Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city

Arduino sensing in MaltaThe Data and the City workshop will run on the 31st August and 1st September 2015, in Maynooth University, Ireland. It is part of the Programmable City project, led by Prof Rob Kitchin. My contribution to the workshop is titled Beyond quantification: a role for citizen science and community science in a smart city and is extending a short article from 2013 that was published by UCL’s Urban Lab, as well as integrating concepts from philosophy of technology that I have used in a talk at the University of Leicester. The abstract of the paper is:

“When approaching the issue of data in Smart Cities, there is a need to question the underlying assumptions at the basis of Smart Cities discourse and, especially, to challenge the prevailing thought that efficiency, costs and productivity are the most important values. We need to ensure that human and environmental values are taken into account in the design and implementation of systems that will influence the way cities operate and are governed. While we can accept science as the least worst method of accumulating human knowledge about the natural world, and appreciate its power to explain and act in the world, we need to consider how it is applied within the city in a way that does leave space for cultural, environmental and religious values. This paper argues that a specific form of collaborative science – citizen science and community science – is especially suitable for making Smart Cities meaningful and democratic. The paper use concepts from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology – especially those of the Device Paradigm and Focal Practices, to identify the areas were sensing the city can gain meaning for the participants.”

The paper itself can be accessed here.

Other papers from the same workshop that are already available include:

Rob Kitchin: Data-Driven, Networked Urbanism

Gavin McArdle & Rob Kitchin: Improving the Veracity of Open and Real-Time Urban Data

Michael Batty: Data About Cities: Redefining Big, Recasting Small

More details on the workshop will appear on the project website

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.


Esri survey123 tool – rapid prototyping geographical citizen science tool

There are several applications that allow creating forms rapidly – such as Open Data Kit (ODK) or EpiCollect. Now, there is another offering from Esri, in the form of Survey123 app – which is explained in the video below.

Survey123 is integrated into ArcGIS Online, so you need an ArcGIS account to use it (you can have a short experiment if you register for a trial account, but for a longer project you’ll have to pay). The forms are configured in XForms, like ODK . The forms can be designed in Excel fairly quickly, and the desktop connection package make it easy to link to the Survey123 site, as well as testing forms.  I tried creating a form for local data collection, including recording a location and taking an image with the phone. It was fairly easy to create forms with textual, numerical, image and location information, and the software also supports the use of images to items in the form, so they can be illustrated visually. The desktop connector application also allow use to render the form, so they can be tested before they are uploaded to ArcGIS Online. Then it is possible to distribute the form to mobile devices and use them to collect the information.

The app works well offline, and it is possible to collect multiple forms and then upload them all together. While the application still showing rough edges in terms of interaction design, meaningful messages and bug clearing, it can be useful for developing prototypes and forms when the geographic aspect of the data collection is central. For example, during data collection the application supports both capturing the location from GPS and pointing on a map to the location where the data was collected. You can only use GPS when you are offline, as for now it doesn’t let you cache a map of a study area.

As might be expected, the advantage of Survey123 is coming once you’ve got the information and want to analyse it, since ArcGIS Online provide the tools for detailed GIS analysis, or you can link to it from a desktop GIS and analyse and visualise the information.

Luckily for us, Esri is a partner of the Extreme Citizen Science group and UCL also holds an institutional licence for ArcGIS Online, so we have access to these tools. However, through Esri conservation programme can also apply to have access to ArcGIS Online and use this tool.

Call for papers – special issue of the Cartographic Journal on Participatory GIS

Call for papers for a special issue of The Cartographic Journal on past, present and future of
Participatory GIS and Public Participation GIS.

DSC01463In the 1990s, participatory GIS (PGIS) and Public Participation GIS (PPGIS) emerged as an approach and tool to make geospatial technologies more relevant and accessible to marginalized groups. The goal has been to integrate the qualitative and experiential knowledge of local communities and individuals, thereby empowering local peoples and non-profit organizations to participate in political decision-making. By enabling the participation of local people from different walks of life, P/PGIS has provided a platform where these people can share their viewpoints and create maps depicting alternative views of the same problem, but from a local perspective.

Over the years, numerous applications integrating GIS and social and spatial knowledge of local groups have been developed. P/PGIS appears well articulated as a technique. With the growth of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), from an epistemological view point the relationship of P/PGIS constructs (society, technology and institutions) and the use of components (access, power relations, diverse knowledge) in P/PGIS necessitates an exploration of what P/PGIS means in 21st century.

A related field, Citizen Science a.k.a. public participation in scientific research is a research technique that allows participation of public in the discovery of new scientific knowledge through data collection, analysis, or reporting. This approach can be viewed to be somewhat similar in its implementation to P/PGIS, which broadens the scope of data collection and enables information sharing among stakeholders in specific policies to solve a problem. The success of all three concepts, citizen science, PGIS and PPGIS, is influenced by the Geoweb – an integration of the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) (e.g., social networking sites) and geospatial technologies (e.g., virtual globes like Google Earth, free and open source GIS like QGIS and location enabled devices like the iPhone) – that allows a platform for non-experts to participate in the creation and sharing of geospatial information without the aid of geospatial professionals.

