectives, time-tested adaptation and mitigation strategies to environmental change and deep, local knowledge of place.

 ‘Manngem Thapnee’: The crocodile worship ritual of an agrarian community of Indian state of Goa, and its conservation context  – Manoj Borkar  (Goa University) – Goa is coastal and crocodiles are protected by the Red List of IUCN. The current trends is for the crocodiles population to increase and they have groups in swamps and some in fresh water areas. There are also tourism activities to see the crocodiles. The contemporary scenario – pressure of overexploitation of sand from riverbed, use of canals for shipping, unregulated backwater tourism, and fishing are making it difficult to protect the population. During the Portuguese control of Goa (450 years ago) there are reports on abundance of crocodiles. Crocodiles are viewed as demonic and also as divine status. Within the indigenous tribal culture there is a crocodile worship ritual in which they create a crocodile from clay and they want to appease the crocodile to avoid inundation of fields by water (the crocodile seen as the link to water sources) – the practice is going in December. The veneration is translated to protecting the crocodiles and can be seen as an example of integrating local practices in conservation.

Augmenting survey data with community knowledge to inform a recovery strategy for an endangered species in Canada: Identifying important areas of habitat for Peary caribou – Cheryl Johnson (Environment Canada). The aim is to develop a recovery strategy for the caribou – to maintain healthy species distribution and keep their area – the are very wide ranging area species – migrating over hundreds of kilometres. The process started with identifying locations, then the amount that need to be protected, and then the very specific type of the habitat. This mean working at different scales. They collected survey information from scientists and integrated it with information from local communities of where they’ve seen the caribou. Once they’ve identified 3 main seasons in the migration, they integrated it into their spatial model. When comparing the information from survey information compared to community information – the community had much more holistic and complete view of where they’ve seen the animals. The modelling process include consulting with both scientific experts and community members with knowledge of the caribou and that helped in identifying the most relevant model. The TEK was crucial in eliminating spatial and temporal biases in survey data by scientists.

The session Conservation 3.0 was open with Alex Dehgan explaining what it is about: technology, behavioural interventions and financial innovations are changing conservations. The field of conservation biology, after 30 years, there is increase in areas that are protected, but there are very high extinction rates, and we still have major challenges. The population growth will require 70% more food and the intensity of agriculture, especially with increase in meat consumption. Wildlife trade increase and we don’t have enough financial resources. Conservation biology is sometime technophobic, but how can we used opportunities to deal with issues? Maybe we should learn from other areas – e.g. the change from ‘tropical medicine’ to ‘global health’ – by increasing the tent to more people involved from more areas of research. We can have conservation technology & engineering. 3D printing to cellphones, we can consider the connected conservation and the used of multiple sensors, or use synthetic biology. There is also need to consider how to use ideas from behaviour change, marketing & conservation – altruism doesn’t work, only as last resort. Financial innovations – maybe environmental impact bonds, conservation finance and other tools. Think of design under constraint just like with iPhone. We can also consider crowdfunding – $16.2 billion – compared to NSF total budget of $5.8 billion. There are other ways to harness the crowd- from ideas, to creativity, to funding.

Paul Bunje – XPRIZE Foundation, considering the incentivizing innovation for conservation. Problems are increasing exponentially and solution are only increasing in a linear way and try try to find solution at huge scale. Open innovation takes lots of ideas internally and externally, and trying to find tools from all sort of areas. There are also new opportunities for identifying new sources of funding. The benefits of prizes/challenges – solve important problems, set aspirational goals – a moonshot, novel partnerships, inspire with new ideas. There are all sort of methods in open innovation, from incentive prizes or just innovation networks. Prizes continue to increase – flexibility, openness, but also the new ways in which stories are being done.

Asher Jay – creative conservationist. She explore the linkage between science and stories. Humanize science – not introducing a bias, but need the link those in the know and other poeple. Content need to be contagious, and enable the individual – making the individual impact about conservation. Looking at facts and figures, and then thinking how the story evolve – what is the point, how to create protagonist/focus, which elements will be included, emotional triggers – need to think about consuming the science and then acting on it. That can be done through using existing signs, symbols, icons. There is also the issue of foreground and background to help structure the understanding. A lot of the campaign that she created are about ‘stating the obvious’ that people as they are not always aware of it. The design for the digital age is that they need to be shared – open source images mean that they are used in many ways (including tattoos).

