New paper: The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique

Considering how long Reneé Sieber  (McGill University) and I know each other, and working in similar areas (participatory GIS, participatory geoweb, open data, socio-technical aspects of GIS, environmental information), I’m very pleased that a collaborative paper that we developed together is finally published.

The paper ‘The epistemology(s) of volunteered geographic information: a critique‘ took some time to evolve. We started jotting ideas in late 2011, and slowly developed the paper until it was ready, after several rounds of peer review, for publication in early 2014, but various delays led to its publication only now. What is pleasing is that the long development time did not reduced the paper relevancy – we hope! (we kept updating it as we went along). Because the paper is looking at philosophical aspects of GIScience, we needed periods of reflection and re-reading to make sure that the whole paper come together, and I’m pleased with the way ideas are presented and discussed in it. Now that it’s out, we will need to wait and see how it will be received.

The abstract of the paper is:

Numerous exegeses have been written about the epistemologies of volunteered geographic information (VGI). We contend that VGI is itself a socially constructed epistemology crafted in the discipline of geography, which when re-examined, does not sit comfortably with either GIScience or critical GIS scholarship. Using insights from Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology we offer a critique that, rather than appreciating the contours of this new form of data, truth appears to derive from traditional analytic views of information found within GIScience. This is assisted by structures that enable VGI to be treated as independent of the process that led to its creation. Allusions to individual emancipation further hamper VGI and problematise participatory practices in mapping/geospatial technologies (e.g. public participation geographic information systems). The paper concludes with implications of this epistemological turn and prescriptions for designing systems and advancing the field to ensure nuanced views of participation within the core conceptualisation of VGI.

The paper is open access (so anyone can download it) and it is available in the Geo website . 

Citizen Cyberlab Summit (day 1)

wpid-wp-1442503181050.jpgThe Citizen Cyberlab Summit is the final event of the Citizen Cyberlab project. The name might sound grand, but the event itself was fairly intimate and focused, with about 40 participants from across the world. The aim of the event was to share the learning from the project and compare them to similar activities around the world. It also provided an opportunity to consider, with experts from different areas, the directions that the project partners should progress beyond the specific ‘deliverables’ (outcomes and outputs) of the project. The meeting was held in the Confucius institute of the University of Geneva which has a mission to improve scientific diplomacy and international links between researchers, so it was a suitable venue for the such international scientific meeting.

 Introduction to Citizen Cyberlab was provided by Ariel Lindner (UPD) who is the main project leader. He noted that the starting point of citizen cyberlab is that we know that people learn better by doing, and that working with the public is also beneficial for scientists – both for becoming aware of public concerns as well as the moral obligation to share the results of research with those who fund it.  The citizen cyberlab project, which is in its final months, was based on 3 parts – platforms, pilots, and tools. Platforms that are aimed at lowering the barriers for participation for scientists and citizens (computation and participation platforms). The platforms are tested through pilot projects, which are then evaluated for creativity and learning – exploring learning behaviour, creativity and community engagement. We aim to share the successful experiences but also the challenges that emerged through the various activities. In the computation platforms, we developed CitizenGrid is aimed to allow running cloud-based projects; RedWire, a new way to consider game design – creating an open source game engine with open game analytics (the ability to measure what people do with the games). Example of this was in the development of science games; GeoKey is the final platform, and it allow people to share their concerns and control information. The project pilots included Virtual Atom Smasher which is about learning particle physics and helping scientists; GeoTag-X at UNITAR helping in disaster response; SynBio4All which open up synthetic biology to wider audience – with games such as Hero Coli and a MOOC on DIY synthetic biology (through iGEM) – with activities around ‘the smell of us’ about the odour that people emit and identifying the bacteria that influence it. L’Oréal is interested in developing this research further; There are several Extreme Citizen Science pilots, too. The tools that were developed in the project included creativity tools such as to explore and develop ideas, monitoring learning (CCL-Tracker), and EpiCollect+ system to allow data collection for a wide range of projects.
Aspects of creativity and understanding what people learn are both complex tasks – understanding the learning had to be done on other communities in citizen science, finally there is specific effort on community engagement through social media and media outlets (YouTube and Audio).

