Esri Education User Conference talk: Citizen Science & Geographical Technologies: creativity, learning, and engagement

The slides below are from my keynote talk at the Esri Education User Conference 2016. The conference focused on creativity and its relevant to education and the utilisation of GIS (especially Esri software) at different levels of education.

My talk explored the area of citizen science and extreme citizen science and the way geographical technologies contribute to creativity and learning. As I continue to assume that many of the audience don’t know about citizen science, I start with a review of the field as a way to contextualise what we, as a group, try to do.

[The talk is similar, in parts, to other talks that are captured here on my blog (workshop on theory, practice and policy, standards and recommendation for citizen science, or the current developments in ExCiteS). I’m updating the slides with lessons on what seem to work or not in previous talks. Social media is helpful for that – I can see which points people found most useful/meaningful!]

The talk starts with an historical perspective of citizen science, continue with the societal and technical trends that are at the basis of the current growth in citizen science. Having done that, I’m using a typology that looks at domain (academic discipline), technology, and engagement as a way to introduce examples of citizen science activities. I’m using the trailer for the TV series ‘the Crowd & the Cloud’ to recap the discussions on citizen science activities. I also mention the growth of practitioners community through the Citizen Science Associations.

Next, on this basis, I’m covering the concepts and practices of Extreme Citizen Science – what we do and how. I’m using examples from the work on noise, community resource management and earthquake and fire preparedness to demonstrate the concept.

The last part of the talk focuses specifically on creativity and learning from the Citizen Cyberlab project, and I explain the next steps that we will carry out in the Doing It Together Science project. I complete the talk by giving examples for activities that the audience can do by themselves.

Throughout the talk, I’m showing how Esri technologies are being used in citizen science. It wasn’t difficult to find examples – Esri’s GIS is used in BioBlitzes, Globe at Night, links to OpenStreetMap, and support the work that the ExCiteS group is doing. Survey123 and similar tools can be used to create novel projects and experiment with them. ArcGIS Online will be linked to GeoKey, to allow analysis of community mapping efforts. In short, there is plenty of scope for GIS as an integral part of citizen science projects.


Science-Society Dialogue – from Citizen Science to Co-Design (ICCB/ECCB 2015 – Day 4)

The final day of the ICCB/ECCB 2015 (see my notes on citizen science sessions from Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3) included a symposium that was organised by Aletta Bonn and members of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) to explore the wider context of citizen science. The symposium title was Science-Society Dialogue – From Citizen Science To Co-Design. The 6 talks of the session (including mine) were:

Lucy Robinson - 10 principlesTen principles of citizen science: Sharing best practice amongst the citizen science community – Lucy Robinson (NHM) – the London NHM have been active in citizen science for the past 10 years, though indirectly for much longer. They see the importance of developing citizen science as a field, and especially through networks such as ECSA – a network of different people who are involved in citizen science – advancing the field and sharing knowledge. There are different definitions of citizen science, but it is important to think about best practices, and part of the work in ECSA Lucy leads the effort to share best practice. This includes the development of the 10 principles of citizen science, which can be summarised as:
1. Involve citizens in the process in a meaningful way.
2. Activities should have a genuine science outcomes.
3. All involved should benefit.
4. Citizen scientists may participate in multiple stages of the scientific process.
5. Providing feedback to participants.
6. Citizen science should be considered as a research approach and understanding. the limitations, biases and not over estimating what is possible.
7. Data and metadata should be made available and results should be open access.
8. acknowledging participants in results.
9. need for evaluation for scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider social and policy impacts.
10. Need to pay attention to legal and ethical issues of copyright, IP, data sharing, confidentiality, attribution, and environmental impacts.
The ten principles are open to development over time and the aim of having that is to help with the challenges in the field – such as duplication of efforts, mixed messages, and there are opportunities for collaborations and partnerships. They can help new joiners to start with best practices. There are other tools to improve the work of practitioners – including the 2012 guide on understanding citizen science & environmental monitoring which covered 150 projects. The report identified that one size doesn’t fit all and they identified that projects need to learn from others. There are guides for BioBlitzes and how to conduct them, and there are guides for choosing citizen science, evaluation tools from CLO (See Tina Philipps talk from yesterday).