Ted Schmidt – covered Paul Allen philanthropy through ‘Vulcan’ and trying to bridge technology and conservation science. Some of the focus areas includeillegal fishing, wildlife monitroing and management, but also wildlife surveys and database. They carried out a great elephent survey – flying over 20 countries to count elephents. The data is working with IUCN to ensure that the data live on. Shah Slebe suggested the idea of the ‘internet of Earth Things’ – ability to understand how things changes in real time. Technology is a tool that can help but there are no silver bullets. We need to have be aware not about the drone but what the data is used for. The SMART – spatial Monitroing and Reporting Tool created a tool to understand conservation areas. SMART is a good model to solve problems. Technology need to be designed for the context – need to show that it can be deployed over time and in a reliable area.

Lucas Joppa  – the impact that people have on the planet is the anthropocene and the information age – we have a combination of having 50 billion objects linked. Levereging information technology for conservation biology is seem obvious to those who are interested in technology areas. Empowering the crowd to collect information and identify (iNaturalist), or instant wild to work with camera traps, and GPS tags on the environment – animals also involved in sensing the environment for people. Mongabay – got a section on Wildtech area. Engaging with industry – there are different partnerships with technology industry and conservations – questions for help are backward – people don’t ask for the resources of working with the talented engineers that are part of the organisation. If asking in the right way, we can get donation of time and money from the engineers.

In the Poster session, there was a set of posters about citizen science, and some of the one that I’ve explored are

Understanding the environmental drivers of recording bias in citizen science data across Sweden Alejandro Ruete looking at biases in the data that was collected, and developing an ignorance index that let you evaluate how much you would know about a location.
Earning your stripes: Does expertise aid the ability to match bumblebee images in identification guides Gail Austen-Price compared the identification abilities of experts and non-experts, showing that the ability to match is good regardless of expertise, but that experts are more careful and are willing to say that it’s not clear how to differentiate.
 Utilizing citizen science and new technology to improve the Palau national bird monitoring program Heather Ketebengang showed how in Palau they’ve used information from experienced and trusted birdwatchers (through systems such as eBird) with experts’ survey to create a more comprehensive picture of their bird population.
Maximizing mangrove forest conservation through multi-scale stakeholder engagement in citizen science Jenny Cousins showed a long running project that have yield many benefits to all sides involved – including better local skills, academic publications and more.
The microverse citizen science project: Collaborative microbiology research with UK secondary schools Lucy Robinson describe the work of UK NHM work which I’ve covered in the ECSITE post.
Online participatory mapping of ecosystem services and land use preferences in the Polish tatras – experiences and challenges Barbara Peek describe an online PPGIS that ask people to identify values, positive and negative activities in an area of Poland. The project had it’s own participation inequality (2% of participants putting 25% of the information) and fairly few qualitative comments, but they were useful.
Population census of house martins in Switzerland: A web based citizen science project Stephanie Michler is an interesting project with species that people are already interested in and provided many artificial nest, so the level of engagement and activity in the project seem to be good. Within 3 years, the project presented good growth.
Dealing with observer bias when mapping species distributions using citizen science data: An example on brown bears in Greece Anne-Sophie Bonnet-Lebrun show that a model that takes only roads as a proxy for where people will collect information is not good enough, so there is a need to understand where are the tourist area.
Using citizen science to map geospatial and temporal trends in human-elephant conflict Cheli Cresswell show the progress in her app development to engage people in reporting on human-wildlife conflict.

Citizen Science and Policy – possible frameworks

Back in February, my report ‘Citizen Science & Policy: a European Perspective‘ was published by the Wilson Centre in the US. As I was trying to make sense of the relevance of citizen science to policy making, I used a framework that included the level of geography, area of policy making and the type of citizen science activity. This helped in noticing that citizen science is working well at the neighbourhood, city and national scales, while not so well at regional and international level. The reasons for it are mostly jurisdiction, funding and organisational structure and scale of operation.

