Citizen science, public policy

Paper by Christi J. GuerriniMary A. Majumder,  Meaganne J. Lewellyn, and Amy L. McGuire in Science: “Citizen science initiatives that support collaborations between researchers and the public are flourishing. As a result of this enhanced role of the public, citizen science demonstrates more diversity and flexibility than traditional science and can encompass efforts that have no institutional affiliation, are funded entirely by participants, or continuously or suddenly change their scientific aims.

But these structural differences have regulatory implications that could undermine the integrity, safety, or participatory goals of particular citizen science projects. Thus far, citizen science appears to be addressing regulatory gaps and mismatches through voluntary actions of thoughtful and well-intentioned practitioners.

But as citizen science continues to surge in popularity and increasingly engage divergent interests, vulnerable populations, and sensitive data, it is important to consider the long-term effectiveness of these private actions and whether public policies should be adjusted to complement or improve on them. Here, we focus on three policy domains that are relevant to most citizen science projects: intellectual property (IP), scientific integrity, and participant protections….(More)”.

Information to Action: Strengthening EPA Citizen Science Partnerships for Environmental Protection

Report by the National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology: “Citizen science is catalyzing collaboration; new data and information brought about by greater public participation in environmental research are helping to drive a new era of environmental protection. As the body of citizen-generated data and information in the public realm continues to grow, EPA must develop a clear strategy to lead change and encourage action beyond the collection of data. EPA should recognize the variety of opportunities that it has to act as a conduit between the public and key partners, including state, territorial, tribal and local governments; nongovernmental organizations; and leading technology groups in the private sector. The Agency should build collaborations with new partners, identify opportunities to integrate equity into all relationships, and ensure that grassroots and community-based organizations are well supported and fairly resourced in funding strategies.

Key recommendations under this theme:

  • Recommendation 1. Catalyze action from citizen science data and information by providing guidance and leveraging collaboration.
  • Recommendation 2. Build inclusive and equitable partnerships by understanding partners’ diverse concerns and needs, including prioritizing better support for grassroots and community-based partnerships in EPA grantfunding strategies.

Increase state, territorial, tribal and local government engagement with citizen science

The Agency should reach out to tribes, states, territories and local governments throughout the country to understand the best practices and strategies for encouraging and incorporating citizen science in environmental protection. For states and territories looking for ways to engage in citizen science, EPA can help design strategies that recognize the community perspectives while building capacity in state and territorial governments. Recognizing the direct Executive Summary Information to Action: Strengthening EPA Citizen Science Partnerships for Environmental Protection connection between EPA and tribes, the Agency should seek tribal input and support tribes in using citizen science for environmental priorities. EPA should help to increase awareness for citizen science and where jurisdictional efforts already exist, assist in making citizen science accessible through local government agencies. EPA should more proactively listen to the voices of local stakeholders and encourage partners to embrace a vision for citizen science to accelerate the achievement of environmental goals. As part of this approach, EPA should find ways to define and communicate the Agency’s role as a resource in helping communities achieve environmental outcomes.

Key recommendations under this theme:

  • Recommendation 3. Provide EPA support and engage states and territories to better integrate citizen science into program goals.
  • Recommendation 4. Build on the unique strengths of EPA-tribal relationships.
  • Recommendation 5. Align EPA citizen science work to the priorities of local governments.

Leverage external organizations for expertise and project level support

Collaborations between communities and other external organizations—including educational institutions, civic organizations, and community-based organizations— are accelerating the growth of citizen science. Because EPA’s direct connection with members of the public often is limited, the Agency could benefit significantly by consulting with key external organizations to leverage citizen science efforts to provide the greatest benefit for the protection of human health and the environment. EPA should look to external organizations as vital connections to communities engaged in collaboratively led scientific investigation to address community-defined questions, referred to as community citizen science. External organizations can help EPA in assessing gaps in community-driven research and help the Agency to design effective support tools and best management practices for facilitating effective environmental citizen science programs….(More)”.

Help NASA create the world’s largest landslide database

EarthSky: “Landslides cause thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in property damage each year. Surprisingly, very few centralized global landslide databases exist, especially those that are publicly available.

Now NASA scientists are working to fill the gap—and they want your help collecting information. In March 2018, NASA scientist Dalia Kirschbaum and several colleagues launched a citizen science project that will make it possible to report landslides you have witnessed, heard about in the news, or found on an online database. All you need to do is log into the Landslide Reporter portal and report the time, location, and date of the landslide – as well as your source of information. You are also encouraged to submit additional details, such as the size of the landslide and what triggered it. And if you have photos, you can upload them.

Kirschbaum’s team will review each entry and submit credible reports to the Cooperative Open Online Landslide Repository (COOLR) — which they hope will eventually be the largest global online landslide catalog available.

