Introduction to Citizen Science at UCL event – a discussion
By Kirsty, on 3 December 2020
During Open Access Week 2020 we hosted a webinar called Introduction to Citizen Science at UCL. Although the week has been summarised and information shared on this blog before, the session was so interesting that it deserves another look.
- Prof Muki Haklay – History and development of Citizen Science at UCL
- Rosie Brigham – Monument Monitor Project
- Mayssa Jallad – Institute for Global Prosperity and the RELIEF Project
- Prof Kate Jones – Bat Detective Project
- Danielle Purkiss – Big Compost Experiment project
I was particularly interested in the growth of Citizen Science described in Muki’s part of the session, especially the wide variety of techniques that have grown out of developments in technology, as well as so many more people having access to the internet and mobile technology.
The growth and expansion of Citizen Science has led to the gradual development of the different definitions outlined in the image below (taken from the session).
Citizen Science gets divided into three broad categories, with a fair amount of crossover. The first is the least technological, and the most long-standing (possibly even predating the coining of the phrase ‘Citizen Science’), called ‘Long running Citizen Science’. These projects involve using members of the public in long term activities like weather observation, local archaeology, or surveying local ecological areas. Muki talked about Open Air Laboratories, and Prof Kate Jones’s lightning talk also touched on this by describing how a long running bat survey has been extended to use new technology.
The Community Science category mostly comprises science taking place in the community. This includes projects involving sensing in communities, such as noise or air pollution, even creating affordable DIY sensing kits or tools like Bento Lab, a cheap kit that makes it possible to do PCR testing at home. It also includes training based experiences, giving communities the chance to develop skills while taking part in projects.
The final category is the biggest. It’s this one that, in my opinion, has grown the fastest in recent years due to the rapid expansion of technology and the interconnected world we live in. These projects are very varied. For example, social media has facilitated projects like Monument Monitor, and tools like Zooniverse enable projects like Bat Detective to get members of the public to join in and enable research on a much larger scale. The sky is seriously the limit! Anyone can join in and get involved with some amazing research, and despite the name of the site, it’s not just animal related!
During the session we had a great Q&A discussion. Not a lot of it made it to the recording because our speakers had so much to share about their projects – so here’s a summary:
Muki highlighted an online Citizen Science course that’s run by the team at ExCiteS. It’s a self-paced course, and completely free! It’s even being revamped right now, with a new version due for release in January.
Rosie discussed choosing Scotland as the location for her Monument Monitor project, funding that came from Historic Environment Scotland and her plans to make the software Open Source. This will enable other heritage institutions to build on the work she has begun in Scotland.
Mayssa discussed recruiting Citizen Scientists in the Relief project, with the help of local initiatives or NGOs. The Citizen Scientists are from diverse nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds, reflecting the communities in the area. There was also an interesting conversation about the term ‘Citizen Science’ itself, and Mayssa had an interesting point on this, and shared that her participants are not all citizens in Lebanon, some are Syrian or Palestinian, and in fact they translate Citizen Scientist to ‘Local Researcher’ in Arabic.
She also shared some of the challenges brought about by COVID-19, including the need to limit in-person workshops by moving the first phase of research online. After this first stage, when fieldwork began, it was important to give workshop and survey participants frequent reminders about health measures and social distancing. Events that had already been organized were transformed into webinars, or divided up into more events with smaller groups to allow for health measures.
We finished the session with a question about the benefits of Citizen Science projects. Participants get to learn new skills, while small scale projects can broaden their scope and become part of a larger goal, for example preventing biodiversity loss. It was also clear that a number of projects, including the Bat Monitor and Big Compost Project, allow people to satisfy their curiosity about what is in their own back garden!
This event was recorded and it and all of the slides are available on MediaCentral