ECSITE 2015 – Citizen Science & Participatory Practices

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

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

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

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



AAG 2015 notes – day 1

At 8:00 I’ve attended the Digital Connectivity, Inclusion, and Inequality at the World’s Economic Peripheries  session asking ‘what difference people expect better connectivity to make at the world’s economic peripheries’. I took notes from the presentations of Nancy Ettlinger, Dorothea Kleine and Lisa Poggiali.

Nancy Ettlinger analysed crwodsourcing from governance perspective – using Foucauldian analysis. She looks at rationalities of non-inventive but skilled activity. There are some differences with innovative activities – but the treatment people is the same. The line between classes and intellectual outputs became blurred – data collection, translation, patterns. Algorithms are managing non-innovative work. There are algorithms that are being deployed turning the crowd into human computers. Third party platforms such as AMT that broker requests for jobs and workers. There is also feedback to the software during the process. Crowdsourcing spanning the globe, and the active learning is going to the computers. The work regime is wage-less with less than $10c for an hour of work. Employment is not linked to payment, and the labour is people on demands – people are commodified – most of the crowd are dispersed and working at home. There are IT people in ‘body shopping’ – code monkeys in the IT industry. Precarisation of the workforce. Acceleration of time to completion of tasks magnifies job insecurity. While the companies are working in the regular economy, the workers are actually in the informal sector, invisible, and insecure. Need to imagine new frontier of resistance across the digital landscape will require cooperative-based on web 3.0 network.

Dorothea Kleine – looks at digital inclusion and female enterpreneurship in chile and Tanzania. ICT4D is an emerging field, a lot are focusing on economic growth – the paper focus on capabilities approach (Amartya Sen). The choice framework provide a way to deal with the capabilities approach. The discourse of ICT4D – includes powerful neoliberal framing. Under which conditions women are invited to be included? In ICT4D, women participation is becoming more central (it wasn’t before). Too much ‘counting of women’ and not on the relationship and power. There is focus on female entrepreneurs – invited to become responsible neoliberal subjects who are ‘excited about change. They are if there are conformist, reformist or transformative approach to what ICT4D is. In Tanzania, they found issues of limited mobility, access to IT only in specific places – many female participants wanted a secure job. In a participatory video, they use videos to explore gender violence – but then it was offered to turn the experience into a venture with films – so instead of transformative, it found a conformist trajectory. In Chile, they follow a group of women learning IT. Only minority explored entrepreneurial activities – wanted to be employed. Business ideas competition an indigenous women won, she lost regular employment in teaching the local language, and because of the lost of the job, she looked for opportunities to get some funding – she was able to charge story telling about indigenous practices. ‘I sell my culture. I am not going to give out information just like that, I can’t’. The knowledge moved from public good, to commodity. Women Enterprise Development discourse is conformist and reformist – and what about the women who are not successful? Conformist trajectory peddling impoverished vision of the world. entrepreneurship.

Lisa Poggiali analysing informal settlement mapping in Muhimu (not the real place name) in Nairobi. There are plenty projects in Nairobi and ICT4D became a topic – Silicon Savannah. Most of the narrative, the iHub received special attention – various events and tech-hub. Muhimu is a place where technology is implemented – Miroslav and Sarah (the people behind the initiative) carried out work with local people to record things that don’t work. Maps are symbolic conduit – there is exclusion of slum dwellers from digital technologies. The maps provide a way to map an area – the land is owned by the state. The mapping project using satellite imagery with donated areal maps they were able to create a representation of their area. The mapping infrastructure will encourage bringing resources – so they mapped sewage, incomplete public toilet. They assume that mapping will lead to action by the project initiators Sarah and Miroslav . The map provides a way to allow the locals to emerge as experts that are respected – it created a sense of anxiety for the participants. Noticing that local data collection can be eclipsed by other, more powerful. There is a dominant narrative of digitisation is about efficiency, and dealing with corruption. The digital is assumed to make corruption impossible. During the period or research, there was no results from the mapping.