Landslide Reporter is designed to improve the quantity and quality of data in COOLR. Currently, COOLR contains NASA’s Global Landslide Catalog, which includes more than 11,000 reports on landslides, debris flows, and rock avalanches. Since the current catalog is based mainly on information from English-language news reports and journalists tend to cover only large and deadly landslides in densely populated areas, many landslides never make it into the database….(More)”.

From Crowdsourcing to Extreme Citizen Science: Participatory Research for Environmental Health

P.B. English, M.J. Richardson, and C. Garzón-Galvis in the Annual Review of Public Health: “Environmental health issues are becoming more challenging, and addressing them requires new approaches to research design and decision-making processes. Participatory research approaches, in which researchers and communities are involved in all aspects of a research study, can improve study outcomes and foster greater data accessibility and utility as well as increase public transparency. Here we review varied concepts of participatory research, describe how it complements and overlaps with community engagement and environmental justice, examine its intersection with emerging environmental sensor technologies, and discuss the strengths and limitations of participatory research. Although participatory research includes methodological challenges, such as biases in data collection and data quality, it has been found to increase the relevance of research questions, result in better knowledge production, and impact health policies. Improved research partnerships among government agencies, academia, and communities can increase scientific rigor, build community capacity, and produce sustainable outcomes….(More)”

Citizen Sensing: A Toolkit

Book from Making Sense: “Collaboration using open-source technologies makes it possible to create new and powerful forms of community action, social learning and citizenship. There are now widely accessible platforms through which we can come together to make sense of urgent challenges, and discover ways to address these. Together we can shape our streets, neighbourhoods, cities and countries – and in turn, shape our future. You can join with others to become the solution to challenges in our environment, in our communities and in the way we live together.

In this book, there are ideas and ways of working that can help you build collective understanding and inspire others to take action. By coming together with others on issues you identify and define yourselves, and by designing and using the right tools collaboratively, both your awareness and ability to act will be improved. In the process, everyone involved will have better insights, better arguments and better discussions; sometimes to astonishing effect!

We hope this book will help you engage people to learn more about an issue that concerns you, support you to take action, and change the world for the better. This resource will teach you how to scope your questions, identify and nurture relevant communities, and plan an effective campaign. It will then help you gather data and evidence, interpret your findings, build awareness and achieve tangible outcomes. Finally, it will show you how to reflect on these outcomes, and offers suggestions on how you can leave a lasting legacy.

This book is intended to help community activists who are curious or concerned about one or more issues, whether local or global, and are motivated to take action. This resource can also be of value to professionals in organisations which support community actions and activists. Finally, this book will be of interest to researchers in the fields of citizen science, community activism and participatory sensing, government officials and other public policy actors who wish to include citizens’ voices in the decision-making process…(More)”.

Coastal research increasingly depends on citizen scientists

Brenna Visser at CS Monitor: “…This monthly ritual is a part of the COASST survey, a program that relies on data taken by volunteers to study large-scale patterns in seabird populations on the West Coast. The Haystack Rock Awareness Program conducts similar surveys for sea stars and marine debris throughout the year.

Surveys like these play a small part in a growing trend in the science community to use citizen scientists as a way to gather massive amounts of data. Over the weekend, marine scientists and conservationists came to Cannon Beach for an annual Coast Conference, a region wide event to discuss coastal science and stewardship.

Whether the presentation was about ocean debris, marine mammals, seabirds, or ocean jellies, many relied on the data collection work of volunteers throughout the state. A database for citizen science programs called, which recorded only a few dozen groups 10 years ago, now has more than 500 groups registered across the country, with new ones registering every day….

Part of the rise has to do with technology, she said. Apps that help identify species and allow unprecedented access to information have driven interest up and removed barriers that would have otherwise made it harder to collect data without formal training. Another is the science community slowly coming around to accept citizen science.

“I think there’s a lot of reticence in the science community to use citizen science. There’s some doubt the data collected is of the precision or accuracy that is needed to document phenomena,” Parrish said. “But as it grows, the more standardized it becomes. What we’re seeing right now is a lot of discussion in citizen science programs asking what they need to do to get to that level.”…While a general decline in federal funding for scientific research could play a factor in the science community’s acceptance of using volunteer-collected data, Parrish said, regardless of funding, there are some projects only citizen scientists can accomplish….(More)”

The Promise of Community Citizen Science

Report by Ramya ChariLuke J. MatthewsMarjory S. BlumenthalAmanda F. Edelman, and Therese Jones: “Citizen science is public participation in research and scientific endeavors. Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects; collaborate with scientific experts on research design; and actively lead and carry out research, exerting a high degree of control and ownership over scientific activities. The last type — what we refer to as community citizen science — tends to involve action-oriented research to support interventional activities or policy change. This type of citizen science can be of particular importance to those working at the nexus of science and decisionmaking.

