Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Catalog

About: “The catalog contains information about federal citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. In citizen science, the public participates voluntarily in the scientific process, addressing real-world problems in ways that may include formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems. In crowdsourcing,organizations submit an open call for voluntary assistance from a group of individuals for online, distributed problem solving.

Projects in the catalog must meet the following criteria:

  • The project addresses societal needs or accelerates science, technology, and innovation consistent with a Federal agency’s mission.
  • Project outcomes include active management of data and data quality.
  • Participants serve as contributors, collaborators or co-creators in the project.
  • The project solicits engagement from individuals outside of a discipline’s or program’s traditional participants in the scientific enterprise.
  • Beyond practical limitations, the project does not seek to limit the number of participants or partners involved.
  • The project is opt-in; participants have full control over the extent that they participate.
  • The US Government enables or enhances the project via funding or providing an in-kind contribution. The US Government’s in-kind contribution to the project may be active or passive, formal or informal….(More)”.

Let’s create a nation of social scientists

Geoff Mulgan in Times Higher Education: “How might social science become more influential, more relevant and more useful in the years to come?

Recent debates about impact have largely assumed a model of social science in which a cadre of specialists, based in universities, analyse and interpret the world and then feed conclusions into an essentially passive society. But a very different view sees specialists in the academy working much more in partnership with a society that is itself skilled in social science, able to generate hypotheses, gather data, experiment and draw conclusions that might help to answer the big questions of our time, from the sources of inequality to social trust, identity to violence.

There are some powerful trends to suggest that this second view is gaining traction. The first of these is the extraordinary explosion of new ways to observe social phenomena. Every day each of us leaves behind a data trail of who we talk to, what we eat and where we go. It’s easier than ever to survey people, to spot patterns, to scrape the web or to pick up data from sensors. It’s easier than ever to gather perceptions and emotions as well as material facts and easier than ever for organisations to practice social science – whether investment organisations analysing market patterns, human resources departments using behavioural science, or local authorities using ethnography.

That deluge of data is a big enough shift on its own. However, it is also now being used to feed interpretive and predictive tools using artificial intelligence to predict who is most likely to go to hospital, to end up in prison, which relationships are most likely to end in divorce.

Governments are developing their own predictive tools, and have also become much more interested in systematic experimentation, with Finland and Canada in the lead,  moving us closer to Karl Popper’s vision of “methods of trial and error, of inventing hypotheses which can be practically tested…”…

The second revolution is less visible but could be no less profound. This is the hunger of many people to be creators of knowledge, not just users; to be part of a truly collective intelligence. At the moment this shift towards mass engagement in knowledge is most visible in neighbouring fields.  Digital humanities mobilise many volunteers to input data and interpret texts – for example making ancient Arabic texts machine-readable. Even more striking is the growth of citizen science – eBird had 1.5 million reports last January; some 1.5 million people in the US monitor river streams and lakes, and SETI@home has 5 million volunteers. Thousands of patients also take part in funding and shaping research on their own conditions….

We’re all familiar with the old idea that it’s better to teach a man to fish than just to give him fish. In essence these trends ask us a simple question: why not apply the same logic to social science, and why not reorient social sciences to enhance the capacity of society itself to observe, analyse and interpret?…(More)”.

BBC Four to investigate how flu pandemic spreads by launching BBC Pandemic app

BBC Press Release: “In a first of its kind nationwide citizen science experiment, Dr Hannah Fry is asking volunteers to download the BBC Pandemic App onto their smartphones. The free app will anonymously collect vital data on how far users travel over a 24 hour period. Users will be asked for information about the number of people they have come into contact with during this time. This data will be used to simulate the spread of a highly infectious disease to see what might happen when – not if – a real pandemic hits the UK.

By partnering with researchers at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the BBC Pandemic app will identify the human networks and behaviours that spread infectious disease. The data collated from the app will help improve public health planning and outbreak control.

The results of the experiment will be revealed in a 90 minute landmark documentary, BBC Pandemic which will air in spring 2018 on BBC Four with Dr Hannah Fry and Dr Javid Abdelmoneim. The pair will chart the creation of the first ever life-saving pandemic, provide new insight into the latest pandemic science and use the data collected by the BBC Pandemic app to chart how an outbreak would spread across the UK.