At 12:40 1487 Where’s the Value? Emerging Digital Economies of Geolocation (panel session) with Jeremy Crampton, Rob Kitchin, Elvin K. Wyly, Agnieszka Leszczynski, and Julie Cupples. Only captured some of the discussion. It started with the observation that the data brokers need to continue and convince the businesses that there is value in geolocation. Like any other business, big data is sold to businesses as ‘something that works and increase revenue’. This is part of a wider claims about efficiency, productivity etc. Within Smart Cities – there is scepticism by public servants at city level that don’t believe the narrative, so there are situations, such as the UK, where the government invests in ‘creating the market’ for large IT corporations. There is a perception that the data in itself has value. Data will have value down the line.
Regarding the concept of value – Elvin: there is proliferation of what is value – the concept of monetization and turning new things into value. Multi dimensional concept of personhood and it circulate among institutions which construct it. The illusion of the value is preformative in the way that it plays in the world. Julie noted that in universities there is work on creating meaningless correlations from data and offer simplistic policy conclusions.
Julie: People have different levels of technical competancies and therefroe they are locked into a wider system. Quant Self movement is participatory to a larger extent, and subverted by the individual at the same time. There is no way to be outside the system as non-participation is also costly. Rob: there are changes inside – e.g. legal framing as in right to be forgoten, under which condition Uber is allowed to a city. The objects are moving so fast, and the legal situation has not captured their operation and come with solutions. Although this is self serving narrative, there is a question about to what degree it is possible to put the genie back in the bottle – although it is possible to consider to legislate ‘privacy by design’. Agnieszka noted that teens and social media that there are complex and creative approaches to have anonymity and obscurity that are happening. Many teenagers disabled location information in apps – different cohorts are working differently with the services. We want to control flows of information about ourselves, but we can’t do that – we don’t know who got our data and what they put it for. Rob: the project ‘the Secret life of Data’ provide an insight to the black boxes through which data is travelling. Elvin: there is digital Murphy Law is operating – there are conflicting laws in operations that conflict with each other and can’t work towards common goals.
Rob: doing the work and critiquing Big Data, there is plenty of inertia and resistance within the political system so neo-liberalism is not the only force in operation. The global financial crisis amplified neo-liberalism instead of causing it to think. Sharing economy is worsening the conditions of labour.  It is easy to see technology in utopia or dystopia, but it is important to understand how it shaped and evolve. Elvin: there is struggle between utopia/dystopia – we need to be careful of Silicon Valley libertarian approach that information is only good. Rob: There is an alternative to the California Ideology if you want to compete with them. The effort of merging data is fairly challenging.

2:40 1587 #CritGIS: Social Justice and GIS: Past, Present, and Future –  aimed to ‘reflect, reconsider, and prognosticate on the social, political and ethical issues that GIS brings to bear’. The paper in this session included the following.

Clinton Davies looked how reporting of social care work at disciplinary tools to produce power structures. Specifically looking at Homeless Management Information Systems. Data reporting reinforce structures through the different organisations. Looking at Critical GIS and Critical Data Studies. The act of reporting data- what the reporting does? looking how controlling how people go through their everyday, you get an understanding of the power hierarchies. Part of the question is to see if the information system and data management impacted organisational structures such as mergers.

Jonathan Cinnamon looked at ‘The data divide: Placing data in the context of social justice’. Data-driven economy emerged recently, with data as raw material, but there is also interest in the concept of data – there is little inquiry to data in compared to information and knowledge. Kitchin (2014) noted the need to ask what data are and what they do? What force data have in the material world? What divisions are inscribed in the data landscapes? Some the division are being exposed – between data rich/poor , producer/consumer , and people/their data. Rich/poor – the places and people who can produce data or use it. The second gap is between producer and consumer – those that produce data have the ability to shape the world. The producers shape the world according to their worldview. There is also separation between people and the data that they produce.
The questions – what are the social and material consequences of these divides? What tools social justice theory can be used? Harvey in ‘Social Justice and the City ‘ defined social justice as ‘a just distribution justly arrived at’ – Rawls justice theory was and is influential in geography.
However, Nancy Fraser work on justice is useful – we living in abnormal justice in what, who and how of justice and deeply contested. It is difficult to evaluate it. She suggest principle of parity of participation – justice require social arrangement that permit all to participate as peers in social life. She identifies maldistribution, misrecognition, and misrepresentation as the dimensions of justice. So we can see in data divide the maldistribution of uneven geographies and at the city level and between cities. There is also misrecognition in status hierarchy – none counting in the census, or Manovich (2011) concept of data-classes. There is also misrepresntation within the companies that are collecting data are subject to laws of a different teritory and you can’t have proper political control. He argue that open data movement as attempt to redistribute data, recognition can be a movement to reconnect people with their data and give them control over it.

