The three day Citizen Cyberscience Summit, which UCL ExCiteS is co-organising alongside the Citizen Cyberscience Centre, Citizen Cyberlab and the Mobile Collective, kicked off to an action-packed start yesterday at the Royal Geographic Society in London. Over the course of the first day (the most academic of the three) almost 40 talks were delivered by 140 speakers, covering a whole range of issues and developments in citizen science – from new technology platforms to policy work, educational outcomes to conservation goals. Yet while there was huge diversity in what people are doing and thinking in citizen science, what really stood out for me in all of the talks is the massive amounts of enthusiasm and optimism expressed by this eclectic community for the future of public involvement in scientific research – both in terms of levels of participation and in terms of the impact that participation can have on the wider world. As James Borrell pointed out in the first talk of the day, where he discussed ten lessons learned from a year of citizen science, “citizen science generates a network of educated, passionate people, who are more interested because they feel they have a stake in the outcome”. The excitement and buzz of the Summit so far is certainly testament to that.
Of course, it’s impossible to mention all of the awesome projects that I learned about yesterday, but just to give a taste of what’s been going on here are a few of my personal highlights. It was really great to see some people talking about the creativity of citizens within citizen science projects and how to really encourage and build on their innovation; this was the subject of Erinma Ochu’s talk, in which she told us about how a project to find mathematical patterns in sunflowers grew and flourished in response to the stories that participants began to tell. Being a big amateur astronomy fan, I was captivated by Rob Simpson’s talk about the Zooniverse projects – particularly when he revealed that the interest of some members of the community in a recurring pattern in galaxy photos that they couldn’t identify, originally expressed in forum discussions, eventually led to the discovery of a whole new type of galaxy. Zooniverse is now building new tools to encourage this kind of collaboration between citizen scientists in their projects. Speaking about citizen science leading to new discoveries, I was really interested to hear from Caren Cooper of the Citizen Science Association that there are a lot of scientific studies that use data collected by citizen science, but that don’t use either “citizen science” or “volunteer” in the literature. She called on us to start challenging this invisibility of citizen science in order to create opportunities for even broader impacts. In order to do this, there were a lot of people talking about the need to elevate the rigour of data, and improve standardisation and networking. After all, there’s no point reinventing the wheel in every new citizen science project! To this end, Gary Newman introduced the citsci.org platform, which is intended to be a comprehensive site for anyone, anywhere to create and enact projects – using different design models, governance models, data models and methods. Finally, I really enjoyed the talk given by Charlene Jennett, of the UCL Interaction Centre, on the Massive Open Online Diary (MOOD) errordiary.org. Psychological research is something that isn’t often thought about as citizen science, but by getting people to tweet about errors they’d made this project has been able to give researchers and participants a real insight into people’s different resilience strategies.
Anyway, that’s just a brief round-up of some of the things that interested me the most – if you’ve got a passion for citizen science then I suggest you check out the Cyberscience Summit website to find out more about the whole range of awesome people and projects who are talking, listening and doing over the next couple of days.
(Photos by Gareth Boyes)