Policy Perspectives on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing


Special Issue edited by Lea A. Shanley, Alison Parker, Sven Schade, and Aletta Bonn: “Citizen science encompasses a range of methodologies that support meaningful contributions of the public to the advancement of scientific and engineering research and monitoring, in ways that may include identifying research questions; conducting scientific investigations; collecting, processing, and analyzing data; developing scientific hardware and software; and solving complex problems. As an emerging field, citizen science has been described in a variety of ways (e.g., Auerbach et al. 2019Eitzel et al. 2017Hecker et al. 2019Heigl et al. 2019Shanley, Hulbert, and Auerbach 2019). Similarly, crowdsourcing is a methodology that engages a large group of people through an open call to tackle a common task or problem, either as individuals or collectively (Howe and Robinson 2005; Howe 2006). This may include asking the public to submit new ideas, designs, algorithms, or data via an online platform or mobile app, which is sometimes incentivized through a prize or challenge.

The defining characteristic of both citizen science and crowdsourcing, however, is their “location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet, even if that intersection can take many different forms” (Irwin 2015). Irwin argues that these approaches provide an opportunity to bring members of the public and science closer together, to consider the possibilities for a more active “scientific citizenship,” [and] “to link these issues into public policy.” As several recent studies have demonstrated, citizen science and crowdsourcing can help to provide the evidence-base to inform a wide range of management and public policy decisions while fostering civic partnerships with government…

More than two decades after the publication of Irwin’s seminal book on citizen science (Irwin 1995), we see an increasing awareness and use of citizen science by national governments and multilateral organizations to address both scientific and societal challenges (e.g., Haklay 2015Nascimento et al. 2017). Governments in the United States and Europe, for example, have incorporated citizen science and crowdsourcing as part of their Open Science, Open Innovation, Open Government, and/or Open Data initiatives (e.g., OSTP 20132015OECD 2016EC 2016). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response have used crowdsourcing and citizen science for disaster response and humanitarian relief for nearly a decade (e.g., Shanley et al. 2013), while the United Nations Environment Program is beginning to explore the use of citizen science for addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., Chandler et al. 2017Fritz et al. 2019). This growing support for citizen science and crowdsourcing by government decision-makers and policymakers is a direct result of the focused grassroots efforts of government agency staff, in partnership with professional citizen science associations and organizations such as SciStarter, as well as the strategic positioning of citizen science and crowdsourcing as methods for addressing agency missions and national priorities (e.g., Bowser et al. In preparationGöbel et al. 2019Roger et al. 2019Shanley et al. In preparation). Through our contributions to these initiatives, the editorial team was inspired to propose this Special Issue on Policy Perspectives for Citizen Science….(More)”.

The most innovative political projects in Europe 2019


The Innovation in Politics Institute: “Since 2017, the Innovation in Politics Awards have been honouring successfully implemented political initiatives – regardless of party affiliation, political level or region. The aim is to strengthen, further develop and inspire democratic politics…

The winning projects by category are:

COOPERATIVE COUNCIL GRONINGEN: Trust is crucial in life – and in politics. The open citizens’ council in Groningen builds trust between citizens and politicians. When they sit shoulder to shoulder in the local council and decide together, a joint sense of responsibility quickly develops. The citizens are chosen at random in order to motivate a variety of people to participate. An evaluation by the University of Groningen showed increased trust on all sides, more active voting behaviour and a stronger community. …

SMART CITY BAD HERSFELD: The “Smart City Bad Hersfeld” project links public administration, citizens and businesses in the city to improve living and working conditions. With 30,000 inhabitants, it is the smallest city in Germany to have developed such a programme. A digital parking guidance system optimises the use of space and the finding of a parking space. Municipal charging stations for electric cars promote environmentally friendly transport. “Smartboxes” on main roads collect data on traffic noise and waste materials for effective environmental management. Free Internet in the city centre motivates everyone to use such services….(More)”

The Crowd and the Cosmos: Adventures in the Zooniverse


Book by Chris Lintott: “The world of science has been transformed. Where once astronomers sat at the controls of giant telescopes in remote locations, praying for clear skies, now they have no need to budge from their desks, as data arrives in their inbox. And what they receive is overwhelming; projects now being built provide more data in a few nights than in the whole of humanity’s history of observing the Universe. It’s not just astronomy either – dealing with this deluge of data is the major challenge for scientists at CERN, and for biologists who use automated cameras to spy on animals in their natural habitats. Artificial intelligence is one part of the solution – but will it spell the end of human involvement in scientific discovery?

No, argues Chris Lintott. We humans still have unique capabilities to bring to bear – our curiosity, our capacity for wonder, and, most importantly, our capacity for surprise. It seems that humans and computers working together do better than computers can on their own. But with so much scientific data, you need a lot of scientists – a crowd, in fact. Lintott found such a crowd in the Zooniverse, the web-based project that allows hundreds of thousands of enthusiastic volunteers to contribute to science.

In this book, Lintott describes the exciting discoveries that people all over the world have made, from galaxies to pulsars, exoplanets to moons, and from penguin behavior to old ship’s logs. This approach builds on a long history of so-called “citizen science,” given new power by fast internet and distributed data. Discovery is no longer the remit only of scientists in specialist labs or academics in ivory towers. It’s something we can all take part in. As Lintott shows, it’s a wonderful way to engage with science, yielding new insights daily. You, too, can help explore the Universe in your lunch hour…(More)”.

