Webinar on Citizenscience.gov

Interested in learning more about the Citizenscience.gov  platform?  Join the Wilson Center Commons Lab and the General Services Administration (GSA) for a webinar tomorrow afternoon from 11am – 12pm.  Hosted via DigitalGov University, topics of the webinar will include an introduction to the platform, a tour of the Federal Catalogue, and a few citizen science examples from federal practitioners.

logo2

 

Whether you’re a seasoned citizen science practitioner, aiming to promote a current project within the federal community, or simply interested in what Citizenscience.gov, and the field as a whole, have to offer – all are welcome to attend.  By capturing the input and enthusiasm of the general public, citizen science and crowdsourcing projects are tackling the problems of today and tomorrow.  Citizenscience.gov serves as the hub for federal endeavors of this nature, providing the populace and federal practitioners with three pillars of support: a Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, a Federal Catalog, and a Community Page.

Presenting at the webinar are Elizabeth Tyson, a CoDirector of the Commons Lab, and Kendrick Daniel, a representative from the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and the Program Lead for Citizenscience.gov.

Click here to register.

Advertisements

Open Geospatial Consortium Formally Approves Citizen Science Domain Working Group

Written by Christian Belcher, a Research and Social Media Intern with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The international project on citizen science data and metadata interoperability, supported by the Commons Lab and organizations like the U.S. Citizen Science Association, has a new partner.  At the closing plenary of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s (OGC) recent technical committee meeting on June 23rd, the OGC formally approved the creation of a Citizen Science Domain Working Group (DWG).

The OGC’s mission is “to advance the development and use of international standards and supporting services that support geospatial interoperability.”  Simply put, whenever someone asks “where?” the OGC is there, helping more than 500 universities, government agencies, and private entities make the most of location-based information.  The organization helps researchers, public-sector, and private-sector employees alike by acting as an open-access forum for technology developers and users, each of whom benefit from implementing OGC-compliant policies and procedures.

ogc_logo_2d_blue_x_0_0

With over 20 years of experience, it should come as no surprise that OGC members have engaged in a host of exciting initiatives.  From monitoring Climate Change to laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s Smart Cities, the group meets each challenge head-on.  Work through OGC is undertaken collaboratively through interoperability testbeds, where standards ae developed and best practices identified by experimenting with concrete use cases, and by individual members.  For example, a consortium of OGC researchers collaborated on a recent citizen science project, entitled the Citizen Observatory Web, or COBWEB for short.  Acting as a liaison between a variety of European Biosphere Reserves, the initiative aims to address data quality issues by integrating citizen and professional spatial data.  Ideally, by complying with OGC standards, the species distribution input from a citizen scientist in Greece’s Mt. Olympus Biosphere Reserve would be accessible by, and intelligible to, a Zoologist in Wales’ Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.  The toolkit and set of models the OGC is creating will help make potential citizen science projects a reality, in European Biosphere Reserves and beyond.

Given its immaculate track record and incredible potential, the OGC has plenty to offer the citizen science community.  With the launch of the COBWEB initiative, a precedent was set for supporting and advancing citizen science through OGC channels.  Now, with the establishment of the formidable team of researchers and professionals comprising the Citizen Science DWG, anyone trying to engage in citizen science data collection and sharing will have a new organization to turn to for guidance.  Geospatial data saturates the citizen science field, and while collecting it can be a challenge, making sure the results gleaned are accessible can prove to be a logistical nightmare.  That’s why this new DWG plans to underscore the importance of interoperability, eliminating the nuances that isolate projects by establishing best practices and promoting open standards.  Citizen science projects rely on their communities, and now project leaders have a new resource of their own.

For more information about the OGC Citizen Science Domain Working Group (DWG), please contact Anne Bowser, anne.bowser@wilsoncenter.org

Serious Games: A Key Player in the Years to Come

Written by Christian Belcher, a Research and Social Media Intern with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Serious games and citizen science – at a glance both appear somewhat unconventional in nature.  As relatively new fields attempting to establish themselves alongside more conventional counterparts, formulating an appropriate vocabulary can be a challenge.  While they are each busy trying to establish common terminology, they also face remarkably similar challenges from within.

Last week the Commons Lab sat down with Eric Church, a prolific game designer and Program Associate at the Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative. As relative novices when it comes to serious games, having only dabbled with the Fiscal Ship, we asked him what factors determine the success of a serious game.  His reply was cut and dry: clearly set goals and immediate feedback to participants.  The two elements he highlighted are also evident in citizen science projects, especially as a means of inspiring and maintaining participation.

Fiscal Ship
The Fiscal Ship, a product of the Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative, lets players craft the Federal Budget.

