19 February, 2015
The week that passed was full of citizen science – on Tuesday and Friday the citizen Science Association held its first Board meeting, and with the Citizen Science 2015 conference on Wednesday and Thursday, and to finish it all, on Friday afternoon a short meeting of a new project, Enhancing Informal Learning Through Citizen Science explored the directions that it will take.
After such an intensive week, it takes some time to digest and think through the lessons from the many conversations, presentations and insights that I’ve been exposed to. Here are my main ‘take away’ lessons. The conference itself ended by members of the Board of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) describing their ‘take away’ in short, tweeter messages. which was then followed by other people joining in such as:
In more details, my main observations are about the citizen science research and practice community, and the commitment to inclusive and ethical practice that came up in different sessions and conversations.
It might be my own enthusiasm to the subject, but as in previous meetings and conferences about citizen science, you can feel the buzz during the event, with participants sharing their knowledge with others and building new connections. While there are already familiar faces and the joy of meeting colleagues in the field of citizen science that you already know, there are also many new people who are either exploring the field of citizen science or are active in it, but new to the community of practice around citizen science. As far as I can tell, the conference was welcoming to new participants and the poster session on the first day and the breakfast on the second day provided opportunities to create new connections. It might be because people in this field are used to talk with strangers (e.g. participants in citizen science activities), but that is an aspect that the CSA need to keep in mind to ensure that it stays an open community and not closed one.
Secondly, citizen science is a young, emerging field. Many of the practitioners and researchers are in early stages of their careers, and within research institutions, the funding for the researchers is through research grants (known in academia as ‘soft money‘) as opposed to budgeted and centrally funded positions. Many practitioners are working within tight and limited government budgets. This have an implications on ensuring the funding limitations don’t stop people from publishing in the new journal ‘Citizen Science: Theory and Practice‘ or if they can’t attend the conference they can find information about it in blogs, see a repository of posters that were displayed in the conference or read curated social media outputs about it. More actively, as the CSA done for this meeting, funding should be provided to allow early career researchers to attend.
Third, there is clearly a global community of researchers and practitioners committed to citizen science. Yet, the support and network that they need must be local. The point above about budget limitations reinforce the need for local networks and need for meeting opportunities that are not to expensive to attend and participate in. For me, the value of face to face meetings and discussions is unquestionable (and I would hope that future conferences will be over 3 days to provide more time), and balancing travel, accommodation and budget constraints with the creation of a community of practice is something to grapple with over the coming years. Having a global community and a local one at the same time is one of the challenges of the Citizen Science Association.
Finally, the conference hosted plenty of conversations and discussions about the ethical and inclusive aspects of citizen science (hence my take away above). From discussions about what sort of citizenship is embedded in citizen science, to the need to think carefully on who is impacted through citizen science activities. A tension that came throughout these discussions is the value of expertise – especially scientific – within an activity where citizen scientists are treated respectfully and their knowledge and contributions appreciated. The tension is emphasised by the hierarchical nature of the academic world, with the ‘flatter’ or ‘self organising’ hierarchies that emerge in citizen science projects. I would guess that it is part of what Heidi Ballard calls ‘Questions that Won’t Go Away’ and will need to be negotiated in different projects. What is clear is that even in contributory projects, where the scientists setting the project question, the protocol, and asking participants to help in data collection of analysis, simple hierarchical thinking of the scientist as expert and the participants as ‘laity’ is going to be challenged.
If you want to see other reflections on Citizen Science 2015 conference, see the conference previews from Holly Menninger and Caren Cooper, and post conference reports from Monica Peters, which provides a newcomer view from a New Zealnad, while Kelsey McCutcheon provide an American one. Sarah West for an experienced citizen science researcher view. Tessa Scassa provides a view on Intellectual Property and citizen science, and the center for advancement of informal science education (CAISE) posted a summary of conference and Q&A with CSA. Finally, from the Schoodic Institute, who are the sponsors and hosts of the CSA.
12 February, 2015
San Jose is the location for the first citizen science association meeting, on the 11th and 12th February. The level of enthusiasm to citizen science by researchers and practitioners was palpable, even well before the conference – the conference organising team were coping with an overwhelming number of submissions and abstracts that they needed to fit into a two days programme. In the end, the conference run with 7 parallel sessions, and many posters in the reception session on the first day, as a way to allow as many participants to present their work. As can be imagined, what you read in the rest of this post is just 1/7 of what was going on!
Rick Bonney (who was elected as the treasurer of the association just the day before the conference) started with emphasising the reasons for having the Citizen Science Association (CSA): learning from others, developing synergies between projects and sharing information collaboratively, so we can start to solve wicked problems society is facing by finding the answers that we need, together. He noted that the CSA now got 3000 members, a new journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice and the conference have almost 650 participants.
