Conversation: “Over the years, citizen scientists have provided vital data and contributed in invaluable ways to various scientific quests. But they’re typically relegated to helping traditional scientists complete tasks the pros don’t have the time or resources to deal with on their own. Citizens are asked to count wildlife, for instance, or classify photos that are of interest to the lead researchers.the
This type of top-down engagement has consigned citizen science to the fringes, where it fills a manpower gap but not much more. As a result, its full value has not been realized. Marginalizing the citizen scientists and their potential contribution is a grave mistake – it limits how far we can go in science and the speed and scope of discovery.
Instead, by harnessing globalization’s increased interconnectivity, citizen science should become an integral part of open innovation. Science agendas can be set by citizens, data can be open, and open-source software and hardware can be shared to assist in the scientific process. And as the model proves itself, it can be expanded even further, into nonscience realms.
The time is right for citizen science to join forces with open innovation. This is a concept that describes partnering with other people and sharing ideas to come up with something new. The assumption is that more can be achieved when boundaries are lowered and resources – including ideas, data, designs and software and hardware – are opened and made freely available.
Open innovation is collaborative, distributed, cumulative and it develops over time. Citizen science can be a critical element here because its professional-amateurs can become another significant source of data, standards and best practices that could further the work of scientific and lay communities.
Globalization has spurred on this trend through the ubiquity of internet and wireless connections, affordable devices to collect data (such as cameras, smartphones, smart sensors, wearable technologies), and the ability to easily connect with others. Increased access to people, information and ideas points the way to unlock new synergies, new relationships and new forms of collaboration that transcend boundaries. And individuals can focus their attention and spend their time on anything they want.
We are seeing this emerge in what has been termed the “solution economy” – where citizens find fixes to challenges that are traditionally managed by government.
Consider the issue of accessibility. Passage of the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act aimed to improve accessibility issues in the U.S. But more than two decades later, individuals with disabilities are still dealing with substantial mobility issues in public spaces – due to street conditions, cracked or nonexistent sidewalks, missing curb cuts, obstructions or only portions of a building being accessible. These all can create physical and emotional challenges for the disabled.
To help deal with this issue, several individual solution seekers have merged citizen science, open innovation and open sourcing to create mobile and web applications that provide information about navigating city streets. For instance, Jason DaSilva, a filmmaker with multiple sclerosis, developed AXS Map – a free online and mobile app powered by Google Places API. It crowdsources information from people across the country about wheelchair accessibility in cities nationwide….
Perhaps the most pressing limitation of scaling up the citizen science model is issues with reliability. While many of these projects have been proven reliable, others have fallen short.
For instance, crowdsourced damage assessments from satellite images following 2013’s Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines faced challenges. But according to aid agencies, remote damage assessments by citizen scientists had a devastatingly low accuracy of 36 percent. They overrepresented “destroyed” structures by 134 percent….(More)”