From Chengdu to Berlin: Commons Lab Citizen Science Activities in May

May 2016 brought the Commons Lab to Chengdu, Sichuan Provence in the People’s Republic of China. We were completing the second workshop in a series on “Storytelling is Serious Business” for environmental Chinese NGOs, supported by the Ford Foundation via the China Environment Forum at the Wilson Center. The Commons Lab presented on what types of citizen science tools, both analog and digital, are available for Chinese NGOs to use in their efforts. Additionally we designed and led a role playing game on the Flint Water Crisis to emphasize the importance of role and audience when engaging in complex storytelling.

To present the problem to workshop participants we designed a prezi that guided everyone through the timeline of the events leading up to the crisis and what different types of stakeholders were involved. See full prezi here:

Participants enthusiastically embraced the game, noting a lot of similarities to Chinese environmental problems (contaminants in the water) and complex interactions between levels of government (local vs. state vs. federal). However the similarities diverged when it came to the role of the public and the the press. The participants playing the role of the Michigan State government were the most successful in which they designed a multi-faceted campaign to reach the press, locals involved, the general public and a well thought out appeal to the federal government for more money.

Anne Bowser and Elizabeth Tyson in front of the poster advertising our talk at Sichuan University

Following this workshop the Commons Lab and the China Environment Forum presented to an eager freshman class at Sichuan University – Jiangan Campus on Choke Point China and Citizen Science 101. The students had excellent questions about citizen science concerning data quality, how to keep participants motivated (or even motivate them in the first place) and more importantly how to get involved. We shared resources from the multiple citizen science associations and since we had a few engineers in the crowd we pointed them to Public Labs resources for building your own environmental sensing devices.



In between workshops in China and the conference in Europe, the Commons Lab visited the mountains of Western Sichuan

Our next stop was the first International European Citizen Science Association’s Conference which was held in Berlin, Germany.

The conference theme was Citizen Science – Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. Over 350 people attended and the growth of the movement in Europe from previous years was palpable. The focus on policy impacts and integration of citizen science into existing governance structures was celebrated (see tweet below). International goodwill was provided among the three official associations with representatives from the US Citizen Science Association and the Australian Citizen Science Association attending.

Slide by the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency

ECSA released their third policy paper, “Citizen Science as part of EU Policy Delivery – EU Directives” calling for four specific involvements to fast-track citizen science at the EU level:

  1. Review key Environmental Directives & Regulations, to remove barriers to & focus the attention of Member States on, the value & power of Citizen Science applications to support quality data acquisition on the effectiveness of those Directives;
  2. Support the development of an open common data base system to store citizen science data and to provide the tools for analysis of that data by citizens in conjunction with the European Environment Agency, the United Nations Environmental Programme UNEP LIVE, and/or other relevant international organisations working in the citizen science domain;
  3. Develop a decision making framework to identify the top 5 opportunities where Citizen Science would add greatest value to the delivery of EU Policy and to support the development of EU wide common monitoring programmes; and
  4. Identify clear policy leads on citizen science across the EU Directorates and within the EU Parliament to work with ECSA and to support engagement with the Eye-on-Earth Special Interest Group to shape the emerging global citizen science coalition.

For results and summaries from the myriad of interesting panels please explore the conference website: For some wonderful photos from the conference please visit this website:

Of interesting note from the conference: because of the breadth and diversity of citizen science across multiple different research areas the vocabulary in this field is far from standardized. This was reflected when the conference organizers polled the audience on what percent of their job is actually dedicated to citizen science. It turns out there are only 15% of us that actual focus on the field as a whole.

About 15% work on citizen science full time, 60% part time, and 15% as a hobby – but with certain overlaps (Reported by Muki Haklay, Po Ve Sham Blog)


ECSA 2016 participants! Photo credit: UFZ | Florian Pappert

We look forward to seeing a similar diverse turnout with the upcoming US Citizen Science Association conference in February 2017, stay tuned for details on where and when.


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