Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science – event summary

Image of UCL and the speakers in the event

On the 19th March, as part of UCL activities to the that accompany the UCL Exhibition “Disruptors and Innovators: Journeys in gender equality at UCL”, we hosted a panel of talks on how to open up science and engineering to new audiences, especially the representation of women in science. The event was called “Representation of the people in science: Women in civic and citizen science“. The event was sponsored by the Doing It Together Science project.

The event was chaired by Dr Charlene Jennett, a researcher at UCL Interaction Centre. Charlene opened the evening with a short introductory talk on citizen science and her research into this fast-growing phenomenon. Introducing an all-female panel – pointing that this is an opportunity to welcome everyone to science through citizen science – you can go outside and observe nature, or if it is a cold evening, go online and participate in projects on the Zooniverse. There are even games that can be played to contribute to citizen science – The Sea Hero Quest is a project that contributes to dementia research through a game. Citizen science is creating collaboration between citizen and scientists, and we should see it as a way to link people to science.

Following Charlene, Dr Cindy Regalado from UCL Extreme Citizen Science introduced “Doing It Together Science” project.  This is EU funded project, and the people in the room are part of the project by joining the event. This project is special – the different people and organisations that are involved in it came together with the question “what do we want to do” and this created a group of special organisations. People in the project a passionate about doing science together – creating engagement space, curiosity and interest in biodesign and environmental sustainability. We do that through a range of events and also producing different tools and information that allow sharing knowledge between organisations. Facilitators across the projects are sharing information and work together to create many types of events – over 400 of them already. Examples of that include the work of University Paris Descartes (UPD) in Paris, they run activities to engage people to create games for science. In Poland, there are” train the trainers” activities to introduce other people about sustainability. In RBINS in Brussels, people who are excited about stick insect – scientists and amateurs share their interest. People in Medialab Prado run events that are two weeks long and create new ideas and innovations. In Geneva, a biofabrication event took place, bringing people who experiment with biotechnology. The Kersnikova Institute in Ljubljana explored in Freaktion bar issues of science and ethics – provoking questions instead of simple ideas of science. A Polish delegation visited London to learn about citizen participation in air quality monitoring, and at UCL we use Public Lab’s DIY tools for environmental monitoring and invite people to do DIY biological research – enabling people to see for themselves that they too can do science. Finally, the Science Bus toured Europe and allow us to reach out groups that are usually under-represented in science engagement activities.

The next talk was given by Dr Louise Seaward, Research Associate on the Bentham Project, will introduce us to the project and Gill Hague, one of the volunteer transcribers [See Louise report of the evening on the Transcribe Bentham blog]. Louise described the Transcribe Bentham project – a flagship humanities project at UCL where a significant number of the most active volunteers are women. The project asks volunteers to transcribe papers written by UCL’s intellectual inspiration, the philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832). The project is about the writing of Jeremy Bentham. Transcribed Bentham launched in 2010 and is the first crowdsourcing project in humanities – the idea is to ask volunteers to type and transcribe papers. Volunteers worked for 7 years and almost 20,000 pages of writing. Transcribe Bentham show manuscripts by him, and volunteers are free to choose a paper and work on it. Some of them are very difficult – the handwriting is very bad and he made changes, crossing text, changing his mind. Within the project system, there are tools to markup side notes and very complex ways of marking the page. The project is creating happiness for scholars – the purpose is to create a scholarly edition of everything that he wrote – the project is running since 1959 and it’s not halfway through, this is also a resource to the wider community – allowing other people to learn about Bentham and his writing. Most of the work done by around 30 super-transcribers and they are finding the project interesting. Currently, 58% of participants are men. People have higher education and based in the UK and US. Gill then described her experience with the project – she had a career in IT, TV, and legal services, and as a freelancer working from home, she had to be available at a call and wanted something more interesting to pass the time than watching daytime television.