The rest of the event was structured as follows: after two short presentations from guest speakers from outside the project consortium, two demonstrations of specific platform, tool, pilot or learning was followed, and the session ended with discussion in groups, which were then shared back. In all, the summit had 4 such sessions.

wpid-wp-1442502888908.jpgFollowing this introduction, two guests gave Short Talks, first about World Community Grid (WCG) – Juan Hindo (IBM). Juan provided details of WCG which is part of IBM corporate citizenship group. WCG is philanthropic programme that support participation in science through distributed computing to allow scientists to access large scale computing by using unused processing in computers and mobile devices. The projects can be ‘the biggest and most fundamentally important activities in labs’ according to researchers who participate in the programme. Examples of success include new solar materials from Harvard university researchers, with thousands of candidate materials. Other breakthroughs happened in childhood cancer research and computing for clean water that was led by Tshinghua University in China – exploring the use of nano-tubes for water filtration. WCG are promoting Open Science – ask researcher to make the data publicly available, focus on humanitarian research, real tangible science, with IBM support. Using the corporate ability, they get lots of attention in media. They try to engage volunteers as much as possible – they carried out an extensive volunteers study 2 years ago. Demographic – mostly man, technical background, 20-40, who usually volunteer for 5 years, and people join because they want to help science. Learning about the science is a reason to stay. People want to understand the impact of the computations that they perform – beyond just statics and asking information to be understandable. WCG are trying now to build a more diverse volunteer base, more approachable scientific content and articulating the value of contribution. They see opportunity to reach out to young people, women and they try to engage people through the story about the science, and ensuring people that the process is safe – evaluating experience and design to take a short time. They also want to leverage existing volunteers – they set up a recruitment competition for existing volunteers – that led to very few new people joined. They also do use of social media on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. There is growing engagement with social media, but not enough conversion to volunteering. They also deal with layering of information with researchers, ask for consistent and regular updating on the research and give volunteer control over communication that they receive. Articulating contribution value is to highlight research stories – not just computations and number of volunteers and celebrating and promote scientific success – they lean on networks in IBM to share the word out. The campaign helped in doubling the registration rate to the system. They want to reach more volunteers, and they follow conversion rate – they are missing stories from volunteers and have a volunteer voice, remove barriers to entry, recruitment drive didn’t create. They want to expand research portfolio and want other areas that it can support. 

In the discussion that followed the important of IP, treating volunteers as individuals came up as a topic that worth exploring with volunteer computing project.

wpid-wp-1442566393048.jpgThe next presentation was Science@home –  by Jacob Sherson (University of Aarhus, Denmark). Jacob noted that in citizen science there are different difficulty level and opportunity to user innovation. In Science@home they are trying to extend the range of citizen science involvement with students. They are talking about the creativity research – trying to evaluate creativity with a positivist empirical framework – controlling different variables and evaluating creativity of output according to it. They run – with 3000 people participating in projects, with experiments ranging from cognitive science, to quantum physics, and business administration – and they have an interdisciplinary team from different areas of research to support the development of the system. An example for the type of project that they deal with is quantum computing – manipulations of electrons – they are sloshing around between states when moving them with laser beams. Using analogies to high school curriculum was useful way to engage participants and make it relevant to their studies. They have discovered that students can understand quantum physics in a phenomenological way through a game interface. They discover that gamers find areas of good region for solutions. The players localised area of the big parameters space – faster than computer simulation. They also studying the formation of strategies in people mind – Quantum Minds. With this programme, they are studying the process of learning the project and mastering it. They looked at the way to people who learn how to solve problems – to see if early performance help to predict the ability to learn the topic. Other games include trying to understand innovations in the Alien Game. They also have behavioural economics game about forming of groups. The educational part is about creativity – thinking of motivations for curriculum and fun with different resources. Game based education is assumed to improve the curriculum and can increase the motivation to learn. The general approach is to provide personalised online learning trajectories – identify types of students and learners and then correlate them and create personalised learning experience. Also want to train researchers to help them explore. 

