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 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:

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 . 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  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


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 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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Spatial Conversation – #VGIday #COSTEnergic

The COST Energic network (see ) is running a 2 day geolocated twitter chat, titled ‘Volunteered Geographic Information Day’ so the hashtag is #VGIDay. The conversation will take place on 14th and 15th May 2015, and we are universalists – join from anywhere in the world!
Joining is easy – and require 3 steps:

  1. Follow the @COST_Energic profile
  2. Enable your phone to disclose your position – this will allow to geocode your tweets.
  3. To participate to the discussion, use at least one of the dedicated hashtags in tweets: #COSTEnergic, #VGIday

What are we trying to do?

Discussions will be started by @COST_Energic. Through this twitter handle, we will share resources, results and ideas about the topic of VGI and geographic crowdsourcing. You can join the discussions, bring your ideas and links, and involve your contacts, and this will spread this event through the Twittersphere (and beyond?).
At the end of the experiment, we will produce a report of the generated discussion for our ENERGIC repository, and the dataset of tweets can be then used by researchers who want to visaulise, analyse and try to do things with it. It might end up as teaching material, or in IronSheep