Unregulated Health Research Using Mobile Devices: Ethical Considerations and Policy Recommendations


Paper by Mark A. Rothstein et al: “Mobile devices with health apps, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, crowd-sourced information, and other data sources have enabled research by new classes of researchers. Independent researchers, citizen scientists, patient-directed researchers, self-experimenters, and others are not covered by federal research regulations because they are not recipients of federal financial assistance or conducting research in anticipation of a submission to the FDA for approval of a new drug or medical device. This article addresses the difficult policy challenge of promoting the welfare and interests of research participants, as well as the public, in the absence of regulatory requirements and without discouraging independent, innovative scientific inquiry. The article recommends a series of measures, including education, consultation, transparency, self-governance, and regulation to strike the appropriate balance….(More)”.

The Psychological Basis of Motivation to Take Part in Online Citizen Science


Paper by Liz Dowthwaite et al: “Increasing motivation to contribute to online citizen science projects can improve user experience and is critical in retaining and attracting users. Drawing on previous studies of motivation, this paper suggests self-determination theory as a framework for explaining the psychological constructs behind participation in Citizen Science. Through examining existing studies of motivation for 6 Zooniverse projects through this lens, the paper suggests how appealing to basic psychological needs could increase participation in online citizen science, considering current practices and directions for future developments and research….(More)”.

Citizen science and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals


Steffen Fritz et al in Nature: “Traditional data sources are not sufficient for measuring the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. New and non-traditional sources of data are required. Citizen science is an emerging example of a non-traditional data source that is already making a contribution. In this Perspective, we present a roadmap that outlines how citizen science can be integrated into the formal Sustainable Development Goals reporting mechanisms. Success will require leadership from the United Nations, innovation from National Statistical Offices and focus from the citizen-science community to identify the indicators for which citizen science can make a real contribution….(More)”.

To What Extent Does the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Apply to Citizen Scientist-led Health Research with Mobile Devices?


Article by Edward Dove and Jiahong Chen: “In this article, we consider the possible application of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to “citizen scientist”-led health research with mobile devices. We argue that the GDPR likely does cover this activity, depending on the specific context and the territorial scope. Remaining open questions that result from our analysis lead us to call for a lex specialis that would provide greater clarity and certainty regarding the processing of health data for research purposes, including by these non-traditional researchers…(More)”.

Massive Citizen Science Effort Seeks to Survey the Entire Great Barrier Reef


Jessica Wynne Lockhart at Smithsonian: “In August, marine biologists Johnny Gaskell and Peter Mumby and a team of researchers boarded a boat headed into unknown waters off the coasts of Australia. For 14 long hours, they ploughed over 200 nautical miles, a Google Maps cache as their only guide. Just before dawn, they arrived at their destination of a previously uncharted blue hole—a cavernous opening descending through the seafloor.

After the rough night, Mumby was rewarded with something he hadn’t seen in his 30-year career. The reef surrounding the blue hole had nearly 100 percent healthy coral cover. Such a find is rare in the Great Barrier Reef, where coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 led to headlines proclaiming the reef “dead.”

“It made me think, ‘this is the story that people need to hear,’” Mumby says.

The expedition from Daydream Island off the coast of Queensland was a pilot program to test the methodology for the Great Reef Census, a citizen science project headed by Andy Ridley, founder of the annual conservation event Earth Hour. His latest organization, Citizens of the Great Barrier Reef, has set the ambitious goal of surveying the entire 1,400-mile-long reef system in 2020…(More)”.

GROW Citizens’ Observatory: Leveraging the power of citizens, open data and technology to generate engagement, and action on soil policy and soil moisture monitoring


Paper by M. Woods et al: “Citizens’ Observatories (COs) seek to extend conventional citizen science activities to scale up the potential of citizen sensing for environmental monitoring and creation of open datasets, knowledge and action around environmental issues, both local and global. The GROW CO has connected the planetary dimension of satellites with the hyperlocal context of farmers and their soil. GROW has faced three main interrelated challenges associated with each of the three core audiences of the observatory, namely citizens, scientists and policy makers: one is sustained citizen engagement, quality assurance of citizen-generated data and the challenge to move from data to action in practice and policy. We discuss how each of these challenges were overcome and gave way to the following related project outputs: 1) Contributing to satellite validation and enhancing the collective intelligence of GEOSS 2) Dynamic maps and visualisations for growers, scientists and policy makers 3) Social-technical innovations data art…(More)”.

Aliens in Europe. An open approach to involve more people in invasive species detection


Paper by Sven Schade et al: “Amplified by the phenomenon of globalisation, such as increased human mobility and the worldwide shipping of goods, we observe an increasing spread of animals and plants outside their native habitats. A few of these ‘aliens’ have negative impacts on their environment, including threats to local biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and human health. Our work addresses these threats, particularly within the European Union (EU), where a related legal framework has been established. We follow an open and participatory approach that allows more people to share their experiences of invasive alien species (IAS) in their surroundings. Over the past three years, we developed a mobile phone application, together with the underlying data management and validation infrastructure, which allows smartphone users to report a selected list of IAS. We put quality assurance and data integration mechanisms into place that allows the uptake of information into existing official systems in order to make it accessible to the relevant policy-making at EU level.

This article summarises our scientific methodology and technical approach, explains our decisions, and provides an outlook to the future of IAS monitoring involving citizens and utilising the latest technological advancements. Last but not least we emphasise on software design for reuse, within the domain of IAS monitoring, but also for supporting citizen science apps more generally. Whereas much could already be achieved, many scientific, technical and organizational challenges still remain to be addressed before data can be seamlessly shared and integrated. Here, we particularly highlight issues that emerge in an international setting, which involves many different stakeholders….(More)”.