Following a successful session in the AAG 2015 Annual Meeting, this call is for papers that will appear in a special issue of ‘The Cartographic Journal’ ( We are calling for reflections on PPGIS/PGIS and citizen science that address some of the questions that are listed below.

  1. What social theories form the basis for the current implementation of P/PGIS? Have these theories changed? What remains persistent and intractable?
  2. What role do spatial theories, such as Tobler’s law of spatial relations or issues of spatial data accuracy, have in P/PGIS, Citizen Science or crowdsourcing?
  3. Since Schlossberg and Shuford, have we gotten better at understanding who the public is in PPGIS and what their role is in a successful deployment of PGIS?
  4. Which new knowledge should be included in data collection, mapping and decision-making and knowledge production? To what extent are rural, developing country, or marginalized communities really involved in the counter-mapping process? Are they represented when this action is undertaken by volunteers?
  5. What role do new ICTs and the emergence of crowdsourcing plays in the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge? Do new tech and concepts hinder the participatory process or enable empowerment of local communities? Do we have new insights on what could be considered technological determinism?
  6. Do we need to revisit P/PGIS in light of any of these shifts? How often do P/PGIS projects need to be revisited to address the dynamic nature of society and political factors and to allow future growth?
  7. How effective have P/PGIS and Citizen Science been in addressing issues of environmental and social justice and resource allocation, especially, from a policy-making perspective?
  8. Are we any better at measuring the success of P/PGIS and/or Citizen Science? Should there be policies to monitor citizen scientists’ participation in Geoweb? If so, for what purpose?
  9. What should be the role of privacy in P/PGIS, for example, when it influences the accuracy of the data and subsequent usability of final products? How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?
  10. How has the concept of the digital divide been impacted by the emergence of the Geoweb, crowdsourcing and/or neogeography?
  11. What is the range of participatory practices in Citizen Science and what are the values and theories that they encapsulate?
  12. What are the different applications of Citizen Science from policy and scientific research perspective?
  13. To what extent do the spatial distribution of citizens influence their participation in decision making process and resolving scientific problems?
  14. How have our notions of needed literacy (e.g., GIS) and skills shifted with the emergence of new technologies?

Editors: Muki Haklay (, University College London, UK; Renee Sieber (, McGill University; Rina Ghose (, University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee; Bandana Kar (, University of Southern Mississippi – Hattiesburg. Please use this link to send queries about the special issues, or contact one of the editors.

Submission Deadlines
Abstract – a 250 word abstract along with the title of the paper, name(s) of authors and their affiliations must be submitted by 15th August 2015 to Muki Haklay (use the links above). The editorial team will make a decision if the paper is suitable for the special issue by 1st September
Paper – The final paper created following the guidelines of The Cartographic Journal must be submitted by 30th October 2015.
Our aim is that the final issue will be published in early 2016

Citizen Science and Policy – possible frameworks

Back in February, my report ‘Citizen Science & Policy: a European Perspective‘ was published by the Wilson Centre in the US. As I was trying to make sense of the relevance of citizen science to policy making, I used a framework that included the level of geography, area of policy making and the type of citizen science activity. This helped in noticing that citizen science is working well at the neighbourhood, city and national scales, while not so well at regional and international level. The reasons for it are mostly jurisdiction, funding and organisational structure and scale of operation.

Later on, at a workshop that was organised by Prof Aletta Bonn on Citizen Science and Policy impact, the idea of paying attention to the role of citizen science within the policy cycle was offered as another dimension of analysis.

Last week, at a workshop that was organised by the European Environment Agency (EEA) as part of their work on coordinating the European Protection Agencies (EPA) Network, I was asked to provide an introduction to these frameworks.

The presentation below is starting with noting that citizen science in an EPA is a specific case of using crowdsourced geographic information in government and some of the common issues that we have identified in the report on how governments use crowdsourced information are relevant to citizen science, too. Of particular interest are the information flows between the public and government, and the multiple flows of environmental information that the 3rd era of environmental information brought.

After noticing the individual, organisational, business and conceptual issues that influence use in general, I turn to the potential framing that are available – geography, stage in policy formation and mode of engagement, and after covering those I’m providing few examples of case to illustrate how specific cases fit into this analysis.

It was quite appropriate to present this framework in the EEA, considering that the image that was used to illustrate the page of the report on the Wilson Center site, is of the NoiseWatch app which was developed by the EEA…

COST Energic Summer School on VGI and Citizen Science in Malta

Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations
Vyron Antoniou covering VGI foundations

COST Energic organised a second summer school that is dedicated to Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) and citizen science. This time, the school was run by the Institute for Climate Change & Sustainable Development of the University of Malta. with almost 40 participants from across Europe and beyond (Brazil, New Zealand), and, of course, participants from Malta. Most of the students are in early stage of their academic career (Masters and Ph.D. students and several postdoctoral fellows) but the school was also attended by practitioners – for example in urban planning or in cultural heritage. Their backgrounds included engineering, geography, environmental studies, sociology, architecture, biology and ecology, computer science. The areas from which the participants came from demonstrate the range of disciplines and practices that are now involved in crowdsourced data collection and use. Also interesting is the opening of governmental and non-governmental bodies to the potential of crowdsourcing as evident from the practitioners group.