Helen Roy - 51 years of BRCIn Celebrating 50 years of the biological records centre – Helen Roy covered the history fo the UK Biological Record Centre (BRC). The BRC coordinates 85 recording schemes and societies in the UK which are covering wide range of taxa, with publications of atlases in different topics that are covered by these programmes. The people who are involved in these schemes provide a lot of data, and to celebrate it there is a several papers on the 50 years of the BRC in the Biological Journal. Biological recording have developed with different ways – biological recording don’t have a specific scientific aims – just passion about collecting and identifying the different taxa. The national schemes are diverse – from 500 members of a bees, wasps & ants recording charity or a leafhoppers society that is more ad-hoc, to the completely ad-hoc ladybird recording survey, with 17,000 recorders. All the different schemes are lead by an individual, but involved a wide variety of people and there are now programmes that are involving many young people, which is important for the future of recording. There are mutual benefits – the recorders provide information but they get tools that help them – even stacking envelopes and sending newsletters, as well as data management, website design, editing atlases etc. The BRC is benefits from working with wide range of volunteer experts, and use the data for many purposes. The core activity is to create the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) – collect, review, share, publish and integrate the information. There are different technologies that support it from iRecord to NBN Gateway. Examples of how the Data was used include the analysis of invasion of alien species, as well as predictions of invasive species, informing UK biodiversity indicators, demonstrating impacts of climate change and modelling future distributions. The environmental challenges require a lot of data, and through this extensive community. (summary of her previous talk on the history of BRC at the BES 2014 )

Marisa Ponti - OER valuePotential of digital technologies to enhance openness in learning and science – Marisa Ponti – many citizen science project still happen off line, and there are many digital technologies that can be used to share and use the data. However, it is worth thinking about the potential of educational resources that can be used in such programmes. Open education and resources – learning, teaching and research that is in the public domain under open licence for reuse and modification has a role to play. Openness and access are important to citizen scientists – it can be increased and improve in the outputs of citizen science projects. Outputs are not the final publications, but also the  data, protocols, logs and systems. Open Education Resources (OER) can help in make ideas and scientific knowledge accessible, inspire people to be involved so they are not just passive participants, and can also help to meet funders’ requirements to make the research open. OER can help in reimagining what science is – can build a community outside institutional settings – such as Cornel Lab of Ornithology. It can also support self-driven and peer-based learning approaches, allowing people to run their own investigation, and OER can support experimentation with open practices. There is a specific website in the OER area of citizen science for learning and research. Resources help in creating suitable teaching sessions. There are other training material that can be reused and changed. There are, however, warning – the conditions for broad participation – OER in themselves with digital technology are not a solution unless we create the conditions for engagement of many people. There is a need to create the condition to allow participants to own the project. OER need to be in dialogue in terms of how people use them.

Learning in citizen scienceCitizen science, social learning and transforming expertise – Taru Peltola – She discuss the learning in citizen science with a paper that is currently under review (part of the ALTER-Net). In citizen science there is plenty of rhetorics – transparency, local knowledge, democracy … but social learning is usually seen with broader benefits that are related to citizen science and didn’t receive enough attention. There is a need to critically analyse the learning within citizen science, and learning is an important mechanism that require mutual learning (by participants, organisers and scientists), and learning can occur in all types of citizen science initiatives. Looking at literature on learning, there are questions on the outcomes (facts, instruments), process (individual/social/institutional), and who is involved (scientists/volunteers). It is wrong to assume that only the volunteers learn in citizen science – there are also important learning that the scientists get from the process. To gain more understanding, they looked at 14 cases across Europe – mostly monitoring species, but also cultural ecosystem services through participatory GIS or reindeer herding. The results from the cases are that the learning processes and outcomes are both intended and unintended, the learning is situated, the learning are unevenly distributed – need to pay attention who is getting the attention and how people are included, and the learning outcomes are continuous. They also found out that factual and instrumental learning outcomes are easier to assess, but it is important to pay special attention to the social and institutional process. These need to included in the design and implementation of citizen science projects.

