Public Participation in Scientific Research 2012, Portland. Summary and reflections.

Conference on Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR2012) .

The PPSR conference held in Portland, Oregon, USA the 4th and 5th August 2012 has been a great opportunity to meet a broad range of projects approaches and initiatives in the field. The plenary session the poster session and the workshop allowed a very broad exchange of projects and experiences. Moreover PPSR2012 has been designed with the purpose of triggering further developments of the community. The spotlight of talks and posters went towards on the following issues:

Communities involvement. Citizien science projects can be more “effective” and “useful” when they are co-created and embed a certain degree of outcomes at a community level. The involvement of local knowledge in projects can be very helpful in overcoming barriers created by scientific “arrogance”. Humility have to be a cornerstone in citizen science projects.

Data management. Citizen science projects are data intensive. Data collections are very precious and have to be maintained and kept accessible. For this purpose the DataOne initiative (  is creating a portal where standardized metadata allow the search and the download of citizen science generated datasets.

Evaluation. Metrics over citizen science projects have to be stated. Evaluation is not an end of pipe activity but it supports the development of the project all along it lifecycle providing outcomes to all participants to motivate and correct actions and initiatives.

Organization. The need to coordinate in a better way the community, the need to strengthen the internal and external connections suggested to create some community based structures. Amongst the other initiatives the creation of a journal, of a set of best practices, the creation of a code of ethics suggest a trend towards professionalization or the establishment of a structured community of practice.

The talks suggested some reflections over some other issues:

Scale factor, space and identity: A competitive advantage of citizen science projects is the granularity of observations in space and time. Fine grained networks, enthusiastic participants allow to overcome limited research resources. But going further the most precious advancement supported by citizen science projects can come by the embedding of local knowledge. In extreme cases we are dealing with indigenous knowledge, native Americans, Arctic inhabitants and rainforest inhabitants are only the extreme cases of environmental knowledge that cannot be measured through sensors but acquired through participation, through the endorsement or the merging of a community goal in a scientific project. In a broader perspective knowledge about quality of life health and other human needs and perceptions can be acquired through social interaction with local communities. This endorsement allow us to distinguish amongst two kinds of projects. The global even universal projects take advantage of the number and granularity in space and time of “scientific observations”, other projects are extremely grounded, co-created with local community. They are embedded in local identities, their keywords are sense of place and sense of belonging to a place- based community. This can drive us towards further considerations that need sociological support. What about the existence of metropolitan identities? Metropolitan city users spend most of their daily life commuting, they use services that are not spatially related to their home or working places. Are them the “citizens” of the networked communities that participate in the “global”/”universal” citizen science projects? The places where they “only” sleep will be always under represented in citizen science local grounded projects?

Data re-usability: As underlined during the conference citizen science generated datasets are very precious. As the data processed for the project oldweather ( information originally acquired with one purpose if made accessible can be reused for unpredicted purposes in the future. But to make reusable that data oldweather had to start a citizen science project, why don’t we start new projects with re-usability and integration in mind? All we need are metadata only? The technologies to query simultaneously multiple datasets instead of the need to download and process all of them time by time are already in place. Why not DataOne makes a step further?

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