Following Rick, Lila Higgins and Alison Young, the joint conference chairs, opened the conference, with Lila promoting the use of the hashtag #WhyICitSci on twitter, to provide a range of reasons why people work in citizen science. Few of those are:
Mine was :
The opening talk ‘A Place in the World – Science, Society, and Reframing the Questions We Ask‘ was given by Chris Filardi of the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History. Filardi, an evolutionary biologist by training, has been recognising the importance of wide participation in science in understanding our place in the world. He started his career by going to New Guinea to study birds in remote places. Though interaction with villagers in the highlands of New Guinea he learned that science dependent on a sense of purpose and understanding the set of relationship that people have with their natural environment. Over the years, he started realising that many of the datasets that he was using are coming from citizen science, and wouldn’t be there with out the effort of the volunteers. He admits that he is new to the field, but what he noticed the lively discussion around the definition. Once he read Alan Irwin’s citizen science he found the explanation that he liked, which is seeing citizen science as that point where analysis and intervention meet each others – and it was huge personal discovery. As scientists, there is an amazing wealth of knowledge that is born from local systems – social systems that deal with the local environment. But scientists are preaching from their own pedestal . If we engage people in the full life cycle of science, we can get a more meaningful relationship between science and society. There is so much as citizen science and society that were revelationary to him. Citizen Science helps in exposing obvious things. It helps to reframing the questions that we ask – as examples from working with indigenous people on their relationship with the forest, which also linked to the preservation of grizzly bears demonstrate. Citizen Science is a touchstone in linking science and other perspectives – when they are involved in the full life cycle of science, allow to notice pre-existing values and practices that can get to the right results when it’s the community that helps to lead to the wished-for results. Conservation and evidence can help in providing community evidence that will allow them to improve the protection of their environment. By working in participatory way, we can get better results. Citizen Science also reveals risks worth taking – scientists are scared of bringing people who are not trained scientists into scientific projects and should learn to do so. Engaging wider audience in data collection can lead to risks – for example respecting areas that are taboo for local people, which sometimes are protected through such mechanisms, and not insisting on exploring them. Need to consider the costs of insisting on science – carrying out a survey in an area that the community decided not to go to because of their beliefs. Science in the name of evidence can harm relationships – we need to know when science need to step back. Citizen Science can link talk, action and symbol – so the social discourse, the actions and beliefs and help in dealing with some of the challenges that we have as a society. Sometimes there are risks for the scientists itself – stating that there was a compromise the scientific process because of local beliefs can be problematic amongst scientists. The discussion that followed the talk also led to mentioning participatory action research and participatory science as names for the topic.
The second session that I attended was 1D Re-Imagining Citizen Science for Knowledge Justice — A Dialogue with Tom Wakeford, Alan Irwin, Erinma Ochu, Michel Pimbert, and Cindy Regalado. The session was organised as a dialogue in groups of 8, with several groups in the room and linking. The dialogue run as a facilitated discussion of the Questions That Won’t Go Away (QTWGA) in participatory action research which Heidi Ballard recently identified – and how to either solve them or learn to live with them. The groups explored the tensions and challenges in the practice of citizen science, and how these have been resolved, or lived with. This was follow by imagining what the vision for citizen science should look like. The group that I found myself impromptu facilitating identified data handling which includes understanding quality, sharing of information, ownership of data and ethics as a major issue in citizen science that won’t go away. Other groups challenged the term ‘citizen’ both from scientists and participants perspectives . The need to understand the ‘citizen’ side demands respect to people financial resources and thinking about compensations – are we treating participants properly and going beyond free labour. Another issue is how expertise are defined – different types of expertise from scientists and participants, and how they can be negotiated. For example, when research is done with communities, it is important not to further stigmatise communities and also to feel obliged to provide information back.
A second round explored the vision for the future citizen science. In my group concepts of place-based citizen science or in the medical field, a disease-based citizen science were proposed – a lot of attention on community focused and based research with issues that are set by the community. There was also wish for truly collaborative citizen science with decision makers, industry and scientists. An idea that was raised is to educate natural scientists to do citizen science as part of their training and also seamless collaborations with the data being properly used and citizen science that is funded for long terms.
The next session that I attended was 2G Talks: Tackling Grand Challenges and Everyday Problems with Citizen Science. The first talk was by Gianfranco Gliozzo from ExCiteS , titled Using Citizen Science to evaluate the cultural value of biodiversity (co-authored with Elizabeth Boakes, David Roy, myself, and Chloe Smith). Gianfranco described a project that is funded by UCL grand Challenges of Sustainable Cities programme. The study looked at cultural ecosystem services – the inspiration from nature that people receive and influence their wellbeing. The approach is especially focused on learning from citizen science data about the cultural services from the environment. The project is specifically looking at data in greater London, which have almost 50% of the total area as vegetated space. The data is from iSpot, iRecord and GiGL. So far, they found that there is emphasis on birds and flowering plants in terms of taxa. The study also looked at spatial patterns and starting to identify the heterogeneity in data collection with some hot spots of more activity. The conclusion so far is that there is a lot of value in integrating citizen science data and understanding the patterns but this is challenging, and also to appreciate the diversity of data sources and their contribution to the total information.
Karen James discussed Combining Citizen Science and DNA-Assisted Species Identification to Enable “A New Kind of Ecology”. Karen opened by explaining that there is a challenge to identify the taxonomic classification of a species during citizen science activities. There are tools such as leafsnap (to recognise patterns of leaves) or wildlife acoustics tools that help in the process, but identification and classification remain very challenging. She specifically focused on DNA barcoding which allow to extend expertise – the barcode of life is a website that is dedicated to this. DNA identification provide further validation. There is an effort to create a library of DNA sequences of species. She demonstrated the potential of identification by using DNA of invasive species. She also see potential in engaging DIY bio enthusiasts in doing this work.