By Cindy Regalado

In 2011 logged on to learn more about crowdsourcing which was new at the time following an article in the Sunday Times that mentioned the project, and she saw the value in Bentham writing based on previous knowledge in economics and in legal work. She then set out to transcribe one page, and then found the content very interesting, with journeys unfolding and Bentham views on the experience. Having involved in the legal process for a long time, she found Bentham views on legal issues interesting. She can find it as something that she can join more or less as much as she can and interested to do – sometimes 10-15 hours in a week. She very much like the idea of getting an acknowledgement in the next edition of Bentham publication and that is very satisfying. Transcribing is fascinating and there is good feedback and response from the team.

Jo Hurford, local artist and community leader, was part of a group of concerned citizens to approach UCL’s Extreme Citizen Science department to learn how to gather scientific data about deteriorating air quality and further environmental concerns in the context of HS2 development around Euston station. Jo opened up and noted that people who attend UCL have good opportunity to learn new things – and the work that UCL and Mapping for Change are doing with community groups has been mentioned in the report by the chief medical officer recently. The experience of the Euston communities is showing the limitations of citizen science approaches but also the new lessons that are learned from it. The community members knew about air quality issues from reading the news – they suspect that they were living in a polluted part of London – and experienced a building site for 3 years already. They wanted to have a baseline of air quality while the HS2 bill passing through parliament and wanted to know more about it. The community wanted to keep trees in the area of Euston until HS2 have a clear plan for the development of the area. The campaign to try to protect the trees fails. However, using the construction routes they positioned diffusion tubes and found that half of the monitoring locations were above the EU regulation. There are projects with big impact on the area (e.g. making Gower St two way) and they learn through citizen science and tested the particulate matter and seen that air purifiers do work in filtering them – so they ask for air filters for residents that are badly affected by the change to the plan. There are discoveries through collaborations with UCL – for example, Google Scholar is new, but the information that you get from academic publications is overwhelming, and she contacted specific people and look at different academic papers and use them to show the link between poor air and the health impact. When they spoke to HS2 in the House of Lords they used some of their information, but they weren’t convinced by the argument. Because people in power don’t listen to communities, and they have created scarves on trees and explaining the different trees in an area that doesn’t have enough green spaces. They protested against the tree panel of HS2 – they ignore personal views. The community transport working group suggested alternative schemes, but at the middle of the night, the HS2 contractors cut the trees. They organised painting of the cut off trees, and campaigning toward Sadiq Kahn – they did different activities – from chaining to trees to demonstration next to the GLA building. We need to participate in democracy and participate in science – we need to use it to bring evidence and to be listened to.

Next, Dr Alice Bell, science writer and director of communications at climate charity 10:10, drawn on her research on the radical science movement to discuss science activism and community-based research in the 1970s and 80s. Alice has a double interest – day job in addressing climate change through energy issue and hobby interest in the history of science, that talk about similar things: citizen participation in science and technology. In the 1970s we’ve seen the radical science that can be related to citizen science. Today people create DIY solar panels and creating DIY solar panels from the offcuts from solar panels and with some crafting, you can make your own and learn about it. Community events – making is connecting: people doing something together mean that they also talk about other things. Back to the 1970s, she discovered about civic science from the material that came out of clear up at the university library and found the “science for people” – magazines that were produced in the UK. One interesting example is the women’s collective issue that points to the problems that women experience in science with snakes and ladders that help male scientists and work against female scientists. Maybe the public don’t like science and technology because they have a reason – ideas about fixing science to make it batter. As a result, there were projects that are about citizen science. In the 1970s, Battersea air smell was rancid, and there are very little records of it (the Battersea smell) – the radical science group carried out a survey about the smell and the local council said that they can’t smell anything. The group helped citizens to collect evidence. The Sheffield occupational health group provided the ability to build and construct evidence – lots of groups didn’t have the ability to create the evidence that can be used about issues in the workplace. Today, in 10:10, there are projects to help communities and people to access energy and this is a way to do something about climate change: if you dismiss schools as places of social interaction, you miss a major site of activity. We can do these things not only top down through forcing people – we need to shift it in a way that worth saving and a place that community participate. There are examples of people that become experts and developing ideas about using unused energy to the train – new ways of powering electric trains through solar energy. This happens because a local community got interested in setting out energy system in a school and then developed their ideas further.