Ellen Kersten described her PhD work in  ‘Spatial triage, spatial justice? A critical evaluation of geospatial approaches to health equity research and policy’ – She looked at health in terms of medical model and a socio-ecological model. Looking at Amartya Sen definition of health equity, with elements from public policy, place and health, community development and critical GIS. Spatial analysis of health equity in terms of life expectancy for example. There is an element of place that appear in these narratives. She compared quantitative tools that are based on GIS but they are missing many aspects that are missing and not captured in numbers so simply. These health atlases play the role of triage to decide who will get funding and who won’t. In the past, spatial triage was used in public renewal and done by experts, targeting neighbourhoods. Today, it is cauched in ‘best return to investment’, a bit more participation but the scale counties/regions and above, and more organisations are involved. The future seem to go further to return on investment and monetary benefits.

Jill Gambill and Mariana Alfonso  – A Radical Trans-Disciplinary Approach to Sea Level Rise Planning in the Southeast. They explore challenges – coastal communities are facing challenges of climate change, but with denial – political ban on climate change discussion while at the same time there is a need for sea level rise planning, and trying to do something about it. Knowledge productions – one in theory and one in politics and actions. Communities in the Souteast of the US are trying to have climate change adaptation policies and actions so they are ready. The approach is to meet communities where they are and having a dialogue – how to deal with flooding and sea level rise and not the source of it. Thinking what will enable the dialogue. The community decide the see level rise that will be model, identify who is vulnerable and then decide on actions. They make information accessible – they develop graphics that helped communicate history of sea level rise. They are focusing on who will pay the costs of climate adaptation – with valuable areas receiving subsidy, so some of the wealthy areas are benefiting. Retreat is something that is not being discussed yet – just starting. The approaches are around engineering resistance, instead of resilience – expensive infrastructure have life span of just 25 years. There are also revealed preferences in action, as in allowing more building in vulnerable places. Doing the modelling with GIS is challenging – you don’t want to create an impression of safety when there isn’t one. Need to visualise the social implications of issues such as sea level rise.

Geographies of Co-Production: highlights of the RGS/IBG ’14 conference

The 3 days of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) or RGS/IBG  annual conference are always valuable, as they provide an opportunity to catch up with the current themes in (mostly human) Geography. While I spend most of my time in an engineering department, I also like to keep my ‘geographer identity’ up to date as this is the discipline that I feel most affiliated with.

Since last year’s announcement that the conference will focus on ‘Geographies of Co-Production‘ I was looking forward to it, as this topic relate many themes of my research work. Indeed, the conference was excellent – from the opening session to the last one that I attended (a discussion about the co-production of co-production).

Just before the conference, the participatory geographies research group run a training day, in which I run a workshop on participatory mapping. It was good to see the range of people that came to the workshop, many of them in early stages of their research career who want to use participatory methods in their research.

In the opening session on Tuesday’s night, Uma Kothari raised a very important point about the risk of institutions blaming the participants if a solution that was developed with them failed. There is a need to ensure that bodies like the World Bank or other funders don’t escape their responsibilities and support as a result of participatory approaches. Another excellent discussion came from Keri Facer who analysed the difficulties of interdisciplinary research based on her experience from the ‘connected communities‘ project. Noticing and negotiating the multiple dimensions of differences between research teams is critical for the co-production of knowledge.

By the end of this session, and as was demonstrated throughout the conference, it became clear that there are many different notions of ‘co-production of knowledge’ – sometime it is about two researchers working together, for others it is about working with policy makers or civil servants, and yet for another group it means to have an inclusive knowledge production with all people that can be impacted by a policy or research recommendation. Moreover, there was even a tension between the type of inclusiveness – should it be based on simple openness (‘if you want to participate, join’), or representation of people within the group, or should it be a active effort for inclusiveness? The fuzziness of the concept proved to be very useful as it led to many discussions about ‘what co-production means?’, as well as ‘what co-production does?’.

Two GIS education sessions were very good (see Patrick’s summery on the ExCiteS blog) and I found Nick Tate and Claire Jarvis discussion about the potential of virtual community of practice (CoP) for GIScience professionals especially interesting. An open question that was left at the end of the session was about the value of generic expertise (GIScience) or the way they are used in a specific area. In other words, do we need a CoP to share the way we use the tools and methods or is it about situated knowledge within a specific domain? 

ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)
ECR panel (source: Keri Facer)

The Chair Early Career panel was, for me, the best session in the conferenceMaria Escobar-TelloNaomi Millner, Hilary Geoghegan and Saffron O’Neil discussed their experience in working with policy makers, participants, communities and universities. Maria explored the enjoyment of working at the speed of policy making in DEFRA, which also bring with it major challenges in formulating and doing research. Naomi discussed productive margins project which involved redesigning community engagement, and also noted what looks like very interesting reading: the e-book Problems of Participation: Reflections on Authority, Democracy, and the Struggle for Common Life. Hilary demonstrated how she has integrated her enthusiasm for enthusiasm into her work, while showing how knowledge is co-produced at the boundaries between amateurs and professionals, citizens and scientists. Hilary recommended another important resource – the review Towards co-production in research with communities (especially the diagram/table on page 9). Saffron completed the session with her work on climate change adaptation, and the co-production of knowledge with scientists and communities. Her research on community based climate change visualisation is noteworthy, and suggest ways of engaging people through photos that they take around their homes.

In another session which focused on mapping, the Connected Communities project appeared again, in the work of Chris Speed, Michelle Bastian & Alex Hale on participatory local food mapping in Liverpool and the lovely website that resulted from their project, Memories of Mr Seel’s Garden. It is interesting to see how methods travel across disciplines and to reflect what insights should be integrated in future work (while also resisting a feeling of ‘this is naive, you should have done this or that’!).

On the last day of the conference, the sessions on ‘the co-production of data based living‘ included lots to contemplate on. Rob Kitchin discussion and critique of smart-cities dashboards, highlighting that data is not-neutral, and that it is sometime used to decontextualised the city from its history and exclude non-quantified and sensed forms of knowledge (his new book ‘the data revolution’ is just out). Agnieszka Leszczynski continued to develop her exploration of the mediation qualities of techno-social-spatial interfaces leading to the experience of being at a place intermingled with the experience of the data that you consume and produce in it. Matt Wilson drawn parallel between the quantified self and the quantified city, suggesting the concept of ‘self-city-nation’ and the tensions between statements of collaboration and sharing within proprietary commercial systems that aim at extracting profit from these actions. Also interesting was Ewa Luger discussion of the meaning of ‘consent’ within the Internet of Things project ‘Hub of All Things‘ and the degree in which it is ignored by technology designers.

The highlight of the last day for me was the presentation by Rebecca Lave on Critical Physical Geography‘. This is the idea that it is necessary to combine scientific understanding of hydrology and ecology with social theory. It is also useful in alerting geographers who are dealing with human geography to understand the physical conditions that influence life in specific places. This approach encourage people who are involved in research to ask questions about knowledge production, for example social justice aspects in access to models when corporations can have access to weather or flood models that are superior to what is available to the rest of society.

Overall, Wendy Larner decision to focus the conference on co-production of knowledge was timely and created a fantastic conference. Best to complete this post with her statement on the RGS website:

The co-production of knowledge isn’t entirely new and Wendy is quick to point out that themes like citizen science and participatory methods are well established within geography. “What we are now seeing is a sustained move towards the co-production of knowledge across our entire discipline.”


Citizen Cyberscience Summit: lessons learned and reflections

Rob Simpson (Zooniverse)

Now, that the Citizen Cyberscience Summit is over, come the time to reflect more widely on the event and what it say about the state of citizen science. My previos posts, covering the three days of the summit (first day, second day, third day) were written every day during the summit – this is something I learned from Andrea Wiggins and the way she blogged about the 2012 summit (here are her descriptions of the first, second and third days). However, unlike Andrea, my notes focused on my immediate thoughts from each day and less on a synopsis of what I’ve been listening to.  The current post reflect on the event as a whole, in terms of my personal expectations and hopes for the summit. It also covers the rational behind the summit’s design, so it can be evaluated against the practice. As a result, it’s a long piece!

The structure of the summit follows the model that we first tried in 2012 and that proved to be very successful. When trying to explain the summit’s organisation, I use the description ‘starts fairly formal, and end with organised chaos’ which inherently tries to mix traditional academic conferences with open and creative events such as hackathons, but doing that in an inclusive way so people from different communities of practice can feel that there is something for them in the summit. In practice, this translates to the three days of the summit in the following way.

The first day, which uses the formal settings of the Royal Geographical Society, provided the needed academic gravitas to send the message that citizen science is noteworthy. About half of the talks in this day were from speakers that we have invited to ‘set the scene‘. We didn’t provide a detailed brief to speakers to set them ‘on message’, rather inviting them to discuss their work and how it links to a general theme. The rest of the talks were selected carefully from the open submissions to provide the breadth of citizen science.