John Tweddle talk Beyond Transcription: Realising the Research Potential of Museum Specimens Through Citizen Science (co-authored with Mark Spencer, Lucy Robinson) discussed work at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in London. NHM have extensive engagement in citizen science, from molecular biology to field work. John focused on unlocking the collection of the museum – they have 3 billion specimens and metadata for it. It’s a treasure trove of information – and most of it is locked away. There is an easy way to take pictures of specimens, but the metadata is hand written, so there is an interest in crowdsourcing of preparing the data for further analysis. However, there is so much more that volunteers can do, beyond the transcriptions. John suggested to move forward – to engage participants in measurements, and further information from the digitized specimens. There is also a potential to add place-based knowledge to enhance the information in the collection, and then design new projects and enhanced them. He used an example from the Robert Pocock Herbarium project started by amateur historians, but once they came to the museum, they got engaged in classification, so ended with a community led project for backtracking where the specimens were collected, and add contextual information.
Alison Young talk Acting Locally and Thinking Globally: Building Regional Community around Citizen Science to Broaden Impacts and to Create a Scalable Model (with Rebecca Johnson) covered the work of the California Academy of Science (CAS) is focus on biodiversity and is focused on research, with 45 million specimens. CAS considered how they can engage citizen scientists in the same way that they work with researchers – they aim that their citizen science will be used for both research and for managing biodiversity. They started with Mount Tamalpais, with an aim of creating a benchmark and record the biodiversity in many ways, including adding specimens to the herbarium. They are defining their community as the citizen scientists, those that might want to use the data (scientists and government), practitioners and organisations and groups that are doing related work. They are relying on iNaturalist as part of their engagement plan and consider also grass-root bioblitz that people can do it more easily then full ones. The ability of people to come and document species with iNaturalist in something close by is valuable, and people engage in a short exercise of just few hours. Nerds for nature are helping in establishing rapid bioblitzes.
As part of session 3A Speed Talks – Across Conference Themes, Simon Lambert (Lincoln University) covered Indigenous Peoples as Citizen Scientists. Simon is from New Zealand and talked about Mauri in joint projects. He noted that there is lack of first nation people in many conferences and meetings. He talks about the people from which he came, he worked with Mauri for some years. There is a history of science in which people where treated as specimens and working with them requires to recognise this history and view of science. There are issues at the global level that recognised indigenous people in international agreements such as CBD, TRIPs and UNDRIP so asserting themselves is challenging for indigenous group and sovereignty – saying no to any science project. Good science comes from great politics – inclusive, ethical, acknowledging First Citizens as First Scientists – pushing into the social sciences to affect change.
In session 3G Tackling Grand Challenges and Everyday Problems with Citizen Science Christian Adams covered Google Tools in From the Ground to the Cloud: Groundtruthing Environmental Change (co-authored with Tanya Birch, and Yaw Anokwa). Christian focused on the technology. Data collection in the field – paper got both upsides and downsides. Technology provides a lot of the issues with paper – Open Data Kit or ODK provides the ability to collect data in the field. It is an open source project. ODK got forms, then collecting and then managing and analysing it with Google Map Engine and Google Earth Engine. ODK got a tool to build forms and it also got a sensors framework. ODK aggregate allow to share data in a spreadsheet or in fusion tables which then can be visualised on maps.
The final talk in the session was Public Lab: Open and cooperative structures for community-based environmental health monitoring by Shannon Dosemagen. Shannon covered the work of the Public Laboratory of Open Technology and Science, she looked at the process that Public Lab established to work with community. Shannon described the new tools that were emerging at the time of the BP oil spill in 2010. The analysis of barriers for community based environment science and health – the tools that are used are expensive, they are aimed at expert users to be able to interpret the results. Public Lab try to engage people in the full data life cycle and provide everything that is needed from development of the tools to the use of the results. At the heart of the activities are the social activities. The combination is low-cost hardware + collaborative web software + visual data that can help people to understand them + public archive so everything is accessible + you. They created open space that allow people to share experience. She demonstrated the web tools – first, a collaborative writing efforts and individual research notes that are tagged to bigger bits of information. They encourage people and recognise the contributions that people made. They maintain many emails lists that are localised and place based. They got 65 organisers that integrated the tools of public lab in their area. There is also places – to highlight the local connections. They treat participants as researchers, they also build openness into the process – so the physical link between the balloon and the operator is allowing for social interactions. The barn raising is also valuable event in the public lab calendar and it is about people coming together. Another ways to add value is mainstreaming true accessibility by linking imagery to Google Earth to make it accessible. The also protect openness with viral licensing so share alike licences are central. They also allow local version of hardware and tools. Third of the organisers are associated with higher education institutions. calibration is another issue that public lab are working with research institutions to test the tools.
The final Symposium of the day was 4A DIY Aerial Photography: Civic Science and Small Data for Public Participation and Action, chaired by Shannon Dosemagen, with cases bringing stories of engagement and change ranging from the Los Angeles River (Lila Higgins) and Gulf of Mexico (Scott Eustis), to Uganda (Maria del C Lamadrid) and Palestine-Israel (Hagit Keysar)
The symposium or panel covered the technical aspects of DIY aerial photography. Public lab aim to create DIY, low cost (below <$150) tools that can be used by different communities. The basic components are also provided as set of tools that can be build easily, and tutorial, guides, hand drawn instruction. People can take any design and change it, but ask to share it back and continue to develop it. People use aerial mapping across the world – MapMill is an image sorting site, which is based on good/not image and MapKnitter that allows the integration of images into it. There is attribution to the people who collected, classified and stitched the map. Finally, they use print publications to share the data with other people.