Later on, at a workshop that was organised by Prof Aletta Bonn on Citizen Science and Policy impact, the idea of paying attention to the role of citizen science within the policy cycle was offered as another dimension of analysis.

Last week, at a workshop that was organised by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as part of their work on coordinating the European Protection Agencies (EPA) Network, I was asked to provide an introduction to these frameworks.

The presentation below is starting with noting that citizen science in an EPA is a specific case of using crowdsourced geographic information in government and some of the common issues that we have identified in the report on how governments use crowdsourced information are relevant to citizen science, too. Of particular interest are the information flows between the public and government, and the multiple flows of environmental information that the 3rd era of environmental information brought.

After noticing the individual, organisational, business and conceptual issues that influence use in general, I turn to the potential framing that are available – geography, stage in policy formation and mode of engagement, and after covering those I’m providing few examples of case to illustrate how specific cases fit into this analysis.

It was quite appropriate to present this framework in the EEA, considering that the image that was used to illustrate the page of the report on the Wilson Center site, is of the NoiseWatch app which was developed by the EEA…

Making participation in citizen science interesting & useful – survey

The Citizen Cyberlab research project is asking for your help in understanding how citizen science projects can be designed to help you learn more about their scientific topic of the project, and making participation more interesting and useful for you. In addition to general understanding of why and how people take part in citizen sciences projects, we are especially interested in what you get out of the experience. To do that, we are conducting a large scale general survey.

To thank you for your participation in this 15 minute survey, you will be entered into a free prize draw: First price is either a 500€ gift voucher for amazon.com or free participation and travel subsidies for the Citizen Cyberlab Summit this coming autumn (up to 800€ total). 20 other participants will receive a 32 GB USB3 key.

To participate, follow the link below:
https://tecfalabs.unige.ch/survey/index.php/372819/lang-en

This survey is being conducted by the Citizen Cyberlab research project. Participation is completely voluntary. All information provided will be treated confidentially, as specified by the Swiss Federal Act on Data Protection 1992 and the British Data Protection Act 1998.

ECSITE 2015 – Citizen Science & Participatory Practices

MUSE, TrentoOn the last day of ECSITE 2015, the first session on the Future of Citizen Science focused on exploring citizen science with reference to Socientize White Paper on Citizen Science. Paulo Gama Mota started by covering the Socientize project. The project created a platform for citizen science projects, with the science museum of Coimbra providing outreach to different groups. The infrastructure supported projects in cancer research, brain research, physics, meteorology, and ecology. The Cell Spotting project asked people to analyse images from cancer research, and engaged 2000 participants in 50 schools. This was followed with evaluation – interaction with students, teachers and scientists – the project reached out to Japan with students using it at a university, unexpectedly. They also worked with 3 senior academies in the Sun4All project, and they felt engaged, learning things and being ‘useful’. There was interaction directly or through Skype with the scientists in the project – people felt that it’s important. The White Paper on Citizen Science for Europe was covering the range of models – there are potential in the future to create experiments that were impossible in the past. Socientize involved 36,000 volunteers in over 20 projects with scientific outputs. Open questions by scientists are what do I gain by working with volunteers? while for citizens, the question is What do I gain by working with scientists?
Claudia Gobel covered ECSA’s perspective. It provided an overview of the range of activities in Europe. Challenges: funding, link to education and training and provide training in the area, evaluation of projects, engagement; access to technology since citizen science is based on it; data policies are important for collaboration; dissemination and engagement. There are many bottom-up initiatives grown in many places – there are also top down projects that started by museum or science bodies. There are now networks of practitioners  in different parts of the world: CSA, ECSA, ACSA. She explained what ECSA is about – working with the practitioners of citizen science projects. ECSA focus on the fostering activities in the area. Starting to formalise the organisation and what it should do. ECSA’s goals – promoting sustainability through Citizen Science, share knowledge about citizen Science and developing participatory methods for cooperation, empowerment and impact. The role of association is to provide network of contacts, especially in narrow fields, learning and sustainability of the area – much of the investment is project based so can maintain knowledge, advocacy and set standards and quality among practitioners, as well as knowledge on tools and resources – it’s a process of professionalisation of the field.
My talk put in extreme citizen science as an example of community led activities and the potential of using it to increase what citizen science can achieve. I noted that there is a need to understand science differently, in a way that make it more accessible and open.
Lucy Robinson from NHM explored the scientific benefits of engagement outcomes. NHM experimented with many citizen science approaches – from small to large scale, online and offline, and also in mobile apps. They are also mixing modes of citizen science -for example mixing field observations and online citizen science in www.orchidobservers.org . People take pictures of orchids while others help in classifying them. Citizen Science is on the boundary between scientific research and public engagement. The microverse project tried to maximise the scientific outputs and engagement outcomes – with effort in the design and working with schools, it is valued as something interesting and different that is worth while. The future is to have citizen science integrated in NHM galleries. Some of the question are: what are the trade off between scientific and engagement outcomes? How to design it this way? How to connect visitors to citizen science?
The discussion that followed explored several topics. First, asking about the difference between running citizen science in a university or in a science centre? The science centres have advantage in having access to audience and knowledge of how to carry out engagement. Next, regarding the evidence based on citizen science there was question about having not only scientific outcomes (good data, important data & analysis etc.) but also about the process, learning outcomes and what are the long term results. Another question was about the history of citizen science, especially the period where amateurs were ignored or less included – and the Constructing Scientific Communities project was noted. Problems and negative aspects of citizen science can be in not taking into account quality measures in projects and also potential problems in online environments of hacking (e.g. in gamed project where there are scores). Translation of mobile apps was noted as an issue, but there are emerging cases of open to translation citizen science projects. Finally, the opinion of the panel about peer-to-peer science that actively exclude established science from scientific activities. The general opinion was that it is a positive development and professional scientists don’t have to be involved in every project.