In the last 100 years there have been four major flu pandemics including the Spanish Influenza outbreak of 1918 that killed up to 100 million people world wide. The Government National Risk Register estimates that infectious diseases are an even greater risk since 2015 and pandemic flu is the key concern as 50% of the population could be affected.

“Nobody knows when the next epidemic will hit, how far it will spread, or how many people will be affected. And yet, because of the power of mathematics, we can still be prepared for whatever lies ahead. What’s really important is that every single download will help improve our models so please please do take part – it will make a difference.” explains Dr Fry.

Dr Abdelmoneim says: “We shouldn’t underestimate the flu virus. It could easily be the cause of a major pandemic that could sweep around the world in a matter of weeks. I’m really excited about the BBC Pandemic app. If it can help predict the spread of a disease and be used to work out ways to slow that spread, it will be much easier for society and our healthcare system to manage”.

Cassian Harrison, Editor BBC Four says: “This is a bold and tremendously exciting project; bringing genuine insight and discovery, and taking BBC Four’s Experimental brief absolutely literally!”…(More)”

Crowdsourcing citizen science: exploring the tensions between paid professionals and users

Jamie Woodcock et al in the Journal of Peer Production: “This paper explores the relationship between paid labour and unpaid users within the Zooniverse, a crowdsourced citizen science platform. The platform brings together a crowd of users to categorise data for use in scientific projects. It was initially established by a small group of academics for a single astronomy project, but has now grown into a multi-project platform that has engaged over 1.3 million users so far. The growth has introduced different dynamics to the platform as it has incorporated a greater number of scientists, developers, links with organisations, and funding arrangements—each bringing additional pressures and complications. The relationships between paid/professional and unpaid/citizen labour have become increasingly complicated with the rapid expansion of the Zooniverse. The paper draws on empirical data from an ongoing research project that has access to both users and paid professionals on the platform. There is the potential through growing peer-to-peer capacity that the boundaries between professional and citizen scientists can become significantly blurred. The findings of the paper, therefore, address important questions about the combinations of paid and unpaid labour, the involvement of a crowd in citizen science, and the contradictions this entails for an online platform. These are considered specifically from the viewpoint of the users and, therefore, form a new contribution to the theoretical understanding of crowdsourcing in practice….(More)”.

Citizen science volunteers driven by desire to learn

UoP News: “People who give up their time for online volunteering are mainly motivated by a desire to learn, a new study has found.

The research surveyed volunteers on ‘citizen science’ projects and suggests that this type of volunteering could be used to increase general knowledge of science within society.

The study, led by Dr Joe Cox from the Department of Economics and Finance, discovered that an appetite to learn more about the subject was the number one driver for online volunteers, followed by being part of a community. It also revealed that many volunteers are motivated by a desire for escapism.

Online volunteering and crowdsourcing projects typically involve input from large numbers of contributors working individually but towards a common goal. This study surveyed 2000 people who volunteer for ‘citizen science’ projects hosted by Zooniverse, a collection of research projects that rely on volunteers to help scientists with the challenge of interpreting massive amounts of data….“What was interesting was that characteristics such as age, gender and level of education had no correlation with the amount of time people give up and the length of time they stay on a project. These participants were relatively highly educated compared with the rest of the population, but those with the highest levels of education do not appear to contribute the most effort and information towards these projects.”

The study noticed pronounced changes in how people are motivated at different stages of the volunteer process. While a desire to learn is the most important motivation among contributors at the early stages, the opportunities for social interaction and escapism become more important motivations at later stages….

He suggests that online volunteering and citizen science projects could incentivise participation by offering clearly defined opportunities for learning, while representing an effective way of increasing scientific literacy and knowledge within society….(More)”.

The accuracy of farmer-generated data in an agricultural citizen science methodology