Scott Eustis described his work which is aimed at understanding where people want to manage their wetlands – it allow a way to link the people who know the land deeply. The effort is about 3h field trip and 2h to turn it into useful map. Going out after rain events to record the location of water helps to communicate the authorities about which places are flooded and causing problem. He highlighted the ability to ‘eye ball’ statistics but most of the cases only little information is needed apart from the image. With near infra-red there is also ability to see information about growth of plant and their health.
Lila Higgins describe her additional interest in the Los Angeles river – a lot of people don’t know that there is a river there. The balloon mapping was aimed to increase recognition. The river became invisible – in the early 1900 during storm event it was causing collapse of houses with major property loss. To deal with that, they crease a concrete channel in 1938 – the river was concritsie in the 1960s. Most people see the concrete view, but there are people who saw different option for the river. Activists navigate the river with kayaks through the 51 miles and then EPA declared it as under the clean water act. The aim is to make it shared space. They started to use Google Earth to pick a section of the river to carry out a blue balloon over the river, and started to use the mapping to build a community. They are documenting events that are promoting the use of the river.
Maria del Carmen Lamadrid, looked at eviction stalling mapping in Uganda. The balloon mapping was aimed to assist people who faced a threat of eviction in Feb 2013. Some people where using the area for over 20 years. The market was mapping in November 2012, when the police came to evict the residents, the evidence was used to prove that the place is used in a valuable way. The project asked question about self-representation and how people use tools that can allow the people in the area to control the data collection. Aerial mapping was combined with stills from the ground to tell stories about the area. Land issues are complex in Uganda with tension between different tenure structures, because some official data and tools such as google maps didn’t show the level of use of the market, the balloon mapping provide their rights. In the end, the place was evicted, and they created a map that show the eviction. Although the project was successful, it helped in terms of empowerment and gaining control over the process. They were treated as equal during the process.
Hagit Keysar looked at two use cases in east Jerusalem as an activists and researcher, looking at recording and document human right abuses, so accountability by the communities itself. Of the 60% of Jerusalem population live in east Jerusalem, and of them, 40% are Jewish and 60% Palestinians. There are regular surveillance balloons by the authorities in the area on a regular basis – what’s the role of DIY aerial photography in this context? The Silwan village outside the old city is contested, and a map was created with information activists in the neighbourhood – they wanted to free themselves from dependency on human right organisations or the UN which don’t provide suitable information. By annotating the information by personal stories. The details of the imagery – allowing to have satellites above their own neighbourhood – providing information that Palestinian cannot access due to local restrictions. The second case is in Beit Safafa and the impact of a 6 lane motorway that cut through the neighbourhood, a discriminatory urban planning practice. The community activists use the aerial photograph to explain the issues when he presented the information in different places. The photograph is not a map – it’s a testimony, something real that make a difference. The maps that were provided were not making the damage to the community legible, so it provides a testimony to the damage – for the person who look at the image, they can understand what the abuses are.
The discussion that followed the presentations also highlighted the integration of objective information from the image, and combining that with narrative and stories of the community. It is also important to explore the journey to empowerment – a joint journey to understand how the technology works by participants and the people who are bringing the technology to it. The use of this toolkit make people interested and shared imagination between the person who promotes it and those who are involved. Flying above your local environment is powerful. There is also potential of documenting important temporal moment (e.g. many birds, or flooding)
The final session of the day included the poster session, and provided me a unique opportunity to finally meet Louis Liebenberg and to hear about CyberTracker from the person who led it since 1996.
You can also see another description of the first day at http://microbe.net/2015/02/11/day-1-report-from-citizen-science-2015-conference/
7 February, 2015
The Open University, with support from Nominet Trust and UTC Sheffield have launched the nQuire-it.org website, which seem to have a great potential for running citizen science activities. The nQuire platform allows participants to create science inquiry ‘missions’. It is accompanied by an Android app called Sense-it that exposed all the sensors that are integrated in a smartphone and let you see what they are doing and the values that they are showing.
The process of setting up a project on the nQuire-it site is fairly quick and you can figure it out in few clicks. Then, joining the project that you’ve created on the phone is also fairly simple, and the integration with Google, Facebook and Twitter accounts mean that linking the profiles is quick. Then you can get few friends to start using it, and the Sense-it app let you collect the data and then share it with other participants in the project on the nQuire website. Then participants can comment on the data, ask questions about how it was produced and up or down vote it. All these make nQuire a very suitable place for experimentation with sensors in smartphones and prototyping citizen science activities. It also provides an option for recording geographic location, and it good to see that it’s disabled by default, so the project designer need to actively switch it on.
16 January, 2015
Thanks to invitations from UNIGIS and Edinburgh Earth Observatory / AGI Scotland, I had an opportunity to reflect on how Geographic Information Science (GIScience) can contribute to citizen science, and what citizen science can contribute to GIScience.
Despite the fact that it’s 8 years since the term Volunteers Geographic Information (VGI) was coined, I didn’t assume that all the audience is aware of how it came about or the range of sources of VGI. I also didn’t assume knowledge of citizen science, which is far less familiar term for a GIScience audience. Therefore, before going into a discussion about the relationship between the two areas, I opened with a short introduction to both, starting with VGI, and then moving to citizen science. After introduction to the two areas, I’m suggesting the relationships between them – there are types of citizen science that are overlapping VGI – biological recording and environmental observations, as well as community (or civic) science, while other types, such as volunteer thinking includes many projects that are non-geographical (think EyeWire or Galaxy Zoo).