The session Participatory practices in science centres, with Justin Dillon, Merethe Froyland, Julie Bønnelycke, Catharina Thiel Sandholdt, Mette Stentoft Therkildsen, and Dagny Stuedahl. They cover the EXPAND and PULSE projects. The PULSE was about the increase in non-communicable diseases and improving health lifestyle. Movement was use as the health factor – co-designed the exhibition with future visitors. Started with wide and open brief and slowly progressed towards the exhibition. A big challenge in the research and development was the issue of time – how to do the project planning. Researcher who work in a participatory way need more time. The issues of recruiting suitable representative are important. Issues of co-design can also include noticing small changes that can help the process of learning. New ideas about the role of education, such as connected learning. Interestingly, some of those who are interested in science wonder why they should be engage with science centre – since they already know about the science. Another interesting point from the session was defining youth as experts – the framing can help in rethinking their role and how to work with them.

ECSITE 2015 sessionThe session Citizen Science –  Reflecting on processes was organised by Carole Paleco (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Brussels, Belgium) with Anna Omedes (Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain) and Henrik Sell (Natural History Museum, Aarhus, Denmark). Carole opened, noting how citizen scientists are involved in all stages – from data collection, to preparation to publication, and therefore modern citizen science is an extension of existing practices. Anna Omedes described the experience in Barcelona of carrying out Bioblitzes over the past 5 years. The Bioblitz is to discovery and deepen nature knowledge, improve biodivery census and celebrate nature. They started the Bioblitz with the university coordinating, but in the past 3 years the museum is coordinating with the city and other organisations. To be successful, Bioblitz requires a lot of organisations to be involved. They have now 880 participants in this year. lots of areas covered. They create tents for different organisation to set the area, and then start working with different groups in the botanical gardens. People are not just collecting, but also taking pictures and sharing them. People learn to analyse the samples – e.g. working with microscopes. They also have activities for children. They collected over 1627 species. For communication they have a dedicated website. They evaluate the participants’ experience in survey and people had a positive experience. Important  aspects that she identifies include fun, making it local, provide opportunities to identify rare or unusual species, and provide opportunities for new collaborations. Awareness and curiosity in citizens triggered by working in scientist, and new dialogues. A question about the experience of people who are trying to provide false information deliberately – they are checking the data that they are getting. Don’t believe in a single observation report. In project that people go unsupervised, are suitable to monitor how areas are evolving after reclamation where the needs are fairly simple. Henrik Sell talked about rethinking urban habitats – the vision is to think of the city as areas of biodiversity. They do it by physical change, interpretation, and knowledge (mapping and collecting evident). The physical aspect is done with local authorities, the interaction work through ‘Naturbasen’ app that allow people to add information about their area. If people want to help in identification, they can take a picture and have help in identification by volunteers (30,000 registered users) – usually within 2 minutes (like iSpot). They also provide a field guide in the application. In a day they get 2000 records a day, and can get 1,000,000 points across the country. They have lots of information about citizen science activities. To provide feedback to the public, they have a website ‘rethink urban habitats‘ that provide distribution maps that was created from the contributions. They use local grids of 200x200m. They allow options of seeing specific divisions of information. The system is also use for education with schools using the tool and seeing what is relevant in their area. The museum maintain the data for the school so they can go with the activities over the years.
The session continued with 2 questions to discuss in groups. First, what is citizen science for you and how does it apply to your institution (museum or science centre)? Some of the points that came up is a range of involvement in citizen science – from plenty of experience to just starting. Thinking about those that are already engaged (amateur naturalists) and those who are not and can be invited to join. There is value in learning from other projects and sharing methods and resources. Linked to activities that are already happening. Don’t assume that ‘built it and they’ll come’. Some discussion about what is citizen science – between citizenship and participation in science. Potentially constructing the identity of the institution collaboratively. Not using citizens as guinea pigs, involving people in the process as possible. Involving school children in using data for their studies.