The authors examine the transformative potential of community citizen science for communities, science, and decisionmaking. The Perspective is based on the authors’ experiences working in collaboration with community groups, extensive readings of the scientific literature, and numerous interviews with leading scholars and practitioners in the fields of citizen science and participatory research. It first discusses models of citizen science in general, including community citizen science, and presents a brief history of its rise. It then looks at possible factors motivating the development of community citizen science, drawing from an exploration of the relationships among citizens, science, and decisionmaking. The final section examines areas in which community citizen science may exhibit promise in terms of outcomes and impacts, discusses concerns that may hinder its overall potential, and assesses the roles different stakeholders may play to continue to develop community citizen science into a positive force for science and society.

Key Findings

At Its Core, Citizen Science Is Public Participation in Research and Scientific Endeavors

  • Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects, collaborate with scientific experts on research design, and actively lead and carry out research.
  • It is part of a long tradition of rebirth of inventors, scientists, do-it-yourselfers, and makers at all levels of expertise.
  • Instead of working alone, today’s community citizen scientists take advantage of new technologies for networking and coordination to work collaboratively; learn from each other; and share knowledge, insights, and findings.

The Democratization of Science and the Increasingly Distributed Nature of Expertise Are Not Without Concern

  • There is some tension and conflict between current standards of practice and the changes required for citizen science to achieve its promising future.
  • There is also some concern about the potential for bias, given that some efforts begin as a form of activism.

Yet the Efforts of Community Citizen Science Can Be Transformative

  • Success will require an engaged citizenry, promote more open and democratic decisionmaking processes, and generate new solutions for intractable problems.
  • If its promise holds true, the relationship between science and society will be profoundly transformed for the betterment of all…(More)”.

Using new data sources for policymaking

Technical report by the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission: “… synthesises the results of our work on using new data sources for policy-making. It reflects a recent shift from more general considerations in the area of Big Data to a more dedicated investigation of Citizen Science, and it summarizes the state of play. With this contribution, we start promoting Citizen Science as an integral component of public participation in policy in Europe.

The particular need to focus on the citizen dimension emerged due to (i) the increasing interest in the topic from policy Directorate-Generals (DGs) of the European Commission (EC); (ii) the considerable socio-economic impact policy making has on citizens’ life and society as a whole; and (iii) the clear potentiality of citizens’ contributions to increase the relevance of policy making and the effectiveness of policies when addressing societal challenges.

We explicitly concentrate on Citizen Science (or public participation in scientific research) as a way to engage people in practical work, and to develop a mutual understanding between the participants from civil society, research institutions and the public sector by working together on a topic that is of common interest.

Acknowledging this new priority, this report concentrates on the topic of Citizen Science and presents already ongoing collaborations and recent achievements. The presented work particularly addresses environment-related policies, Open Science and aspects of Better Regulation. We then introduce the six phases of the ‘cyclic value chain of Citizen Science’ as a concept to frame citizen engagement in science for policy. We use this structure in order to detail the benefits and challenges of existing approaches – building on the lessons that we learned so far from our own practical work and thanks to the knowledge exchange from third parties. After outlining additional related policy areas, we sketch the future work that is required in order to overcome the identified challenges, and translate them into actions for ourselves and our partners.

Next steps include the following:

 Develop a robust methodology for data collection, analysis and use of Citizen Science for EU policy;

 Provide a platform as an enabling framework for applying this methodology to different policy areas, including the provision of best practices;

 Offer guidelines for policy DGs in order to promote the use of Citizen Science for policy in Europe;

 Experiment and evaluate possibilities of overarching methodologies for citizen engagement in science and policy, and their case specifics; and

 Continue to advance interoperability and knowledge sharing between currently disconnected communities of practise. …(More)”.

Do-it-yourself science is taking off

The Economist: “…Citizen science has been around for ages—professional astronomers, geologists and archaeologists have long had their work supplemented by enthusiastic amateurs—and new cheap instruments can usefully spread the movement’s reach. What is more striking about bGeigie and its like, though, is that citizens and communities can use such instruments to inform decisions on which science would otherwise be silent—or mistrusted. For example, getting hold of a bGeigie led some people planning to move home after Fukushima to decide they were safer staying put.

Ms Liboiron’s research at CLEAR also stresses self-determination. It is subject to “community peer review”: those who have participated in the lab’s scientific work decide whether it is valid and merits publication. In the 1980s fishermen had tried to warn government scientists that stocks were in decline. Their cries were ignored and the sudden collapse of Newfoundland’s cod stocks in 1992 had left 35,000 jobless. The people taking science into their own hands with Ms Liboiron want to make sure that in the future the findings which matter to them get heard.