We deliberately chose an open submission format which falls somewhere between community-led conferences (such as OpenStreetMap State of the Map) and academic conferences, to make both groups comfortable. We were aware that for the volunteers who participate in citizen science we will need a different, more proactive way of encouraging them to join. In  previous summits they were the least represented group. So to encourage them to come we created two special ticket categories (for the whole summit and for the citizen science cafe) and actively contacted different projects to encourage their volunteers to come.

Policy track (Image: Poppy Lakeman Fraser)

In the past, the first day was deliberately ‘single track’ to create a common vocabulary for all participants. This time, because of the perceived increase in the policy implications of citizen science (e.g. the creation of the Citizen Science Association or the European Citizen Science Association, or the activities of Eye on Earth initiative) we decided
to split part of the day to two sessions: one that focuses on the technology and another on policy and engagement. The aim was to attract people who might be less interested in the technology or the specific scientific domain and more with its implications, as well as a recognition that the citizen science community is growing with people that have different interests.

The second day signaled the importance of the citizens of citizen science in two elements in the programme: the citizen science panel (which happen to be only women) and the citizen science café as the closing reception. Setting the summit in such a way that this day fall on Friday is also important, as it allow people to come to the event after work and meet
with other participants who are enthusiastic about citizen science. More generally, the day was submission-led and included workshops, opportunities for discussions and shorter presentations. Only one talk was organised by invitation. This was the opening talk, to bring everyone into one place so it is possible to welcome new people and link to the previous day. Also important is the provision of central space with chairs and tables that was used as the coffee & lunch area to allow people to start or follow up discussions that started the day before. The day also included sponsored sessions (sponsors are important and need to be treated well!)

Finally, the third day was dedicated to the hackday. This was done so people with technical skills or interest in citizen science can come on a weekend day and help with the challenges (the tasks that were explored in the hackday). The posters for the challenges were on display from Friday to start the conversations about them. Saturday also include more short talks on a range of topics (mostly because we wanted to accept all the submissions) but also make sure that we left space for an unconference session – a set of very short talks (5 minutes) for people who came to attend the event and decided that they also want to talk about their work. The final keynote is schedule to keep people interested and to bring them together for the hackday presentation. This is based on a lesson from Over the Air event.

The ideas for this plan came from all the people who planned the summit, through discussions that were facilitated through an open Skype channel in the last month before the summit, regular ‘Google Hangouts’ in the 3 months before the summit and, of course, email, Google Docs and all the other collaborative tools that are now available.

So did the summit live up to these expectations? 

Mostly ‘yes’. First of all, we’ve done much better than in the previous summit in terms of representation and participation of the people who actually involved in citizen science and not only the scientists, coordinators and other people who are running citizen science projects. Catherine Jones post about the summit is exactly what we set out to achieve, so I was delighted to read it. At the same time, I think that we can do better and in future events we need to consider bursaries or grants for volunteers to attend the event. Just dropping the event price to zero is good, but not enough.

Another strength of the summit is in bringing together the community of practice of those who are involved in citizen science or are in their early stages of developing a citizen science programme. The seahorse programme at UBC is an example of a project that benefited from the interactions last time, and I’ve noticed that similar knowledge and best practice sharing this time. This will hopefully improve the projects that are run by the people who came to the summit. I’m pleased that we managed to bring people from across the domains in which citizen science is evolving and that despite the growth in number of participants, there was enough space for meaningful exchanges. The Citizen Science Café served as much for this aspect of the summit as in bringing citizens and scientists together.

It is interesting to notice how many people already knew each other from citizen science events, and there is a need to avoid creating a clique that is less welcoming to newcomers – something for the new associations to think about!

While the policy session was excellent, I noticed that we failed to get significant attention from academics and practitioners who work on science policy, public engagement in science, and people from policy making areas. The number of participants from these areas is relatively small, and include people that are already ‘converted’ (e.g. Katherine Mathieson or Erinma Ochu) but my feeling was that there wasn’t attendance on the basis ‘I need to know what this thing is because it’s important‘.

The same can be said about the commercial sector – we had some attendance from people who are involved in start-ups, and Esri showed their generosity by supporting the summit (disclaimer: they are also strong supporters of ExCiteS) but we weren’t in a situation of fending off sponsorship offers.