Extreme citizen science: the socio-political potential of citizen science – Muki Haklay – in my talk, I have situated citizen science within the wider changes in access and use of environmental information. I have used the framework of 3 eras of environmental information (covered in details in the talk in the Wilson Center). The first two eras (between 1969-1992 and 1992-2005) are characterised by experts who produce environmental information and use it to advise decision makers. In the second era, information is shared with the public, but in unidirectional way – experts produce and release information to the public in a form that is suitable to share with other experts – so it is challenging to comprehend it. While the role of civic society and NGOs was recognised in the second era (e.g. Rio’s Principle 10), in terms of citizen science, the main model that was acceptable was the contributory model in which volunteers focus on data collection, so the information is verified by experts. With the third era (since 2005), we are seeing that the public is also accepted as producer of environmental information. This transition is opening up many opportunities for citizen science activities within environmental decision making. However, looking at the state of the art of citizen science, there is plenty of scope of involving people much more in the process of setting up citizen science projects, as well as engaging people with lower levels of education. I used 3 classifications of participation in citizen science (slides 14-16) to demonstrate that there is a range of ways to participate, and that different issues and different people can participate at a level that suit them and their life.
After introducing the vision of ‘Extreme Citizen Science’, I demonstrated that it is a combination of participatory process and use of technology. I introduced the participatory process of Mapping for Change, which deliberately starts with less use of technology so people can discover the issues that they would like to explore, and then decide how system such as Community Maps can be used to address their issues. I introduced GeoKey, which provides the infrastructure for participatory mapping system (such as Community Maps), and then demonstrated how Sapelli (data collection tool for low literacy participants) can be used in a careful participatory process with indigenous groups to design suitable citizen science projects. I used examples from the Congo basin and the work of Gill Conquest, the Amazon in Brazil-Peru border work of Carolina Comandulli and the current crowdfunding effort in Namibia for the Ju|’hoansi people by Megan Laws. I ended with a note that intermediaries (such as conservation organisations) have an important role to play in facilitating citizen science and helping in maintaining and sharing the data. The slides from the talk are provided below.

Annet Mihatsch - German Citizen Science StrategyThe final talk was citizen science strategy 2020 for Germany by Anett Richter – the ‘citizens create knowledge – knowledge create citizens’ project is a German Citizen Science capacity building project: it includes building citizen science platform, scientific evaluation of citizen science, developing resources for teaching and developing projects and a citizen science strategy 2020 for Germany. The need for strategy is that it helps focus on a problem and thinking about how to solve it. There are many projects already happening in Germany, with museums and NGOs, as well as conservation organisations. Lots of technologies are enabling it. However, we don’t have common understanding of where we want to go? Need framework for data use, there are risks of inconsistent communication to stakeholders. The way to open the strategy is involve wide range of stakeholders in the development – public, politicians, funders, community. The wider engagement in development strategy, require time and resources and there might be lack of public interest. They run 5 dialogue forums on different issues with 400 people involved. They explore capacities in science – think of science culture for citizen science – rewards for scientists to do so. Strong data infrastructure – data quality, validation, database management and other issues. Their vision – in 2020 citizen science is integral part of German society and open in all areas of science and for all people. Also want to have reliable web-based infrastructure. They will carry out consultation online in the autumn and publishing the strategy next year.


Upscience talk at Oxford’s Martin School

About a month ago, Francois Grey put out a suggestion that we should replace the term ‘bottom-up’  science with upscience  – do read his blog-post for a fuller explanation. I have met Francois in New York in April, when he discussed with me the ideas behind the concept, and why it is worth trying to use it.

At the end of May I had my opportunity to use the term and see how well it might work. I was invited to give a talk as part of the series Trusting the crowd: solving big problems with everyday solutions‘ at Oxford Martin School. The two previous talks in the series, about citizen science in the 19th Century and about crowdsourced journalism, set a high bar (and both are worth watching). My talk was originally titled ‘Beyond the screen: the power and beauty of ‘bottom-up’ citizen science projects’ so for the talk itself I have used ‘Beyond the screen: the power and beauty of ‘up-science’ projects‘ and it seem to go fine.

For me, the advantage of using up-science (or upscience) is in the avoidance of putting the people who are active in this form of science in the immediate disadvantage of defining themselves as ‘bottom’. For a very similar reason, I dislike the term ‘counter-mapping‘ as it puts those that are active in it in confrontational position, and therefore it can act as an additional marginalisation force. For few people, who are in favour of fights, this might make them more ‘fired up’, but for others, that might be a reason to avoid the process. Self-marginalisation is not a great position to start a struggle from.

In addition, I like the ability of upscience to be the term that catches the range of practices that Francois includes in the term, from DIY science, community based projects, civic science etc.

The content of the talk included a brief overview of the spectrum of citizen science, some of the typologies that help to make sense of them, and finally a focus on the type of practices that are part of up-science. Finally, some of the challenges and current solutions to them are covered. Below you can find a video of the talk and the discussion that followed it (which I found interesting and relevant to the discussion above).