Swell maps

Issues such as climate change, plastic waste and air pollution become more tangible to those with the tools in their hands to measure them. Those tools, in turn, encourage more people to get involved. Eymund Diegel, a South African urban planner who is also a keen canoeist, has long campaigned for the Gowanus canal, close to his home in Brooklyn, to be cleaned up. Effluent from paint manufacturers, tanneries, chemical plants and more used to flow into the canal with such profligacy that by the early 20th century the Gowanus was said to be jammed solid. The New York mob started using the waterway as a dumping ground for dead bodies. In the early part of this century it was still badly polluted.

In 2009 Mr Diegel contacted Public Lab, an NGO based in New Orleans that helps people investigate environmental concerns. They directed him to what became his most powerful weapon in the fight—a mapping rig consisting of a large helium balloon, 300 metres (1,000 feet) of string and an old digital camera. A camera or smartphone fixed to such a balloon can take more detailed photographs than the satellite imagery used by the likes of Google for its online maps, and Public Lab provides software, called MapKnitter, that can stitch these photos together into surveys.

These data—and community pressure—helped persuade the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make the canal eligible for money from a “superfund” programme which targets some of America’s most contaminated land. Mr Diegel’s photos have revealed a milky plume flowing into the canal from a concealed chemical tank which the EPA’s own surveys had somehow missed. The agency now plans to spend $500m cleaning up the canal….(More)”.

Augmented CI and Human-Driven AI: How the Intersection of Artificial Intelligence and Collective Intelligence Could Enhance Their Impact on Society

Blog by Stefaan Verhulst: “As the technology, research and policy communities continue to seek new ways to improve governance and solve public problems, two new types of assets are occupying increasing importance: data and people. Leveraging data and people’s expertise in new ways offers a path forward for smarter decisions, more innovative policymaking, and more accountability in governance. Yet, unlocking the value of these two assets not only requires increased availability and accessibility (through, for instance, open data or open innovation), it also requires innovation in methodology and technology.

The first of these innovations involves Artificial Intelligence (AI). AI offers unprecedented abilities to quickly process vast quantities of data that can provide data-driven insights to address public needs. This is the role it has for example played in New York City, where FireCast, leverages data from across the city government to help the Fire Department identify buildings with the highest fire risks. AI is also considered to improve education, urban transportation,  humanitarian aid and combat corruption, among other sectors and challenges.

The second area is Collective Intelligence (CI). Although it receives less attention than AI, CI offers similar potential breakthroughs in changing how we govern, primarily by creating a means for tapping into the “wisdom of the crowd” and allowing groups to create better solutions than even the smartest experts working in isolation could ever hope to achieve. For example, in several countries patients’ groups are coming together to create new knowledge and health treatments based on their experiences and accumulated expertise. Similarly, scientists are engaging citizens in new ways to tap into their expertise or skills, generating citizen science – ranging from mapping our solar system to manipulating enzyme models in a game-like fashion.

Neither AI nor CI offer panaceas for all our ills; they each pose certain challenges, and even risks.  The effectiveness and accuracy of AI relies substantially on the quality of the underlying data as well as the human-designed algorithms used to analyse that data. Among other challenges, it is becoming increasingly clear how biases against minorities and other vulnerable populations can be built into these algorithms. For instance, some AI-driven platforms for predicting criminal recidivism significantly over-estimate the likelihood that black defendants will commit additional crimes in comparison to white counterparts. (for more examples, see our reading list on algorithmic scrutiny).

In theory, CI avoids some of the risks of bias and exclusion because it is specifically designed to bring more voices into a conversation. But ensuring that that multiplicity of voices adds value, not just noise, can be an operational and ethical challenge. As it stands, identifying the signal in the noise in CI initiatives can be time-consuming and resource intensive, especially for smaller organizations or groups lacking resources or technical skills.

Despite these challenges, however, there exists a significant degree of optimism  surrounding both these new approaches to problem solving. Some of this is hype, but some of it is merited—CI and AI do offer very real potential, and the task facing both policymakers, practitioners and researchers is to find ways of harnessing that potential in a way that maximizes benefits while limiting possible harms.

In what follows, I argue that the solution to the challenge described above may involve a greater interaction between AI and CI. These two areas of innovation have largely evolved and been researched separately until now. However, I believe that there is substantial scope for integration, and mutual reinforcement. It is when harnessed together, as complementary methods and approaches, that AI and CI can bring the full weight of technological progress and modern data analytics to bear on our most complex, pressing problems.

To deconstruct that statement, I propose three premises (and subsequent set of research questions) toward establishing a necessary research agenda on the intersection of AI and CI that can build more inclusive and effective approaches to governance innovation.

Premise I: Toward Augmented Collective Intelligence: AI will enable CI to scale

Premise II: Toward Human-Driven Artificial Intelligence: CI will humanize AI

Premise III: Open Governance will drive a blurring between AI and CI