Every serious game worth playing has an objective, a clearly stated mission with which participants can understand.  For example Eyewire, a serious game developed by MIT, encourages players to help scientists map the neurons of the occipital lobe, the portion of the brain responsible for vision.  This charter is clearly advertised on their website, and directly referenced in the name of the game.  By engaging the public with their message, through the medium of an interactive game, they’ve successfully mapped more than 700 neurons.  Citizen science projects within the medical and health field have proliferated as well.  A UK-based app is doing its part to fight Parkinson’s disease globally; participants in the 100 for Parkinson’s program simply upload information on ten aspects of their health over a hundred day period, all in the aims of gathering data to learn more about the affliction.

Some projects require creative participants. Projects that follow an ideation model, like the U.S. Army’s SciTech Futures exercise, are examples of open-ended crowdsourcing. Last week, participants from around the world were asked to speculate what the future will hold by answering the question, “What technological emergence or sociopolitical trend will shape the year 2040?” For the Army, a successful crowdsourcing project in this model is one replete with diverse answers or original content. Using SciTech Futures as an example, the goal of a similar venture, e.g. answering an open-ended question on future sociological trends, should be made clear to participants. The specific methods used to reach that goal depend on the nature of the assignment at hand, in this case canvasing as many scenarios as possible.

floatingfarm1
Ocean-based hydroponics, one of most popular concepts on the SciTech Futures Marketplace (photo credit: Forward Thinking Architecture)

Mr. Church’s second criterion for success is a reward system.  This is perhaps where citizen science and crowdsourcing-based serious games diverge most from one another.  While both revolve around the largesse of volunteers – citizens willing to spend time, and occasionally money, on assignments extracurricular of work and family life – each rewards participants differently.  Citizen scientists conducting research for Zooniverse might find themselves at the forefront of an incredible discovery, a thrill for amateur and professional scientists alike.  People participating in one of the National Park Service’s many BioBlitz events can rejoice in contributing valuable information to biodiversity databases, all while spending a day at the park.  Serious games, on the other hand, seem to yield more verifiable results, that is to say, the accuracy of a player’s answers can be readily determined.  Wrong answers can be addressed, while correct answers may be rewarded, either in the form of in-game progression, symbolized by achievement notifications and virtual medals, or a tangible remuneration, like cash or concept art, the prizes taken home by winners of the Department of State’s Fishackathon and the Army’s SciTech Futures events respectively.  At the end of the day however, both citizen science and serious games seek to educate and empower individual participants, whose contributions benefit their local communities and the world as a whole.

An integral part of any project though, citizen science and serious games alike, is the feedback provided to the participants.  For citizen scientists, this feedback can be a reward in and of itself; engaging in an open-dialogue with career experts in a shared field of interest is a marvelous opportunity.  Naturally, the amount of feedback depends on the nature of each task; those requiring methodological consistency would demand greater moderation, yielding a data set that’s easier to aggregate, while ideation exercises benefit from a high degree of independence, and subsequently provide more creative returns.

Moving forward, it’s safe to say that citizen science and serious games will face a few similar challenges on the road ahead, in the form of standardization, or maintaining legitimacy, but promising strides are being taken to address these obstacles.  Currently there is a team, of which the Commons Lab is a part, working to establish core standards for sharing data, and establishing metadata standards among citizen science projects.  Furthermore, in 2013 SRI and Concordia University conducted a study that highlighted the potential of serious games in the classroom: STEM students whose curriculum’s included simulations experienced a 25% improvement in achievement.  It’s steps like these that foment the open innovation movement, establishing citizen science and serious games as key players in the years to come.

4th USA Science & Engineering Festival Highlights Citizen Science

Video: Google Hangout recording at the USA Science & Engineering Festival of citizen scientist experts from across the country discussing how mobile technology can assist the growth of citizen science

At the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education exposition in the United States, more than 1,000 STEM organizations such as the National Science Foundation, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Department of State, presented interactive activities to encourage the next generation to pursue a career in the STEM field. Over the course of two days, tens of thousands of visitors of all ages came to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center located in Washington, D.C. to engage with STEM activities.

While the organizations covered a broad range of science and engineering areas, a common focal point was citizen science. Specifically, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Park Service, United States Geological Survey (USGS), Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SciStarter aimed to further the general public’s participation in and understanding of citizen science, its success and significance today, and its potential applications for the future.

NOAA, for example, discussed the critical role citizen science plays with emerging technology and the numerous NOAA projects that could not have succeeded without the support of citizen science and crowdsourcing.

Continue reading “4th USA Science & Engineering Festival Highlights Citizen Science”

CitizenScience.Gov segment on Wilson Center NOW

This week the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Wilson Center launched citizenscience.gov, a new central hub for citizen science and crowdsourcing initiatives in the public sector. The site will catalog activity and provide tools for the conduct of citizen science projects. Anne Bowser, Co-Director of the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center explains the goals and potential of the project in this edition of Wilson Center NOW.