The teachers on the programme, Maria Attard, Claire Ellul, Rob Lemmens, Vyron Antoniou, Nuno Charneca, Cristina Capineri (and myself) are all part of the COST Energic network. Each provide a different insight and interest in VGI in their work – from transport, to spatial data infrastructure or participatory mapping. The aim of the training school was to provide a ‘hands-on’ experience with VGI and citizen science data sources, assuming that some of the students might be new to the topics, the technologies or both. Understanding how to get the data and how to use it is an important issue that can be confusing to someone who is new to this field – where the data is, how do you consume it, which software you use for it etc.

Collecting information in the University of Malta
Collecting information in the University of Malta

After covering some of the principles of VGI, and examples from different areas of data collection, the students started to learn how to use various OpenStreetMap data collection tools. This set the scene to the second day, which was dedicated to going around the university campus and collecting data that is missing from OpenStreetMap, and carrying out both the data collection and then uploading the GPS Tracks and sharing the information. Of particular importance was the reflection part, as the students were asked to consider how other people, who are also new to OpenStreetMap will find the process.

Using meteorological sensors in Gozo
Using meteorological sensors in Gozo

The next level of data collection involved using sensors, with an introduction to the potential of DIY electronics such as Arduino or Raspberry Pi as a basis for sensing devices. A field trip to Gozo in the next day provided the opportunity to explore these tools and gain more experience in participatory sensing. Following a lecture on participatory GIS application in Gozo, groups of students explored a local park in the centre of Rabat (the capital of Gozo) and gained experience in participatory sensing and citizen science.

Learning together The training school also included a public lecture by Cristina Capineri on ‘the fortune of VGI’.

The students will continue to develop their understanding of VGI and citizen science, culminating with group presentations on the last day. The most important aspects of any training school, as always, is in the development of new connections and links between the people on the programme, and in the conversations you could notice how these areas of research are still full of questions and research challenges.

COST ENERGIC meeting – Tallinn 21-22 May

TallinnThe COST Energic network is progressing in its 3rd year. The previous post showed one output from the action – a video that describe the links between volunteered geographic information and indigenous knowledge.

The people who came to the meeting represent the variety of interest in crwodsourced geographic information, from people with background in Geography, Urban planning, and many people with interest in computing – from semantic representation of information, cloud computing, data mining and similar issues where VGI represent an ‘interesting’ dataset.

Part of the meeting focused on the next output of the network, which is an Open Access book which is titled ‘European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information’. The book will be made from short chapters that are going through peer-review by people within the network. The chapters will cover topics such as theoretical and social aspects, quality – criteria and methodologies, data analysis and finally applied research and case studies. We are also creating a combined reference list that will be useful for researchers in the field. There will be about 25 chapters. Different authors gave a quick overview of their topics, with plenty to explore – from Smart Cities to concepts on the nature of information.

COST ‘actions’ (that’s how these projects are called), operate through working groups. In COST Energic, there are 3 working groups, focusing on human and societal issues,  Spatial data Quality and infrastructures, and Data mining, semantics and VGI.

Working Group 1 looked at an example of big data from Alg@line –  22 years of data of ferry data from the Baltic sea – with 17 millions observations a year. Data from  that can be used for visualisation and exploring the properties. Another case study that the working group consider is the engagement of schoolchildren and VGI – with activities in Portugal, Western Finland, and Italy. These activities are integrating citizen science and VGI, and using free and open source software and data. In the coming year, they are planning specific activities in big data and urban planning and crowd atlas on urban biodiversity.

Working Group 2 have been progressing in its activities linking VGI quality with citizen science, and how to produce reliable information from it. The working group collaborate with another COST action (TD1202) which called ‘Mapping and the Citizen Sensor‘. They carried out work on topics of quality of information – and especially with vernacular gazetteers. In their forthcoming activities, they contribute to ISSDQ 2015 (international symposium on spatial data quality) with a set of special sessions. Future work will focus on quality tools and quality visualisation.

Prof. Cristina Capineri opening the meeting
Prof. Cristina Capineri opening the meeting

Working Group 3 also highlighted the ISSDQ 2015 and will have a good presence in the conference. The group aims to plan a hackathon in which people will work on VGI, with a distributed event for people to work with data over time. Another plan is to focus on research around the repository. The data repository from the working group – contains way of getting of data and code. It’s mostly how to get at the data.

There is also a growing repository of bibliography on VGI in CiteULike. The repository is open to other researchers in the area of VGI, and WG3 aim to manage it as a curated resource.