The next question – how can we measure if a citizen science project is successful? a possible success – showing scientific outcoemes (quality, rigour), use in policy, social impact, number of people and other engagement goals, behaviour change. There are different objectives and decide which ones should be taken into account. Informed by other participatory projects that are out there – Knowing who else is doing what in other disciplines. Risk of over-promising what has been achieved. Not suggesting one methodology but to offer a range of topics and evaluations and decide what to measure. Consider what you want to achieve. Must consider the time frame of the project.

The final session of the conference was Transforming science centres through responsible innovation with Sheena Laursen, Mai Murmann, Carlos Catalão Alves, Anne-Marie Bruyas, and Marzia Mazzonetto. People work on Responsible Research and Innovation and the role of science centres within that. RRI is about bringing and defining all the different stakeholders – and expectations that exhibitions and programmes are becoming better. Responsiveness and Adaptive Change. Carolos Alves started and try to understand what science centres should do ? There is no ‘science’ explicitly in RRI instead of science and technology. Science is the knowledge that allow us to change the world, and technology is how we do it. The issue of ‘responsible’ is challenging? Are there science and technology that are not-responsible? Need shared meaning of ‘being responsible’. First, ethics – acceptable ethical way. You can also be responsive, listening to stakeholders. RRI questions the sense of responsibility of scientists. There no programme for scientists or policy makers to open science for discussion, but there is an opportunity in science centres. The Cafe Scientifique at the parliament in the past 10 years was a way to introduce responsible research and innovation. The coffee should be good and space should be well organise. Need to give information to people about what it is. A public debate about scientific issues. Lively debate between scientists, public and political representatives. Covering issues fas geology, biodiversity, air quality and more – up to two sessions a year. Issues that matter to people, and having a range of participants. Having a clear information about what is going to be discussed – setting the tone in keynote flashtalk format (5 min), then 1 min pitches, also live streaming and broadcasts, small exhibits also help. Mai Murmann covered the RRI tools – responsible exhibition development. She highlight the important of mindset. Taking cultural practices, norms and interest into account – making science in context. Exhibition for and with people. The exhibition PULS was about health promotion and behaviour change. The involvement was done by working with different families. It is difficult to get into the mindset of RRI – they had to run special sessions to make people thing about involvement and responsiveness, with people making statements and being pictures with it. Anne-Marie Bruyas – using participatory methodologies to introduce RRI in the exhibit, the museum is based in Nepal and the mission is also with a mission to encourage jobs development. They have a science centre with an incubator. They resumed quickly after criminal fire in 2013, and they focus on marine research (relevant to the place). The development of the exhibition was carried out collaboratively, and brought up issues that the organisers didn’t expected. The way they’ve integrated responsiveness is to identify seven characters as special advisers that guide people through the exhibition.  Visitors can compare their reflections to these personas. They also demonstrated some results of scientific research. There are plenty opportunity to find information on the web, so science centre should provide ways for visitors to develop critical thinking. Need to consider continuous challenge – need linking science clubs and science centres. There are opportunities in social media and in citizen science. Marzia Mazzonetto, who is from ECSITE completed the session with reflections on RRI. She noticed 3 aspects: bringing science and scientists closer to the public (exhibition, researchers night etc.) secondly, dialogue and discussions on hot topics of science (PlayDecide; thirdly, introducing participatory exhibitions with and for visitors. All that is falling in ‘public engagement’. However, RRI is more than that – it’s a cycle and require more involvement in other areas. The unmet challenges is how science centres become RRI oriented in their functioning? That require structural change – moving beyond box ticking gender approach for example (inside the science centres management and not only in exhibitions) or some people are committed but find it hard to convince colleagues. Science centres play an important role in equipping citizens to understand that they can play a role and become part of the process.