The last speaker was Professor Sarah Bell, director of Engineering Exchange. Sarah’s talk was as follows: “I’m here because of my work with the Engineering Exchange at UCL, which is about providing opportunities for better engagement between engineering researchers and local communities in London. We work on a model of two-way engagement. The Engineering Exchange give a pro-bono engineering service and we work with community groups and engineers to generate new research projects together. We’ve covered topics such as demolition and refurbishment of social housing, green infrastructure, air quality, traffic congestion.
Our work is relevant to tonight’s discussion for a few reasons. Firstly, I’m a woman, as are many of the people I work with. Secondly, engineering is vitally important to democracy in a complex technological society. And finally, there seems to be a connection between opening up engineering to women and opening it up to the wider public.
Firstly, I am a woman, and I lead a programme at a research-intensive university that is doing some form of what might be called civic science, or indeed civic engineering.
Which inevitably brings me to civil engineering. I’ve just recently become a Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the oldest professional engineering institution in the world. The ICE is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, so is 100 years older than women’s suffrage in this country.
The first woman to be admitted to the ICE was Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan in 1927, 9 years after the ‘Representation of the People Act’, which we are talking about tonight, and 8 years after the 1919 ‘Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act’. It was the 1919 Act that meant they could go to university and enter the professions. It became illegal to disqualify anyone from entering a ‘civil profession or vocation, or admission into any incorporated society’ on the basis of sex or marriage. It is not a coincidence that access to education and the professions followed on so quickly from the right to vote. They are equally, if not more, important to democracy. And so in the 1920s Dorothy Donaldson Buchanan could earn her BS in Civil Engineering at Edinburgh University, sit the entry exams for the ICE and join the engineering profession.
And haven’t we moved a long way since Dorothy’s time? No. Not really. Only 9% of all engineers in the UK are women. I am one of only 2% of the Fellows of the ICE who are women. In its 200 year anniversary, 12% of Members and 2% of Fellows of the Institution of Civil Engineers are women.
I’m one of the 2%. Which is actually significant – personally and strategically. For most of my career, I’ve wondered if I was really an engineer. I’ve always struggled a bit on the edges of the profession. But now, there’s no doubt. I am mainstream. You don’t get more mainstream than Fellow of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It’s nice to have my own work recognised in this way, but it is even more important for the work itself. The Engineering Exchange, which we might call civic engineering, is civil engineering. This is not some radical, outsider practice, it’s mainstream.
And that’s how we’ve positioned ourselves. The Engineering Exchange takes a very conservative line. We are not activists. We are engineers and researchers. As academics, we are encouraged to work with industry and government – the people with power and money. I’ve always pitched the Engineering Exchange as supporting the third leg of the stool of democracy – the public who are impacted by decisions by industry and government. Our basic premise is that by widening access to engineering knowledge, we will improve the overall quality of democratic debate about technical issues. The engineering profession claims to serve the public, so we provide a mechanism for engineers to do that.
And I often wonder is there a connection between my gender and the work I choose to do. This has been a long-standing question for me. I am Professor of Environmental Engineering. Around half of my undergraduate cohort in Australia back in the 1990s were women, and here at UCL, I ran an MSc programme in Environmental Systems Engineering that had consistently more than 50% women. Even given the low numbers of women in the profession, within engineering, women tend to cluster around particular specialisms, which might be related to why we end up more engaged in civic facing work. In the case of environmental engineering, given the public value of what we do, there’s a logical progression from working on environmental issues to engaging with the public in citizen and civic science programmes.
So why is there this clustering of women in public facing engineering? I don’t know the answer. It can’t be because ‘women are nurturing and caring’. It might be because of that outsider experience I mentioned, which operates in two ways – firstly to exclude women from more conventional career paths, and secondly to make us more aware of others who are excluded from the structures of power that operate in our society. If you are in the middle of the engineering establishment, with all the other powerful men, you are less likely to see those on the margins. They are just not in your field of vision. If you are hanging around the edges, you might make friends with others on the outside, and build your own career accordingly. As a woman, I’ve developed a critical framing of my own professional experience in order to stay sane, and this critical framing of my profession has opened up creative possibilities that may be less obvious to those who are actively embraced by conventional constructions of engineering.
So the Engineering Exchange is doing engineering differently. The good news is that the engineering establishment recognises our value. Our budget and our achievements are modest, we are much less powerful than the big firms and government departments. But we are able to do interesting work in partnership with communities, and in our own way are contributing to opening up a very powerful way of knowing the world to wider publics and local communities. ”