However, I don’t just list a catalogue of VGI and citizen science activities. Personally, I found trends a useful way to make sense of what happen. I’ve learned that from the writing of Thomas Friedman, who used it in several of his books to help the reader understand where the changes that he covers came from. Trends are, of course, speculative, as it is very difficult to demonstrate causality or to be certain about the contribution of each trends to the end result. With these caveats in mind, there are several technological and societal trends that I used in the talk to explain how VGI (and the VGI element of citizen science) came from.
Of all these trends, I keep coming back to one technical and one societal that I see as critical. The removal of selective availability of GPS in May 2000 is my top technical change, as the cascading effect from it led to the deluge of good enough location data which is behind VGI and citizen science. On the societal side, it is the Flynn effect as a signifier of the educational shift in the past 50 years that explains how the ability to participate in scientific projects have increased.
In terms of the reciprocal contributions between the fields, I suggest the following:
GIScience can support citizen science by considering data quality assurance methods that are emerging in VGI, there are also plenty of Spatial Analysis methods that take into account heterogeneity and therefore useful for citizen science data. The areas of geovisualisation and human-computer interaction studies in GIS can assist in developing more effective and useful applications for citizen scientists and people who use their data. There is also plenty to do in considering semantics, ontologies, interoperability and standards. Finally, since critical GIScientists have been looking for a long time into the societal aspects of geographical technologies such as privacy, trust, inclusiveness, and empowerment, they have plenty to contribute to citizen science activities in how to do them in more participatory ways.
On the other hand, citizen science can contribute to GIScience, and especially VGI research, in several ways. First, citizen science can demonstrate longevity of VGI data sources with some projects going back hundreds of years. It provides challenging datasets in terms of their complexity, ontology, heterogeneity and size. It can bring questions about Scale and how to deal with large, medium and local activities, while merging them to a coherent dataset. It also provide opportunities for GIScientists to contribute to critical societal issues such as climate change adaptation or biodiversity loss. It provides some of the most interesting usability challenges such as tools for non-literate users, and finally, plenty of opportunities for interdisciplinary collaborations.
The slides from the talk are available below.
5 January, 2015
The academic literature on Citizen Science is expanding quickly, with hundreds of papers that are published in peer review publications every years about it. These papers are written by professional scientists and practitioners, mostly for an audience of other professional scientists and practitioners. A very common concern of researchers is to understand the motivations and incentives that get citizen scientists involved in projects. Unsurprisingly, there is plenty of research evaluating these aspects through questionnaires and interviews, but there is relatively little on how citizen science is experienced from the point of view of the participants (although it does come out in the research notes of Public Lab or Clare Griffiths’ account of community air quality study).
So what is it like to be a citizen scientist?
Luckily, Sharman Apt Russell has decided to find out, and because she is a talented author with plenty of experience in creative writing of non-fiction books about science and nature, she is well placed to provide an engaging account of the experience. Covering a period of about year and a half, her book ‘diary of citizen scientist: chasing tiger beetles and other new ways of engaging the world‘ is interesting, insightful and enjoyable read.
Sharman didn’t took the easy route to citizen science, but decided to jump in and find out an unknown detail about the life of Tiger Beetles by studying them in the Gila river, near her home. The tasks that she took upon herself (and her family) include chasing beetles and capturing them, grow them in terrariums at home, dismember some and analyse them under microscope and so on. This quest is sparked by a statement from Dick Vane-Wright, then the Keeper of Entomology at the Natural History Museum that ‘You could spend a week studying some obscure insect and you would know more than anyone else on the planet. Our ignorance is profound‘ (p. 15). This, of course, is not only true about insects, or animals, but also to the night sky, or our understanding of urban air pollution. I think that this can be a crucial statement for the potential of discovery in citizen science in general.
While the story about understanding the lives of the tiger beetles provide the core of the book, Sharman explores many other aspects of citizen science, from online activities, to observing the changes in nature over the seasons (phenology), and noticing the footprints in the sand. Her love of nature in her area is coming through in the descriptions of her scientific observations and also when she describes a coming storm or other aspects of her local environment.
Throughout the book, you can come across issues that citizen scientists experience – from difficulties in following instructions that seem obvious to scientists, to figuring out what the jargon mean, to the critical importance of supportive mentoring by professional scientists. All this make the book a very interesting source to understand the experience. If you want to read her short summary of Sharman’s experience, see her writing in Entomology Today.
One disclosure, though: Sharman has contacted me while working on the book, and she note the interview in her book so I was intrigued to read her description of Extreme Citizen Science, which is excellent.