Guest

Anne Bowser is a Senior Program Associate with the Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP). She co-directs the Commons Lab, which takes as its mission mobilizing public participation and innovation in science, technology, and policy. Anne also leads the Wilson Center’s participation in a research project on encouraging bilateral cooperation in science and technology innovation between the US and the EU. She also supports the Wilson Center’s initiative on serious games.

Anne’s personal research focuses on understanding the role that technology plays in citizen science and crowdsourcing. She recently defended her PhD at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, where her dissertation explored a cooperative approach to designing Floracaching, a geocaching game for biodiversity data collection created to mobilize participation in university communities. Anne is also working on an NSF-funded project to study location privacy in citizen science. Finally, she supports the international practice of citizen science as the co-founder of a data and metadata interoperability working group of the Citizen Science Association.

Host
John Milewski is the executive producer and managing editor of Wilson Center NOW and also serves as director of Wilson Center ON DEMAND digital programming. Previously he served as host and producer of Dialogue at the Wilson Center and Close Up on C-SPAN. He also teaches a course on politics and media for Penn State’s Washington Program.

 

– See more at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/launch-citizensciencegov#sthash.lzpLI2Wk.dpuf

Foul and Filthy Rivers, Water School and Hunting Plants: Citizen Science in China

800px-Beijing_river_bend
Beijing River Bend taken by Peter Morgan (source)

By Elizabeth Tyson and Kate Logan (Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs)

Blackened rivers snake the ring roads of Beijing, carrying pollution and often smelly water from one end of the city to another. The most polluted of these have been dubbed “foul and filthy rivers” (黑臭河) by China’s Ministry of the Environment (MEP) and Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development (MOHURD). However, the government has decided to clean these up – and it is enlisting the help of the public to do so.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) is an independent civil society organization based in Beijing dedicated to the transparency and disclosure of environmental information. The group’s founder, former journalist, author, and 2012 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize, Ma Jun has written prolifically on environmental issues in China and created the country’s first pollution map database. IPE’s online air and water pollution maps use government data not only to show water and air pollution quality in every province and prefecture in China, but also to shine a light on specific emissions of factories, waste treatment plants, and factory farms. These days IPE is embarking on a new project to amplify a unique MEP and MOHURD crowdsourcing initiative that aims to tap citizens in Beijing to identify the foul and filthy rivers in the city.

The government has set targets for cleaning up the capital’s worst waterways: by 2020, the percentage of waters in built urban areas designated as “foul and filthy” must be contained to less than 10 percent and cleaned up completely by 2030. MEP and MOHURD kicked off this undertaking just after the 2016 Chinese New Year holiday by publishing the names and detailed statistics about the water bodies designated for clean-up. IPE has since integrated this information into the new 3.0 version of its Blue Map app (created by IPE to provide information on pollution) that will launch later this month, allowing the public to see exactly where these polluted waters are located.

But this initiative is not only about making information available to the public – it also capitalizes on the power of citizens to assist in clean-up efforts. To that end, MEP has opened a public account on We Chat (a wildly popular Chinese app that is a cross between What’s App and Facebook) where the public can submit photographs and descriptions of any waters that they believe should be designated as “foul and filthy,” guaranteeing that each report will receive an official response in seven business days or less. Meanwhile, IPE’s revised Blue Map app includes a “foul and filthy river” module; more than 3 million users have downloaded the app and, hopefully, even more users will download the new version once it is released.


The Commons Lab in collaboration with the Wilson Center’s China Environment Forum gave a series of lectures and workshops on citizen science and communication techniques in Beijing two weeks ago. First, we introduced the citizen science field to 13 small environmental and health NGOs based in Beijing and western China. Then we stopped off at a hip bar in downtown Beijing to present to a room full of energetic Chinese and foreign energy and environmental workers of the Beijing Energy Network (BEN). Our last stop was Renmin University, where we discussed the potential for citizen science in natural resources. The feedback was tremendous and it’s clear that citizen science is growing in China and organizations are eager to expand their public participation in environmental issues.

IMG_4838
Elizabeth Tyson presenting to the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs
IMG_4773
Global Environmental Institute presenting on one of their citizen science project ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are just a few of the stellar citizen science initiatives either poised to begin or underway that we learned about:

The Beijing-based Global Environment Institute is developing a climate change monitoring and adaptation citizen science pilot project in Western China, in the Sanjiangyun (Three Rivers) Nature Reserve in Qinghai Provence. This remote region provides drinking water for 1.4 billion people and contains fragile, yet critical, ecosystems. Information about the state of this environment is difficult to obtain due to its remoteness, and the region is only visited by the nomadic residents. This project aims to train the semi-nomadic herders how to monitor their local environment so scientists and environmental policymakers can make decisions based on more accurate and real-time data.