If any of the references that I have noted in the talk is of interest, you can find them in the slide set below, which is the one that I used for the talk.



Citizen Cyberscience Summit – Day 2

The second day of the summit (see my reflections on the first day) started with an unplanned move to the Darwin Lecture Theatre of UCL. This was appropriate, as the theatre is sited in a place where Charles Darwin used to live, and he is mentioned many times as a citizen scientist. Moreover, the unplanned move set the tone for a day which paid more attention to DIY science.

We started with a vision for the future of citizen science by Rick Bonney from Cornell Lab of Ornithology in which he highlighted how important it is to keep growing the field and bring together different approaches to citizen science to save the world. CitSciPanelThis was followed by a panel that explored the experiences and wishes of citizen scientists themselves – from participant in Zooniverse, to DIY electronic and environmental justice applications of citizen science (image from Daniel Lombrana Glez). The panel demonstrated the level of interest and the commitment that people that are engaged in citizen science have, and that it is taken seriously by the participants. It also gave a glimpse to the empowerment aspect of citizen science.

In my opening, I have pressed the message that while the first day of the summit involve a lot of listening, the second day is about talking with one another and sharing ideas, in order to move to doing in the third day. In fact, this was not needed, and throughout the day many conversations were happening in workshops, in the main meeting area of the conference and during the coffee and tea breaks.

Another aspects that gave a different atmosphere to the day was the work of Leni Diner-Dothan. Leni is studying at UCL Slade School, and accepted a request to create an art installation during the summit. After collecting both operational and defunct items of citizen science and developing the concept, the work commenced during the day.

IMG_20140221_150509With the help of the technicians from my own department, she developed the ‘citizen cyberscience nightmare wall‘ which have pieces of citizen cyberscience embedded in concrete with a reliquary. It is a thought provoking and  fascinating piece of art, and I hope to write about it more soon.

My own highlight of the day was a conversation with Jerome Ravetz whom I wanted to meet for a very long time. You can hear him talking about citizen science here.

The citizen science cafe that closed the day open up thematic conversation, and I encountered discussions between related projects that the summit provided an opportunity for.

Now, it’s time to move to the doing – let’s see what ideas will come tomorrow…

Science for everyone by everyone – the re-emergence of citizen science

Earlier this week, I gave a public lecture as part of UCL‘s programme of Lunch Hour Lectures.

The talk, which is titled ‘Science for everyone by everyone – the re-emergence of citizen science‘ covered the area of citizen science and explained what we are trying to achieve within the Extreme Citizen Science research group.

Because the lunch hour lectures are open to all, I preferred not to assume any prior knowledge of citizen science (or public participation in scientific research) and start by highlighting that public participation in scientific research is not new. After a short introduction to the history and to the fact that many people are involved in scientific activities in their free time, from bird watching to weather or astronomical observations and that this never stopped, there is a notable difference in the attention that is paid to citizen science in recent years.

Therefore, I covered the trends in education and technology that are ushering in a new era of citizen science – access to information through the internet, use of location aware mobile devices, growth in social knowledge creation web-based systems, increased in education and the ability to deal with abstract ideas (Flynn effect is an indicator of this last point). The talk explored the current trends and types of citizen science, and demonstrate a model for extreme citizen science, in which any community, regardless of their literacy, can utilise scientific methods and tools to understand and control their environment. I have used examples of citizen science activities from other groups at UCL, to demonstrate the range of topics, domains and activities that are now included in this area.

The talk was recorded, and is available on YouTube  and below


London Citizen Cyberscience Summit – new collaborations and ideas

The London Citizen Cyberscience Summit ran in the middle of February, from 16th (Thursday) to 18th (Saturday). It marked the launch of the UCL Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) group, while providing an opportunity for people who are interested in different aspects of citizen science to come together, discuss, share ideas, consider joint projects and learn from other people. The original idea for the summit, when the first organisational meeting took place in October last year, was to set a programme that would include academics who research citizen science or develop citizen science projects; practitioners and enthusiasts who are developing technologies for citizen science activities; and people who are actively engaged in citizen science.Therefore, we included a mix of talks, workshops and hack days and started approaching speakers who would cover the range of interests, backgrounds and knowledge.

The announcement about the summit came out only in late December, so it was somewhat surprising to see the level of interest in the topic of citizen science. Considering that the previous summit, in 2010, attracted about 60 or 70 participants, it was pleasing to see that the second summit attracted more than 170 people.