The last day of the BES/Sfé meeting was in the mood of celebration, so a session dedicated to celebrating citizen science was in place. My notes from first day and the second day are in previous posts. These notes are long…
Before the session, in a symposium on tree health, Michael Pocock (CEH) presented ‘Monitoring to assess the impacts of tree diseases: integrating citizen science with professional monitoring‘. Ash die-back is important, and in the rest of Europe, (e.g. Denmark, Lithuania or Poland) there are losses of 60-90% but there was very little work done on monitoring the biodiversity impact of the disease in general. There is a clear lack of knowledge on the impacts on biodiversity in general – how suitable are existing surveys, how they can enhance? In a work that he done with Shelley Hinsley they reviewed 79 relevant studies, from volunteers to national professional survey and local studies. They tried to answer questions such as: What kind of things can be impacted? they identified all sort of impacts - trophic networks, structural, cascading, and ecosystem functions. They looked at different receptors in different contexts – from animals and plants on the receptors, to where they are located as context – woodland, or hedgerow. They found that woods are fairly well monitored, but how much professionals will continue to monitor it with budget cuts is an issue. Ecosystem function is very poorly monitored. The recommendations of the report are that current ongoing activities are suitable and maybe should be modified a bit to make them better (e.g. asking another question in a survey) – they didn’t recommend brand new surveys. The report is available here . If we want future proof monitoring that deal with the range of tree disease and other issues – we need a better ‘spine’ of monitoring work (in the report on page 5), but improve the integration of information and synthesis between survey. Co-location of monitoring site can be great, but actually, there are specific reasons for the locations of places in each scheme so it’s not easy to do so. In addition, volunteers based monitoring require investment in maintenance. He completed his talk with more general citizen science issue that we can learn from this work – the national plant monitoring scheme is to be launched in 2015, and there are some specific focused on lichens and other issues that require specialist knowledge in survey programmes like Splash. Mass participation is useful in some cases, but there is an issue how much recording effort is quantified – there is a big differentiation in ability to monitor species across the country and the ability of participants to record information. The retention of volunteers in mass projects is an issue – only 10% continue after a year. In enthusiasts recruitment you get higher numbers 20% that continue to be involved. The most exciting opportunity that he see is in hypothesis-led citizen science, like the Concker Tree Science project.
The ‘Celebrating Citizen Science’ session was at the final group of sessions of the conference, but was very well attended. Chaired by Michael Pocock, who, together with Helen Roy, runs the BES Citizen Science SIG.
Romain Julliard (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle) provided an overview of citizen science activities in France in his talk ‘Biodiversity monitoring through citizen science: a case study from France’. The starting statement was that unskilled amateurs from the general public can provide good information. The museum have a role in monitoring biodiversity at the national – common species are good indicators, the appropriate for studying global changes and the general public is interested in ‘ordinary Nature’ – the things that we see every day. Scientists alone cannot monitor biodiversity over a big space such as a country, so citizens can help to collect data on a country scale and they are already spread across the country. The trade-offs of using citizens as observers include skills vs. numbers of participants – there are only few experts and enthusiasts. Another issue is sampling design: are you aiming for representativeness of where people are or do you send observers to specific locations to do the survey. There is a need for a simple protocol for volunteers. Much simpler than procedures in a research station professionals. They started with French Bird Breeding Survey in coordination with NGOs like LPO and others – with over 2000 squared that are being observed since 1989 and over 1000 provide long-term monitoring. Now they have skilled amateur schemes – monitoring bats, butterflies and much more. They started their programmes in 2005 with butterfly programme, pollinating insect survey from photographs (Spipoll) in 2010 and garden bird watch in 2012 among others – new programmes especially in the past 5 years . Spipoll provides a good example of the work that they are doing. Pollinators are useful to raise awareness and explain multi-factor pressures on the environment. The are many sampling sites and thousands of flowers dwelling insects in France. They Spipoll protocol starts with 20 minutes ‘safari-photo’ which mean that you select a flower and take photos of each visiting insects. Second step is to select the best single photo for each insect that was sampled. Third step to name each insect from 630 possibilities – and they create an online tool that helps the identification. Final step – share the collection with other people. Once photos are shared, there are plenty of comments from other participants. The participants are encouraged to help each other observations and there is also expert participation in identification. By now, they have over 600 regular participants, 18,000 collections, and 155,000 photos. Many of the participants are not experts in biological recording but have interest in photography. in terms of data quality they looked for precision, repeatability (how close the process was to the protocol). The social control help in improving quality, and the representativeness can be done in explicit sampling design but also in post-study statistical analysis. Beginners tend not to follow the protocol, but other people are helping them and within 3-4 iterations, people are learning the protocol and follow it.
Helen Roy (CEH) talk (with Harding, Preston, Pocock and Roy) ‘Celebrating 50 years of the Biological Records Centre‘. She gave some key achievements that also appear in a booklet on the 50 years of BRC. The BRC was established in the 1960s to support volunteer recording in the UK – they have now a team of 14 permanent staff. 85 different recording schemes from flee to bees, ladybirds and many other groups. Recording schemes are running by volunteers coordinators – so support is provided by printing newsletters, publishing atlases, etc. They cover a lot of taxa – plants and animals. Over the decades, they have long-term datasets which lead to distribution atlases. Over 80m records. UK biodiversity indicators for the UK government are collected by volunteers and used in decision-making – they are now growing from 24 indicators to include pollinators and other elements. Another area of importance is biological invasions as it cost the UK over 12 billion EUR a year – and not only to look at existing species but also to look forward about the threats – and because volunteers are so knowledgeable, they contributed to horizon scanning work. Work on surveillance and monitoring extend to the general public with publicity – this way they for example got information that Raccoons are being seen in the UK. Another important aspect of BRC data is the ability to use it to understand the decline of native species – for example understanding changes in native ladybird species. Finally, the information is very important in climate change scenarios and use the information about habitats can help in interpreting data and predict future directions.