Some of the issues that came through the Q&A session:

Louise pointing to that Bentham material available online and in some ways he is showing his forward thinking. Gill has found information in the Sunday Times, and then followed it – and the website said that anyone can do it, and doesn’t need to ask for permission. Sometimes there is interesting correspondence that describes the social history and brings history to life and make this real and it is enjoyable and serving the purpose. She didn’t find the technology problematic and her background in law and IT helped in getting going.

Science for People that jump out – how much work done about what it is to be scientists and how they started looking at the option of co-operative science: instead of the very hierarchical structures – everyone is equal and co-manage each other. Then have community-based cooperative laboratories,. Thinking about the workers in science – cleaners, administrative, and everyone to make it

There was also a question about reaching different populations, including people in jail. Also about the collaborations across disciplines and the nature of expertise.

And at the end, Cindy carried out a quick evaluation of the evening


ECSA 2016: Open Citizen Science – Day 2 (Afternoon)

The afternoon started with a packed session that focused on Citizen science Studies – Engaging with the participatory turn in the co-production of science and society Elevator talks & interactive session organised by Dana Mahr (University of Geneva); Anett Richter (Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ); Claudia Göbel (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin | ECSA); Alan Irwin (Copenhagen Business School); Katrin Vohland (Museum für Naturkunde Berlin | GEWISS); Sascha Friesike (Alexander von Humboldt University Berlin) (the morning notes are here)


Dana – astonishment as a starting point: the six organisers – astonished by the scale of interest of public participation in science, which is different from Public Understanding of Science (PUS) in the 1980s or science for the people in the 1970s. There are multiple interpretation – from methods to contract between science and society 2.0. It is adapted to many areas of knowing – though it is happening across the Western world, from physics to patient interests. There are modes of participation and reflecting on epistemology, social history, either as actors or as critical sociologists, and studies of science. Why do we reflect on citizen science – do we have citizen science studies? They received 50 proposals. Finally they decided to have short presentations: the many papers in the session were broken to two sets of lightning talks – 5 minutes talk: who you are what you are working on, and what your interests. We need to organise people very well. The account here, therefore is only of one half of the session (so even in one session you can’t have the full experience!)

Citizen Humanities: Configuring Interpretation and Perception for Participation (Dick Kasperowski, University of Gothenburg, Sweden) Part of a project taking science to the crowd – understanding how the participants are being constructed. Several citizen humanities – like Zooniverse and elsewhere, usually link to interpretation, assuming that it is constructed through a long training and contextual knowledge. The participants are seen as annotators, transcribers – low-level of skills, they are being limited to automation. Project avoid inclusion. Focusing on perceptional quality of participants. Maybe turning participants and humanities into quantification.

Are the rhetorics of citizen science prohibiting detailed accounts of its own practice? (Christian Nold UCL, UK). Worked in an EU project and try to follow the devices of citizen science, and we don’t look at the technologies of citizen science. As a designer & artist look at the sensing devices in different way. Air quality, noise monitoring – the project are part of bigger agendas – actually link to IoT and there is something interesting that is doing much more things that it what is measured and why. When we take them to specific context (e.g. Heathrow) the gain specific agency ,they are redesigned constantly. There are implication to citizen science: if it is a design practice, we will end up with different outcomes, and valuation – being reflective practitioner about the whole thing: what does it mean to care for an app. There are ontological aspects – how they are built into the devices: new type of environmentalism.

The (Citizen-)Scientification of Society and the Pleasures of Research. Citizen Science as Science Communication (Sascha Dickel TU München, Germany). Sociological STS research – leader of a project on citizen science. He suggest the following hypotheses – citizen science is part of the scientification of society. Science as institution, culture, expand to many areas. This is education, mass media. Second hypothesis: citizen science is scientification by participation. Assume that the public take part in scientific research – there are incentives for professional people, but there are different motivations. Discourse frame the incentive to participation. Citizen science discourse is framed as meaningful leisure. Linking it to concept of deeper meaning – civic participation and fun. Citizen science expand research to private sphere and reinforcing science as an institution. But is it good or bad to progress with scientification of society? Why not do that? This was a point of discussion that raised interest in the audience.