I find the last two points very interesting, as that signal to me the amount of ‘leg work’ that the new citizen science associations, the academics that are involved in this field and the practitioners still need to do to get the attention that the field deserve.

Another fascinating aspect that came out from the summit is a clear demonstration of the many facets of every single citizen science project – technology, education, science communication, specific scientific domain knowledge, usability and Human-Computer Interaction, community development, legal and philosophical aspects – all those were mentioned in different sessions. This calls for ongoing conversations and collaborations across the wider area of citizen science to ensure that we indeed share knowledge effectively.

The final reflection is on the size of the summit. The first summit had less than 100 participants, the second about 200 and this time over 300 participants visited the summit. Not everyone was there for the whole event – but it was clear that those that been for the whole event benefited the most. This can be expected at this size, and it feels like the maximum size to make it still effective – I know of several people that I follow but didn’t had chance to have a proper conversation (though admittedly, I was busy organising). Hopefully, with the online resources from the summit can provide a way to go beyond those who physically attended the event.

GISRUK 2010 at UCL – Call for papers

Geographical Information Science Research UK (GISRUK) is a research conference that has been taking place in different university campuses around the UK (and once in Ireland) since 1993. Despite the name, it is open not just to researchers from the UK, but also to international participants, who are very welcome.

For me, GISRUK was the first international conference in which I presented a paper eleven years ago, so I have a soft spot for it. It was very friendly and welcoming for a starting research student (which I was at the time). It was especially useful to discover that all the famous academics who attended it were friendly and open to questions.

The conference will be held at UCL in April 2010, and the call for papers is now out, so consider submitting a paper.

The papers are rather short, about 1500 words, so there is plenty of time to write one in time for the deadline of the end of November.

OSM Quality Assessment – S4 presentation

The following presentation is a summary of the OSM quality assessment paper that I’ve posted here in August. It was presented in the UCL Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) S4 event which was held on the 8th January 2009.

The presentation does not include additional analysis to what included in the paper, apart from a graph that analyses the bias of coverage in comparison to the Index of Multiple Deprivation (Slide 37) which shows the analysis for urban areas only. In the slide, only areas with size up to single standard deviation from the average are shown. By and large, this means that only urban areas are included.

Why your boss should buy you a larger monitor

As I’ve noted, the AGI GeoCommunity ’08 was a great conference, but it was especially pleasing to end up with the paper that I wrote with Kate Jones being selected as runner-up for the best paper competition by the conference team (and I kept myself at arms length from the judging!). Maybe it is a sign that the message about the importance of usability and interaction is starting to gain traction within the GIS community, though I should also note that Clare Davies from the OS raised the issue in the AGI conference in 2005 – so it’s still one usability paper every 3 years!

While you can download the full paper from here, or look at the presentation below, the short explanation of the argument behind the large monitor is actually raising a very significant and overlooked aspect of interaction with GIS.

Inherently, the issue is that interaction with maps is all about the context. You can’t design the position of a telephone pole if you can’t see the other poles, and you can’t understand where you are in relation to a local tube station without seeing it. This is where the abysmal resolution of current computer monitors causes a problem. Because the information density (the amount of information that you can cram into a specific area, say a square inch) of a monitor is low – it’s 10 times lower than a printed map – it’s actually very rare that you can put all the information that the user needs on one screen.

This is why all GIS developers are giving too much attention to zoom and pan operations, as they are perceived as the solution to this problem. However, and this is the most important point – zoom and pan are never part of the user’s task. The user is not interested in zooming and panning for their own sake, but in manipulating the map so they can see the area that they need to perform their task (adding a pole to the map, analysing neighbourhood, etc.). In an ideal world, the GIS will ‘know’ what area the user is looking for and will show it so there is no need to manipulate the map. However, we don’t have this so we must use zoom and pan…

Here is where the productivity issue kicks in. An average zoom or pan operation in a GIS application can take up to 30 seconds. Over a working month, this can accumulate into many hours for a heavy user of a GIS. A larger monitor (24 inch or even 32 inch) will reduce the number of zoom and pan operations, and thus increase the productivity of the user. Considering that a GIS analyst’s minute is costing about £0.30 (a conservative estimation), the large monitor will return the investment within 2 months.

But even more important is the issue of GIS interface design – this analysis emphasises why the decision on how much screen assets are dedicated to the map should take into account the user’s task, and not assume that they’ll zoom and pan!