 

 

COST Energic Summer School on VGI and Citizen Science in Malta

Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations
Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations

COST Energic organised a second summer school that is dedicated to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and citizen science. This time, the school was run by the Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development of the University of Malta. with almost 40 participants from across Europe and beyond (Brazil, New Zealand), and, of course, participants from Malta. Most of the students are in early stage of their academic career (Masters and Ph.D. students and several postdoctoral fellows) but the school was also attended by practitioners – for example in urban planning or in cultural heritage. Their backgrounds included engineering, geography, environmental studies, sociology, architecture, biology and ecology, computer science. The areas from which the participants came from demonstrate the range of disciplines and practices that are now involved in crowdsourced data collection and use. Also interesting is the opening of governmental and non-governmental bodies to the potential of crowdsourcing as evident from the practitioners group.

The teachers on the programme, Maria Attard, Claire Ellul, Rob Lemmens, Vyron Antoniou, Nuno Charneca, Cristina Capineri (and myself) are all part of the COST Energic network. Each provide a different insight and interest in VGI in their work – from transport, to spatial data infrastructure or participatory mapping. The aim of the training school was to provide a ‘hands-on’ experience with VGI and citizen science data sources, assuming that some of the students might be new to the topics, the technologies or both. Understanding how to get the data and how to use it is an important issue that can be confusing to someone who is new to this field – where the data is, how do you consume it, which software you use for it etc.

Collecting information in the University of Malta
Collecting information in the University of Malta

After covering some of the principles of VGI, and examples from different areas of data collection, the students started to learn how to use various OpenStreetMap data collection tools. This set the scene to the second day, which was dedicated to going around the university campus and collecting data that is missing from OpenStreetMap, and carrying out both the data collection and then uploading the GPS Tracks and sharing the information. Of particular importance was the reflection part, as the students were asked to consider how other people, who are also new to OpenStreetMap will find the process.

Using meteorological sensors in Gozo
Using meteorological sensors in Gozo

The next level of data collection involved using sensors, with an introduction to the potential of DIY electronics such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a basis for sensing devices. A field trip to Gozo in the next day provided the opportunity to explore these tools and gain more experience in participatory sensing. Following a lecture on participatory GIS application in Gozo, groups of students explored a local park in the centre of Rabat (the capital of Gozo) and gained experience in participatory sensing and citizen science.

Learning together The training school also included a public lecture by Cristina Capineri on ‘the fortune of VGI’.

The students will continue to develop their understanding of VGI and citizen science, culminating with group presentations on the last day. The most important aspects of any training school, as always, is in the development of new connections and links between the people on the programme, and in the conversations you could notice how these areas of research are still full of questions and research challenges.

Citizen Science in the Research Evaluation Framework impact studies

In the UK, every 5 years or so, there is a complex and expensive process that evaluates the work of academics in research institutions across the country, and rate them in terms of quality (see the infographics). The last round of this process was called ‘Research Evaluation Framework’ or REF for short. You don’t need to look far to find complaints about it, the measures that are used, the methodology and so on. I think that a lot of this criticism is justified, but this post is not about the process of the REF, but about the outcomes.