Participatory turn’s legacy and the European ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ emerging framework (Hadrian Macq University of Liege, Belgium). Hadrian is enthusiastic about citizen science, but as a PhD student who need to be reflective, he explores the normative aspects of citizen science in Horizon 2020 – the specific aspects that it is developing: public understand of science, public engagement and responsible research and innovation. They were criticised in the literature and there is a risk of closing down research. His research plans are to explore the political and economic context of citizen science at the EC. Research and innovation are reoriented towards economic growth to tackle societal problems. There is concern about engagement fatigue and assumption that research and innovation is driven by industry and academia, and sometime citizen science can be seen instrumentally by the commission.

wp-1463751452653.jpgCreating Communicative Spaces that nurture inquiry, reflection, and dialogue in citizen science (Cindy Regalado Univ. College London, UK); Zooming to the local level – looking both as community organiser in Public Lab: grassroots organisation, with following principles: engaging people as researchers; pull complexity off the shelf; built in openness into science as a social process – e.g. through kite mapping; collaborative workflows – either on the website with research notes, maintaining a data archive and face to face; protecting openness with viral licensing and celebrating local innovation. As a researcher, want to point 3 things: notice Arnstein about the real power to change the process, decontextualisation of success stories – as some of the discussion in the book The Participatory City shows.

Who are the citizens in citizen science? Public participation in distributed computing (Bruno Strasser University of Geneva, Switzerland) Bruno explores the citizens and citizen science. There are a whole range of practices that are called citizen science – but it changing the exclusion of amateurs participation in production of scientific knowledge after an era of lack of participation. They will look at India, China, Europe, and US. They will look at medical, DIY science, crowdsourcing. They will look at the discourse and the ideas about parts of science – they will also look at current and past phenomena and current ones – aiming to have biographies for 1m people who participate in citizen science. What is the political and social economy of citizen science? What is the kind of knowledge that is being produced?

Openness in biohacking: expertise and citizen science (Rosen Bogdanov Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Spain). Researching biohacking and practices of openness in biohacking groups. There are issues of scientific expertise and there is less talk about that in citizen science. There are different types of expertise – interactional expertise, universal expertise – available everywhere. There are issues of keeping the relationships between types of expertise neatly separate. There is lack of scientific citizens. There are different practices of inclusion and exclusion within the community of biohackers.

Dingdingdong. Interferences with the Natural History of a Disease (Katrin Solhdju Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium).  Historian/philosopher of science with interest in medial – part of Dingdingdong disease about Huntington disease. They address current imagination of the disease and defining as only tragic and prescribe the self-fulfilling prophecy of how it is experienced. They are trying to consider a better environment for the people who are involved – history of the disease, speculative narration, dance and choreography and more.

Observing the observer: Citizen Social Science and the Participatory Turn (Alexandra Albert University of Manchester, UK). trying to understand citizen social science, in social citizen science is more than usual participation and they are observe and analyse their information – beyond the usual practices of social science. Looking specifically at the mass observation archive, trying to understand the ethnographic methods – anthropology at home, which include observation and reporting. The mass observation archive brings questions about expertise, and what they view it at, and what the observers though that they can be involved as researchers. This is done within sociology. Hope to lead to interesting observation on the potential of citizen social science. She will follow several case studies, which are about critiquing the method.

What can Citizen Science learn from participatory research? (Tobias Krüger, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany). From a cross faculty institute that look at human-environment relations. looking at participatory research – we can learn a lot from integrating literature. Build decision support tools for water quality, and done the model in a participatory way. Citizen science has the potential of setting what science will be done, and control over knowledge production. There are politics of citizen science engagement – who fund, who can hijack projects, and that lead to who’s knowledge count in the end.