The next part of the morning session were the 2 Demonstrations starting with EpiCollect – David Aanensen (Imperial College). EpiCollect was created to deal with infectious disease – who, what, where and when – getting the information about genetic make-up of diseases. They realised that there is a generic issue of metadata gathering and the tool evolved into generic forms collection and visualisation tool. The current use of EpiCollect includes a lot of projects in veterinary as GPS monitoring of animals is easier in terms of ethics. It was also used by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) to monitor the provision of food to communities in different parts of the world. Also used in education projects in Bath university in field courses (building on evolution megalab project to collect information about snails) with students building questionnaire based on the information sheets of the project. They are starting to build longitudinal data. There are projects that link EpiCollect to other systems – such as GeoKey and CartoDB for visualisation.  

Red Wire  was presented by Jesse Himmelstein (University Paris Descartes) -Red Wire is a platform that is aimed at reducing the barrier of creating games for citizen science through a mash-up approach – code and games are open access to encourage reuse. It use functional programming language approach – in a visual programming environment. They are taking metaphors from electronics. There are examples of games that student developed during recent summer schools and other activities. 

CitizenGrid was discussed by John Darlington (Imperial College, London). Citizen Grid is a platform that enables replicating projects on cloud computing, specifically for volunteer computing projects. It can allow unified support to volunteer computing – support for the scientists who are setting a project, but also to the volunteers who want to link to the project. The scientists can map their resources through creation of both client and server virtual machines and register the application. They demonstrated it with projects that also use games – allowing to install the application on local machines or cloud computing.   

wpid-wp-1442502824236.jpgIn the breakout groups, participants discussed the complexity of the platforms and what are the next steps to make them more accessible. For Epicollect, there are challenges of identifying who are the users – they the both the coordinators and the data collectors, and helping them in setting useful project is challenging, especially with the need for usability and user experience expertise. Dealing with usability and user experience is a challenge that is common to such projects. For RedWire, there is a need to help people who do not have any programming experience to develop games, so these are scientists and teachers. Maybe even gemify the game engine with credits to successful game designers who create components that can be remixed. For citizen grid, there is a need for examples of use cases, with currently Virtual Atom Smasher as the main demonstrator.

The afternoon session explored Pilot Projects. CERN@School – Becky Parker (Langton Star Centre) described how she developed, with her students and collaboration with scientists the ability to do science at school. The project is a demonstration how students and teachers can become part of the science community. The project started years ago with students contributing to astrophysics research. The school is involved in fundamental research, with a 17 years old student publishing scientific paper based on theoretical physics research problem that was presented to the students from professional scientists. Her students also put together to put an instrument to detect cosmic rays on the satellite TDS-1. They can see where is their experiment through visualisation over Google Maps that the students developed themselves. Students also created analysis tools for the data. Students can contribute to NASA research on the impact of cosmic rays on International Space Station staff. CERN@School also include experiment in collecting radiation reading which help to map background radiation in the UK (by students at 14-15). Through their work, they discovered that there aren’t many radiation reading in the ocean, and they will do that by mounting a radiation sensor to sea UAV. All this helps students to learn to be scientists. They created the monopole-quest project within the zooniverse projects. It is possible to get young people involved in large scale science projects. It also help to encourage science teachers and to ensure job satisfaction for teachers. The involvement of girls in the project also lead to more participation in science and engineering after school with the school having a disproportionate share of the number of young women who go to study such topics in the UK. – From Volunteers to Scientists – Michael Weber (Uni Marburg). Michael describe how volunteers turned to scientists in the area of volunteer computing. Rechenkraft started in 2005 with a forum dedicated to all distributed computing projects around the world, and sharing the information about them among German speaking volunteers. Projects are now being translated to other languages, too. This led to the creation of an organisation, which is now involved in many projects, including  volunteers also created monitoring programmes that indicate the process and provide statistics about contributions. They also have yearly face to face gathering of volunteers from across Germany and beyond, with results of creating their own data processing racks and other initiative. Started in electronic sports league but then realised that there are opportunities to assist scientists in developing new projects, and that led to Yoyo@home that will allow the community to help scientists in developing BOINC projects. They regularly participate in conferences and exhibitions to promote the opportunity to other people interested in technology, and they became part of Quake-catcher network. They receive significant press coverage – eventually the city of Marburg (Germany) offered the organisation physical pace that became the Hackspace of the city. Once there is a steady place, they created more sophisticated cluster computers. They also set up the WLAN in the local refugee camp. Finally, they also develop their own scientific project- RNA world which is completely internal project. They encountered problems with very large output files from simulations so they are learning about running distributed computing projects as scientists who use the results and not only as volunteers. They also starting to run different projects about tree health with data recording such as location, photo and plant material.   Similarly, they map protected flowers – all this on volunteer basis. They participate in the effort of developing citizen science strategy 2020 for Germany, and they would like funding to be available to average person so they can participate in projects. There is risk that citizen science will be co-opted by scientists – need to leave space for grass-roots initiatives. There are also barriers for publications. The need for lab results in addition to the simulation encouraged the creation of the wet lab. 