Jonathan Steinke, Jacob van Etten and Pablo Mejía Zelan in Agronomy for Sustainable Development: “Over the last decades, participatory approaches involving on-farm experimentation have become more prevalent in agricultural research. Nevertheless, these approaches remain difficult to scale because they usually require close attention from well-trained professionals. Novel large-N participatory trials, building on recent advances in citizen science and crowdsourcing methodologies, involve large numbers of participants and little researcher supervision. Reduced supervision may affect data quality, but the “Wisdom of Crowds” principle implies that many independent observations from a diverse group of people often lead to highly accurate results when taken together. In this study, we test whether farmer-generated data in agricultural citizen science are good enough to generate valid statements about the research topic. We experimentally assess the accuracy of farmer observations in trials of crowdsourced crop variety selection that use triadic comparisons of technologies (tricot). At five sites in Honduras, 35 farmers (women and men) participated in tricot experiments. They ranked three varieties of common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) for Plant vigorPlant architecturePest resistance, and Disease resistance. Furthermore, with a simulation approach using the empirical data, we did an order-of-magnitude estimation of the sample size of participants needed to produce relevant results. Reliability of farmers’ experimental observations was generally low (Kendall’s W 0.174 to 0.676). But aggregated observations contained information and had sufficient validity (Kendall’s tau coefficient 0.33 to 0.76) to identify the correct ranking orders of varieties by fitting Mallows-Bradley-Terry models to the data. Our sample size simulation shows that low reliability can be compensated by engaging higher numbers of observers to generate statistically meaningful results, demonstrating the usefulness of the Wisdom of Crowds principle in agricultural research. In this first study on data quality from a farmer citizen science methodology, we show that realistic numbers of less than 200 participants can produce meaningful results for agricultural research by tricot-style trials….(More)”.

Carnegie Mellon scientists use app to track foul odors in Pittsburgh

Ashley Murray at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:If you smell something, say something. Scientists at Carnegie Mellon University want Pittsburghers to put their collective noses to the task and report foul smells using a mobile reporting application called Smell PGH.

Since the app launched last year, more than 1,300 users have reported foul smells more than 4,300 times — most of which they’ve described as “industrial,” “sulfur” or “woodsmoke.”

The app was developed at CMU’s Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab.

“The app is really about the community,” said Beatrice Dias, project director at the CREATE Lab. “To show that you’re not alone in your negative experiences of pollution impact.”

Smartphone users can create a “smell report” within the app, which has the capability to alert the Allegheny County Health Department.

Health department spokeswoman Melissa Wade said the agency has received and followed-up on 3,000 reports generated from the app.

Users can also view a real-time map of all smell reports in and around the city. A new feature added last month allows users to go back in time and play a time-lapse animation of little colored triangles — green, yellow and red, symbolizing varying degrees of smell — that pop up and disappear as odors were reported….

“The goal is I’m trying to predict the smell in the next few hours, like a weather forecast,” Mr. Hsu said. “Let’s say today from 12 to 1 p.m. we have 10 smell reports. I can check not only the smell reports, but the data from other sensor stations around Pittsburgh, so I know during this hour what the reading is of all the air-quality related variables, like PM 2.5, like sulfur and nitrogen oxides, [and] the wind speed, the wind direction. There are a lot of parameters we need to consider.”…

Another goal of this citizen science initiative, Mr. Hsu said, is to improve communication between the public and governmental regulation agencies, like the health department.

“Before this technology if you smelled something bad, you might not be sure if this came from ambient air, your neighborhood or just traffic issues,” Mr. Hsu said. “But if you use the app, you can see a lot of your neighbors are reporting, too. And then maybe the government can use this to see the problems in a city.”…(More)”.

Europol introduce crowdsourcing to catch child abusers

LeakofNations: “The criminal intelligence branch of the European Union, known as Europol, have started a campaign called #TraceAnObject which uses social media crowdsourcing to detect potentially-identifying objects in material that depicts child abuse….

Investigative crowdsourcing has gained traction in academic and journalistic circles in recent years, but this represents the first case of government bureaus relying on social media people-power to conduct more effective analysis.

Journalists are increasingly relying on a combination of high-end computing to organise terabytes of data and internet cloud hubs that allow a consortium of journalists from around the world to share their analysis of the material. In the Panama Papers scoop the Australian software Nuix was used to analyse, extract, and index documents into an encrypted central hub in which thousands of journalists from 80 countries were able to post their workings and assist others in a forum-type setting. This model was remarkably efficient; over 11.5 million documents, dating back to the 1970’s, were analysed in less than a year.

The website Zooinverse has achieved huge success in creating public participation on academic projects, producing the pioneering game Foldit, where participants play with digital models of proteins. The Oxford University-based organisation has now engaged over 1 million volunteers, and has has significant successes in astronomy, ecology, cell biology, humanities, and climate science.

The most complex investigations still require thousands of hours of straightforward tasks that cannot be computerised. The citizen science website Planet Four studies conditions on Mars, and needs volunteers to compare photographs and detect blotches on Mars’ surface – enabling anyone to feel like Elon Musk, regardless of their educational background.