To read about what happened in the summit there is plenty of material online. Nature news reported it as ‘Citizen science goes extreme‘. The New Scientist blog post discussed the ‘Intelligent Maps’ project of ExCiteS in ‘Interactive maps help pygmy tribes fight back‘, which was also covered by the BBC World Service Newshour programme (around 50 minutes in) and the Canadian CBC Science Shift programme. Le Monde also reported on ‘Un laboratoire de l’extrême‘.

Another report in New Scientist focused on the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (PLOTS) development of a thermal flashlight in ‘Thermal flashlight “paints” cold rooms with colour‘. The China DialogueScientists and Citizens‘ provided a broader review of the summit.

In terms of blogs, there are summaries on the GridCast blog (including some video interviews), and a summary by one of the speakers, Andrea Wiggins, of day 1, day 2 and day 3. Nicola Triscott from the Arts Catalyst provides another account of the summit and her Arctic Perspective Initiative linkage.   Another participant, Célya Gruson-Daniel, discussed the summit in French at MyScienceWork, which also provided a collection of social media from the first day at

The talks are available to view again on the LiveStream account of ExCiteS at and there are also summaries on the ExCiteS blog and on the conference site . Flickr photos from MyScienceWork and UCL Engineering (where the image on the right is from) are also available.

For me, several highlights of the conference included the impromptu integration of different projects during the summit. Ellie D’Hondt and Matthias Stevens from  BrusSense and NoiseTube used the opportunity of the PLOTS balloon mapping demonstration to extend it to noise mapping; Darlene Cavalier from SciStarter discussed with the Open Knowledge Foundation people how to use data about citizen science projects; and the people behind Xtribe at the University of Rome considered how their application can be used for Intelligent Maps – all these are synergies, new connections and new experimentation that the summit enabled. The enthusiasm of people who came to the summit contributed significantly to its success (as well as the hard work of the ExCiteS team).

Especially interesting, because of the wide-ranging overview of examples and case studies, is how the activity is conceptualised in different ways across the spectrum of DIY citizen science to structured observations that are managed by professional scientists. This is also apparent in the reports about the summit. I have commented in earlier blog posts about the need to understand citizen science as a different way of producing scientific knowledge. What might be helpful is a clear ‘code of ethics’ or ‘code of conduct’ for scientists who are involved in such projects. As Francois Taddei highlighted in his talk at the summit, there is a need to value the shared learning among all the participants, and not to keep the rigid hierarchies of university academics/public in place. There is also a need to allow for the creativity, exploration and development of ideas that we have seen during the summit to blossom – but only happen when all the sides that are involved in the process are open to such a process.

GISRUK 2011 talk – Participatory GIS, Volunteered Geographic Information and Citizen Science

GIS Research UK (GISRUK) is a long running conference series, and the 2011 instalment was hosted by the University of Portsmouth at the end of April.

During the conference, I was asked to give a keynote talk about Participatory GIS. I decided to cover the background of Participatory GIS in the mid-1990s, and the transition to more advanced Web Mapping applications from the mid-2000s. Of special importance are the systems that allow user-generated content, and the geographical types of systems that are now leading to the generation of Volunteer Geographic Information (VGI).

The next part of the talk focused on Citizen Science, culminating with the ideas that are the basis for Extreme Citizen Science.

Interestingly, as in previous presentations, one of the common questions about Citizen Science came up. Professional scientists seem to have a problem with the suggestion that citizens are as capable as scientists in data collection and analysis. While there is an acceptance about the concept, the idea that participants can suggest problems, collect data rigorously and analyse it seems to be too radical – or worrying.

What is important to understand is that the ideas of Extreme Citizen Science are not about replacing the role of scientists, but are a call to rethink the role of the participants and the scientists in cases where Citizen Science is used. It is a way to consider science as a collaborative process of learning and exploration of issues. My own experience is that participants have a lot of respect for the knowledge of the scientists, as long as the scientists have a lot of respect for the knowledge and ability of the participants. The participants would like to learn more about the topic that they are exploring and are keen to know: ‘what does the data that I collected mean?’ At the same time, some of the participants can become very serious in terms of data collection, reading about the specific issues and using the resources that are available online today to learn more. At some point, they are becoming knowledgeable participants and it is worth seeing them as such.

The slides below were used for this talk, and include links to the relevant literature.