The last short guest talk came from Bernard Revaz who suggested to create Massive Multiplayer Online Science – using game environments like WoW (World of Warcraft) to do science. His aim is inject science into projects such as Eve online – at a given time there are 40,000 users, median age 35, with 50% with degree in science. In Eve online they design an element from the human protein atlas that the gamers will help to classify. The stakeholders in their discussion include scientists,  the gaming company and players and all are very positive about the prospect. In Eve online there are many communities – they are creating a new community of scientists so people join it voluntarily. Working on matching the science tasks to the game narrative and to the game reward system.

After these two guest talks, there were two Demos. 

wpid-wp-1442502761020.jpgFirst, Virtual Atom Smasher (VAS) – Ioannis Charalampidis (CERN) – the VAS is about the way CERN develop the science cycle -observe the situation, lead to theory by theoretical physicists and then carry out experiments to test them. The process includes computer simulations that are explored against experimental data. They are trying to adjust the models until the model reflect the results.VAS evolved from a project by  15 years old student in 2010, who managed to create the best fitting results of a simulation. The VAS is about real cutting edge science, but it is also very challenging and created a game (but don’t use the word game – it’s a simulation). The VAS use CitizenGrid and RedWire for the game and CCL tracker to understand the way people use the platform. The analytics show the impact of training to the desired flow of the game. The VAS combines exploration with opportunities for learning. 

Geotag-X – Eleanor Rusack (UNITAR). This is a platform to crowdsource the analysis of images in humanitarian crises. They usually use satellite imagery to deal with crises, but there are limitations to some images – roofs, clouds etc., and there is a need to know what is going on the ground. The idea is to harvest photos coming from disaster , then analyse them and share the knowledge. A lot of information in photos can be very useful – it’s possible to extract structural information and other details in the image. They got a workflow, who set projects, they then develop the structure of the processing and tutorials, and tools for photo collection tools (from Flickr, Twitter, EpiCollect and Chrome extension). The photos are added to the analysis pool. They have created a project to allow people deal with Yemeni Cultural Heritage at risk as  a result of the way that is happening there. The syste is mostly based on self learning. Geotagging photo is a challenging tasks. It’s a specially an area that need more work. The experts are professionals or academics in specific domain who can help people to design the process, while participants are coming from different backgrounds. They are recruiting people through SciStarter, Mozilla science etc. The keep in touch with online volunteer groups – people who come from SciStarter tend to stay. Digital volunteers also help a lot and they encourage volunteering through presentation, but most important are data sprints. They use evaluation of agreement between analysts – agreement show easy to agree. There is a range of responses to agreement across standard deviation: they identify 3 groups – easy (high  agreement, low standard deviation), mid (high std div and median agreement) and complex (low agreement, low std div). Analysis of images against these agreement level help to improve designs. The want to move the questions up the curve and how to train large number of analysts when project leaders have limited time? 

The follow up discussion explored improvements to VAS – such as integrating arts or linking a BOINC project that will contribute computing resources to the VAS. For Geotag-X, the discussion explored the issue of training – with ideas about involving volunteers in getting the training right, run virtual focus groups or exploring design aspects and collaborations between volunteers.

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.