In the work of the BRC, technology is becoming an important driver – they share it through the NBN gateway, and also apps and websites such as iSpot, iRecord and other bits are helping in developing new sources of information. In summary, to deal with environmental challenges that we’re currently facing cannot be done without this information and interpretation by volunteers. She finished with a big thank you to the many volunteers recorders.
In ‘How to use data generated by general public of a citizen science program for conservation purpose’ Nathalie Machon (Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle) explored another successful French study. They see importance in preserving biodiversity in cities – regulate city climate, dealing with air pollution, contributing to public health etc. In cities, most of the biodiversity is in parks and gardens but the urban matrix is permeable to many animal species such as pollinators. The potential of connection between green spaces is important to create a network in the city. How the structure and management of cities influence biodiversity? was a research question that the programme ‘sauvages de ma rue‘ was set to explore. Since 2011 participants share information about wild-flowers in their own streets. When the programme started, they wanted people to learn to recognise species near them and collect information about the distribution of plants in their area . The protocol is fairly simple – identify street, collect data about plants in different habitats (cracks, walls) and send the information. They created a guide to help people identify species and also created a smartphone app. Usually people start by providing data about their street, but the programme grew and now they have groups and organisations that deal with naturalist activity and they send a lot of data from many streets in the same place. The organisations can be about sustainability, schools university or nature enthusiasts. They receives 40,660 data points by 2014 which provided the basis for her analysis.
After correction, they had reliable 20,000 data points in 38 cities and 2500 pavements – they check the richness of pavements and the obvious factor is the length (of course) but in about 100m there is a levelling in terms of species. They found that the structure of the street is important – if it is only in cracks, there are less species. The richness is not correlated to population density, but in large urban area (Paris) there is a significant decline toward the centre. They also look at pollination – and found that the number of pollinators is correlated to the human density of the city but not correlated to the distance to the centre of the city, apart from the case in Paris. They also seen increase with habitat types in a pavement. In terms of cities, they discovered that Nantes, Brest and Angers are doing well. However, they are aware that there is an observer effect on the results. Observers were shown to be good as botanists. In summary, they’ve learned that insect pollinated species are easy to recognise and it’s possible to carry out such studies effectively with lightly trained volunteers.
Anne-Caroline Prévot (CESCO – Muséum nationa l’Histoire Naturelle) reviewed her research on ‘Short and long-term individual consequences of participation to citizen-science projects’ in an approach that combines environmental psychology and ecology. There is growing concern on separation between people and nature: extinction of experience (Pyle 2003, Miller 2005) or environmental generational amnesia (Kahn 2002). There is a need engagement of majority of citizens to change their approach. In the psychology field , there is Stern influential piece from 2000 on environmentally significant behaviour, linking individual to different aspects of pro-environmental behaviour. Identifying social and personal factors . On the other hand, in citizen science programme there are multiple goals – contribute to ecological science ; educate people to acquire knowledge on biodiversity; etc. There is also potential of reconnection to nature – so the question that she addressed “Did citizen science changed biodiversity representation and knowledge? environmental values? pratcial knowledge? skills?” (all these are based on Stern framework). She looked at the butterfly collection programme and interview 30 regular volunteers who participate every year – They found that they were confident in science, and they discovered new aspects of biodiversity through participation and change their gardening practices. This can change representation but they were environmentally concern to start with. There was no issue of group identity with this group of volunteers. The second study looked at a programme at school (vigienature école) with 400 pupils from 29 classes in 11-13 age group. They use a questionnaire to understand environmental value and other activities outside schools. In addition, they asked the children to draw an urban garden. Each drawing was analysed for natural elements, built elements and humans. Participation in nature monitoring showed higher presence of nature in drawing but no difference in environmental values. They think that it probably changed representation, but not values, there was no assessment of skills and there was some aspect of group social identity. In summary citizen science initative may change knwoeldge and attitdue of volunteers but this require attention and more evaluation.
Rachel Pateman (SEI) presented the an MSc project carried out by Sian Lomax under the supervision of Sarah West (SEI) on ‘A critical assessment of a citizen science project‘. It’s an assessment of the science and impact of participants from the OPAL Soil and Earthworm Survey. Aims of citizen science are to answer scientific questions, but also to provide benefit to participants – learning, fun, change behaviours, or information for lobbying on behalf of nature. The challenges are how to find inclusive methods and have good quality data. The participants aim are not simple – there is not simple link between participation and pro-environmental behaviour. The way to deal with that is to evaluate and reflect critically during the development of a citizen science project, and inform the design process (this remind me a lot of Amy Fowler’s thesis, also about OPAL). The OPAL programme is aimed to be educational, change of lifestyle and inspire new generation of environmentalists and greater understanding of the environment. Sian evaluate the soil and earthworm survey which are usually run with an instructor (community scientist) but also can be done by ordering a self obtained pack. The methods – dig a pit, identify worms, and identify properties of the soil and then submit the inforamtion. The aim is that participants wil learn about soil properties and get interested in environmental issues. Sian recruited 87 participants from ages 5 to 60 and also evaluated the observations of participants in the lab, as well as running a questionnaire with participants. She found fairly poor results (around 40% accurate) in comparison to her own analysis. The results are that 39% identified correctly, 44% functional group, 46% identified as immature – the reliability of the data that adult observers done is better. Results – ID to species level is challenging, especially without help (she didn’t trained the participants) and therefore there is a need of an OPAL community scientist to be an instructor. There was not enough testing of the material at the beginning of the survey and it haven’t been improved since 2009. There is a need to verify records – but should be emphasised further and included in apps. However, despite these limitation, the OPAL survey did yield useful information and they managed to use the data to find abundance of information. Only in 29% of the cases she agreed with participants about the classification of soil granularity. When evaluating the pH of the soil – 63% was within the correct category of acid/alkaline but not correct on the value – the issue might be with the instrument that was provided to participants and yields wrong reading.