Child abuse is something that incites anger in most people. Crowdsourcing is an opportunity to take the donkey-work away from slow bureaucratic offices and allow ordinary citizens, many of whom felt powerless to protect children from these vile crimes, to genuinely progress cases that will make children safer.

Zooinverse proves that the public are hungry for this kind of work; the ICIJ project model of a central cloud forum shows that crowdsourcing across international borders allows data to be interpreted more efficiently. Europol’s latest idea could well be a huge success.

Even the most basic object could potentially provide vital clues to the culprit’s identity. The most significant items released so far include a school uniform complete with ID card necktie, and a group of snow-covered lodges….(More) (see also #TraceAnObject).

Citizen Science and Alien Species in Europe

European Commission: “Citizen Science programs aim at creating a bridge between science and the general public, actively involving citizens in research projects. In this way, citizen scientists can work side by side with experts, contributing to the increase of scientific knowledge, addressing local, national and international issues that need scientific support and having the potential to influence policy-making.
The EU Regulation 1143/2014 on Invasive Alien Species (IAS) acknowledges the important role public awareness and active involvement of the citizens have for the successful implementation of the Regulation. Thus, Citizen Science could bring an important contribution to the early detection and monitoring of invasive alien species, as, in order to adopt efficient control measures, it is necessary to know the presence and distribution of these species as soon as possible.
With the new website section we want to disseminate information about how citizens can be involved in activities aimed at protecting European biodiversity, awareness raising, sharing news, examples and developments from the emerging field of Citizen Science.
If you are interested in becoming a citizen scientist and want to help monitor invasive alien species (IAS) in your region, you can use our App “Invasive Alien Species Europe” to report the 37 IAS of Union Concern.
Furthermore, we have compiled a list of European Citizen Science projects dealing with alien species. The list is not exhaustive and is open for improvement …(More)”.

Minecraft in urban planning: how digital natives are shaking up governments

 in The Guardian: “When we think of governments and technology, the image that springs to mind is more likely to be clunky computers and red tape than it is nimble innovators.

But things are changing. The geeks in jeans are making their way into government and starting to shake things up.

New ideas are changing the way governments use technology – whether that’s the UK’s intelligence organisation GCHQ finding a secure way to use the instant messenger Slack or senior mandarins trumpeting the possibilities of big data.

Governments are also waking up to the idea that the public are not only users, but also a powerful resource – and that engaging them online is easier than ever before. “People get very excited about using technology to make a real impact in the world,” says Chris Lintott, the co-founder of Zooniverse, a platform that organisations can use to develop their own citizen science projects for everything from analysing planets to spotting penguins.

For one of these projects, Old Weather, Zooniverse is working with the UK Met Office to gather historic weather data from ancient ships’ logs. At the same time, people helping to discover the human stories of life at sea. “Volunteers noticed that one admiral kept turning up on ship after ship after ship,” says Lintott. “It turned out he was the guy responsible for awarding medals!”

The National Archives in the US has similarly been harnessing the power of people’s curiosity by asking them to transcribe and digitise, handwritten documents through its Citizen Archivist project….

The idea for the Järviwiki, which asks citizens to log observations about Finland’s tens of thousands of lakes via a wiki service, came to Lindholm one morning on the way into work….

The increase in the number of digital natives in governments not only brings in different skills, it also enthuses the rest of the workforce, and opens their eyes to more unusual ideas.

Take Block by Block, which uses the game Minecraft to help young people show city planners how urban spaces could work better for them.

A decade ago it would have been hard to imagine a UN agency encouraging local governments to use a game to re-design their cities. Now UN-Habitat, which works with governments to promote more sustainable urban environments, is doing just that….

In Singapore, meanwhile – a country with densely populated cities and high volumes of traffic – the government is using tech to do more than manage information. It has created an app, MyResponder, that alerts a network of more than 10,000 medically trained volunteers to anyone who has a heart attack nearby, sometimes getting someone to the scene faster than the ambulance can get through the traffic.

The government is now piloting an expansion of the project by kitting out taxis with defibrillators and giving drivers first aid training, then linking them up to the app.

It’s examples like these, where governments use technology to bring communities together, that demonstrates the benefit of embracing innovation. The people making it happen are not only improving services for citizens – their quirky ideas are breathing new life into archaic systems…(More)