The REF included a requirement from universities to demonstrate their wider societal impact – beyond teaching, publishing academic papers or sharing research results. The societal impact includes lots of aspects, and while academics and evaluators are fixated on economic outcomes, impacts also include policy, influencing health and wellbeing, and engaging the public in scientific research. The writing of impact case studies was a major task for the academics that were selected to write them (about 1 in 10) and universities invested money and effort in picking up the best examples that they could find. When looking at these examples, we need to remember that they were submitted in 2013, so they cover the work done by universities until then.

According to a study that looked at these impact descriptions, out of the 6,975 cases, 447 (6.5%) are classified as ‘public engagement’ of all forms (e.g. a lecture). Within these cases, the database of impact case studies provides about 731 that use the term ‘public engagement’, 260 that use the term ‘participatory’, about 60 which include ‘public participation’ and 33 that include the ‘citizen science’ with few more that did not but are about it. While this is a tiny group (0.5%), it is still interesting to see what projects are included.

It is not surprising to find that  ecological projects such as Conker Tree Science, invasive species & the ladybird surveyThe Black Squirrel Project, or observing ants and spidersgrassland fungi, stag beetles, birds, and amphibians  were included. As expected, the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) project is noted by the Universities of Central Lancashire, Birmingham, UCL, and the Open University (but surprisingly missing from the university that coordinated the effort – Imperial College). There are also apps such as the WildKnwledge recording app or the iSpot app. Related environmental projects include monitoring peatland erosion or community volcanology. Also Community Archaeology and involvement in archaeology excavations can be considered as outdoor activities.

Volunteer thinking in the form of Zooniverse appeared several times from the Universities of Oxford, Portsmouth, and Sussex , while volunteer computing in the form of ClimatePrediction.net  is noted by two departments of University of Oxford – physics and computing). There are other astronomy projects such as Aurora Watch, or Gravitational Waves.

Other examples include our participatory mapping activities while UCL Anthropology highlighted the indigenous mapping activities, while DIY biology and DNA testing are also mentioned, and even projects in the digital humanities – the Oxyrhynchus papyri  or The Reading Experience Database.

What can we make out of this? I’d like to suggest few points: The 30 or so projects that are described in the case studies offer a good overview of the areas where citizen science is active – ecology, volunteer thinking and volunteer computing. The traditional areas in which public participation in science never stopped – astronomy, archaeology, or nature observation are well represented. Also the major citizen science projects (OPAL, Zooniverse) also appear and as expected they are ‘claimed’ by more than one unit or university. More specialised citizen science such as participatory mapping, digital humanities or DIY biology is not missing, too.

On the downside, this is a very small number of cases, and some known projects are not listed (e.g. Imperial College not claiming OPAL). I guess that like many evaluation activities, the tendency of those evaluated is to be conservative and use terms that the evaluators will be familiar with. Maybe over the next five years citizen science will become more common, so we will see more of it in the next round.

Life on Mars – new blog on citizen science and interaction

mukih:

Jess Wardlaw, who have just completed her PhD at the Extreme Citizen Science group has started blogging about her new project which involves imagery of Mars, citizen science and studies of interaction. Her blog can be found at https://thegeographigal.wordpress.com/2015/05/26/life-on-mars/ and the post below.

Originally posted on The GeographiGal:

It’s now a week since my viva, which flouted all my expectations in every possible way. I could not have prepared myself for so many of the questions I was asked or being so lost for words. I will forever be grateful to my examiners for reading my thesis and their suggestions/corrections; as its writer I often felt like I was stirring a sauce that would never thicken. Now that it’s thickened I can have some fun over the summer with the flavouring as I work through the corrections they gave me. My arms might ache like crazy from all the stirring but I can finally say that I’m just a few seasonings short of being able to let other people eat it and move on to making the next course.

By this I mean my new project. So far I have really enjoyed immersing myself in fresh literature (recommendations will be forthcoming) and playing…

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