In terms of knowledge and experience – the questionnaire was done before, immediately after the survey and then 3 months later. Knowledge increased immediately after but drop-off after – so conclusion is that need to reinforce it after the event. In terms of interest in nature they didn’t find difference – but that because there was high level of interest to start with.
Jodey Peyton (CEH/BRC) ‘Open Farm Sunday Pollinator Survey: Citizen science as a tool for pollinator monitoring?‘. The decline in pollinators in the UK is a cause of concern. Their estimated value is £510 m a year. The Big Bumbelebee discovery is an example for a project that focus on pollinators. However, we’re lacking abundance data about them. The Open Farm Sunday is a project to open farms to the public (run by LEAF) and about 4 years ago they contacted CEH to do some work with visitors collect information on pollinators
They ask participants to observe a 2×2 m of crop and non-crop area. They have an ecologists on site so they do the same as the participants – carry 2 min observations in both habitats. The event included teaching people the process and giving them information. The forms use to be 4 pages but turned out to be too complex so simplified a form with just 2 pages. They also reduce time from 5 min to 2 min. They run surveys in 2012 to 2014 with different number of farms – and looked at different factors during the day. They found that public was over-recording (compare to ecologists), not by much – they also got data from other parts of the plant so not only on the flowers because they wanted to report something. Conclusions – on the broad level public data was similar to ecologists. Lots of interest and enthusiasm and understand what they’re seeing. It is great opportunity to highlight the issue of pollinator. Want to run it every second year because of the effort of the ecologists on the day. They also want to deal with challenge of ‘recording zero. Want to see more collaboration with universities and schools.
Charlotte Hall (EarhtWatch Institute) provided an overview of FreshWater Watch: lessons from a global mass Citizen Science programme. The programme focused on fresh water quality. A global programme that look at water quality in urban areas – each location they partner with local research institute, and Earthwatch bring the citizen scientists with the local researchers. The data that is collected is managed by EarthWatch on a specially designed website to allow sharing knowledge and communictation. The evolving motivation of participants, they looked at Rotman et al 2012 model. Initial involvment stemming from interest or existing knowledge, although in the case of EarthWatch they are getting employees of Shell or HSBC who sponsor them, they also work with teachers in Teach Earth and also expanding to work with local groups such as Thames 21 or Wandle Trust. They have over 20 research partners. With such a mix of researchers, participants and organisations, there are different motivations from different directions. They start with training in person and online Research and learning- EarthWatch is interested in behaviour change, so they see learning as a very important issue and include quizzes to check the knowledge of participants. They pay special attention to communication between EarthWatch and the scientists and between EarthWatch and the citizen scientists. There is a community feature on the website for citizen scientists and also for the scientists. There is also an app with automated feedback that tell them about the outcomes of the research they are doing. They have an element of gamification -points on communication, science and skills that participants gained and they can get to different levels. They try to encourage people to move to the next step so to continue their involvement through learning in webinars, refresher session, research updates, points and prizes and even facility for the participants to analyse the data themselves. Involvement in FreshWater watch is exhibiting participation inequality. They would like to make it shallower but it is very strongly skewed. In Latin America there is better participation, and also differences in participation according to the researcher who lead the activity. This is new citizen science approach for EarthWatch, with different audience, so it’s important to re-evaluate and understand participants. EarthWatch is still learning from that and understanding motivation.
Emma Rothero (Open University) Flight of the Fritillary: a long-running citizen science project linking Snakeshead fritillaries flowers and bumblebees. The work started in 1999, this is a rare plant that is growing only in few places in the UK. The Bees are critical to the flower, and they set a 15% secondary count to evaluate the success of volunteers. They also started winter workshops for discussions. To engage volunteers, they’ve done wide advertising and also used naturalist networks. She described a comparison between three sites where monitoring was carried out this year . In Lugg Meadow the monitoring is done during guided walks and family outreach events. In North Meadow, many people come to see – so they have a gate presence and offered free lunch for volunteers. In Clattinger Farm they haven’t done any specific activity. In 2008 – 20011 only 20 volunteers, now they’ve got 90 volunteers, and about 30-40 who come to winter workshops. Level of volunteering – once 120 , 40 participated twice and 20 three times – there is some enthusiastic people who do it regularly. The volunteers survey show that 88% heard about the monitoring project by word of mouth (despite the advertising and media access), and 87.5% are already recorders – but 88% thought that they had improved their skills. and 65% said that they improve their skills. 54% would like to get involved in other aspects of the project, and 100% enjoyed the activity. In terms of comparison with recounts – they do 4000 1sq m quads using very accurate (1 cm) GPS. They see that there wasn’t difference between recounts in some sites but significantly difference in another site (because of difficulties in frame orientation so implementation of the protocol) – recognising problem in their method. There is also scientific discovery, where they found a case that plants didn’t appear one year but bounced back the next year.
There was no time for much discussion, but a question that was raised and discussed shortly is that most of the projects are ‘top-down’ and led by the scientists, so what is the scope for co-created projects in the area of ecological observations and monitoring?