Day summary

Summarising the day is challenging – 8 different sessions with different topics. Some of the reporting back include – John Tweddle – there are clear wp-1463753197409.jpgconservation impacts of citizen science: showing different approaches – from community led to university led to global databases. There are different ways, lots of different outcomes. Complex pathways. Observations – is citizen science support outcomes? evaluating is difficult but can be powerful demonstration. . Balancing highlighting the community led and working with local communities . Trying to balance autonomy with the need to have large datasets. Max Craglia – about technology: a lot of applications across many aspects – many were funded by EU data. All the data and software were open. Moving towards open source and data – starting to have critical studies of citizen science. Exploring the light pollution – there are issues that were above – issues were noted above about light studies. Session 8 – Alena Bartonova – wp-1463753211888.jpgthe topics that were looking at air quality, noise, quality of public spaces. and engagement, looking at the social aspect. Thinking about empowerment. In air pollution there are many tools and information that is available, but in each project they are forgotten and there isn’t continuity of use and application. There are technologies and users but there are problems in doing it together – lack of co-design. Lucy Robinson – The session on innovative science looked at mosquitoes, molecular bio, crowdsourcing research question of mental health. Issues of evaluation came up. Failure is equally important as success. Session on participatory social innovation – looked at the connection of digital social innovation and citizen science. Identifying difference – need to solve new societal challenges. Shared lessons and challenges: structure engagement, levels of participation, motivation. Need to think of actionable policy recommendation. Never just a question of providing participation and motivation, but also dealing with conflicting practices and values. Alan Irwin – looking at the participatory turn: there were many papers on critical studies of citizen science. Connecting up research community with practitioners – there are many reflective practitioners. Lots of cross over. Need to maintain space for the groups to get together. Balance of discussion on the nature of citizen science and scientification of society – which led to a lively discussion. What are the politics, what the modes of citizenship? Not all citizen science is good automatically and maintain these critical question. Education – specifically about schools and starting a new working group at ECSA, look at the specific needs.

ECSA GA: ECSA grow significantly since January with a lot of individual members after the conference. There is a new website, which you can get a preview, and it will be launched soon – we see the map of citizen science actors in Europe. Katrin suggested the strategy and plan for 2016/2017. The aim is to strengthen the ECSA community, and do that through the use of new websites and activities – maps that increase visibility, and empower local hubs and expertise. Starting to develop policy papers and having transparent governance structure, but now working on internal procedures. Aiming to make ECSA more integrative. The working groups are evolving – aim to appoint an internal community manager, improve external communication, make ECSA more independent from the Museum. The COST action on citizen science will assist in promoting citizen science activities across Europe. ECSA participate in DITOs and LandSense which will help in establishing ECSA well. The working groups are developing, but we need to identify more people who will progress on the best practice area – we start collating best practice guides. ECSA got guidelines for participating in European calls. New policy position papers: citizen science as part of EU policy delivery – looking at EU directive. The white paper on citizen science for Europe and EU wide citizen science programmes.

Following the AGM, we had a series of lightning talks as an opening to the think camp – the talks mixed participants in the Berlin science hacking community and people who came to the conference – and finally we experienced the Citizen Science Disco. I’ve welcomed this session with the demonstration, through the work of Leni Diner-Dotan on the Citizen Cyberscience nightmare wall that new and radical participation is possible in citizen science conferences.

Lucy Peterson explains the idea of hacking and science hackathons

Following this, Johann Bauerfeind describe the experience of the Berlin iGEM team

Byrke Lou, an artist who works on issues of science and the environment was next:

Cindy Regalado then describe the work of public lab

Kat Austen closed the lightning talks with chemistry hacking

The last part included a short intro to the ThinkCamp

New PhD Opportunity: Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement

We have a new scholarship opening at the Extreme Citizen Science group for a PhD student who will research in Human Computer Interaction and Spatial Data Quality for Online Civic Engagement. The studentship is linked and contextualised by the European Union H2020 funded project, WeGovNow! . This project will focus on the use of digital technologies for effectively supporting civic society, whereby citizens are partners as opposed to customers in the delivery of public services. By integrating a set of innovative technologies from different European partners in Germany, Italy, and Greece to create citizen engagement platform, the project explores the use of digital tools for citizen reporting, e-participation, and communication between the citizen and local government. Building on previous research and technology development, the project will include programme of innovation in technology and services delivery. More information on the UCL ExCiteS blog

Source: New PhD Opportunity