Botany wins for the longest standing citizen science project in China. Run by a collaboration of researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, this project encourages naturalist enthusiasts to record observations of plants, and submit them the researchers which are then uploaded to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. It also serves as a discussion forum and RSS feed on relevant citizen science work from around the world.

Finally, the Chinese Water School is a primarily educational project run by the Chinese NGO Shangri-la Institute for Sustainable Communities based in the mountains of Yunnan Province in southwest China, which educates teachers how to collect water samples who then teach their students. The Ministry of Education in China administers volunteer certificates for children who participate in activities outside of their school. It was suggested during the BEN talk that a citizen science certificate could be created to encourage student participation in projects like these.

Not surprisingly, a lot of the challenges facing the projects here in China are similar to those faced by other countries: lack of funding, cracks in the project-to-decision-making pipeline; data quality standards vary across different projects; lack of interoperability of the collected data; and little knowledge about other projects.

However, China is lucky in that a number of these projects are still growing and some of the project ideas have yet to create databases, so the opportunity to build these with interoperability in mind is still wide open.

Despite the differences in Chinese policy and governance from Western countries, it appears as if the Ministry of Environmental Protection is eager to involve the public in solving environmental problems and environmental information is becoming increasingly available thanks to third party institutions like IPE. Through engaging the local and provincial governments, these nascent citizen science projects can encourage the use of their data and analysis by the MEP in collaboratively solving China’s environmental problems.

Indiana Jones as a Citizen Scientist ?

How can citizen science help preserve ancient Egyptian ruins? Modern- day Indiana Jones Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama has one answer: Working with the global citizen science and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to use satellite imagery to discover and protect hidden archaeological sites around the world.

The winner of the 2016 TED Prize, space archaeologist Parcak announced on Feb. 16 that she plans to use the $1 million grant to create Global Xplorer, the first crowdsourced online platform to locate archaeological sites using satellites.

Analyzing infrared satellite images and tracking discrepancies in the terrain, Parcak has already potentially discovered 17 pyramids and more than 3,100 settlements and 1,000 tombs in Egypt. However, with potentially millions of sites left to be found, she cannot undertake this challenge alone. By engaging the global citizen scientists and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to preserve as much of the world’s cultural heritage as possible. Continue reading “Indiana Jones as a Citizen Scientist ?”

Citizen Science and the Flint Water Crisis

 

Flint Image
LeeAnne Walters shows Dr. Marc Edwards a used filter that was filled with rust after seven days of use (Photo courtesy of FlintWaterStudy.org)

In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan decided to switch its water supply source from the Detroit water system to a cheaper alternative, the Flint River. But in exchange for the cheaper price tag, the Flint residents paid a greater price with one of the worst public health crises of the past decade.

Despite concerns from Flint citizens about the quality of the water, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly attributed the problem to the plumbing system. It was 37-year-old mother of four, LeeAnne Walters who, after noticing physical and behavioral changes in her children and herself, set off a chain of events that exposed the national scandal. Eventually, with the support of Dr. Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech (VT), Walters discovered lead concentration levels of 13,200 parts per billion in her water, 880 times the maximum concentration allowed by law and more than twice the level the Environmental Protection Agency considers to be hazardous waste. Continue reading “Citizen Science and the Flint Water Crisis”

New Report: Identifying the Key Prerequisite for Citizen Science through Cell Spotting

Cell Spotting
Cell Spotting game

A few years ago, the term “citizen science” barely turned any heads. In the past few months, however, citizen science has been receiving increasing national recognition, culminating with the introduction of the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act to Congress in September 2015 and the creation of the Citizen Science Association.

In response to this drastic growth, researchers now aim to determine what exactly incentivizes individuals to contribute to citizen science, despite the lack of formal recognition.

A recent paper by an international group of researchers finds a mutually beneficial payoff of incorporating citizen science in an academic curriculum. On the one hand, students are able to solidify their understanding of the theoretical knowledge they gain in the classroom by engaging directly with the project and researchers vis-à-vis citizen science projects, according to the paper published in the January issue of the Journal of Science Communication. On the other hand, researchers directing these projects would generally not be able to afford the comprehensive data sets citizen science can provide. The widespread engagement of citizen science taps an avenue that would otherwise pose as a logistical obstacle to researchers.

The study focused specifically on the educational and motivational outcomes of citizen science, looking at hundreds of high school students from Spain and Portugal who participated in Cell Spotting, a project that focuses on discovering new treatments for cancer. The students were asked to observe and subsequently report on thousands of images of cancer cells that have been subjected to various forms of potential drugs.

Continue reading “New Report: Identifying the Key Prerequisite for Citizen Science through Cell Spotting”