Citizen Cyberscience Summit 2014: Day 1 – Policy and Citizen Science

On the first day of Citizen Cyberscience Summit the Policy and Citizen Science session some of the noteworthy talks discussed the role of citizen science in policy making, new subjective approaches to impact measurement as well as the importance of feedback and value of data collected. For me, the session not only highlighted the importance of citizen science and its unequitable future impact it will have on data protection and ownership policies but also the lessons learnt from existing engagement projects and how these challenges might be overcome.

The session began with Lea Shanley – Common Lab, Wilson Centre – who highlighted the importance of data policy and privacy in citizen science projects and how this can both have a positive and negative impact on the use of citizen science as a data collection method. Her talk underlined the growing need for a two-way connection between the researchers and citizen scientists who work from opposite approaches (Top-down and bottom-up) with the new Open Government National Action Plan signalling hope for citizen science to soon have a cascading impact on future public policy objectives.

Following this, Vito Servedio – EveryAware – shared with us some insightful findings from his recent noise measuring research activities which compared levels of noise with people’s perceptions using the smartphone application WideNoise. From the data so far collected, Vito has identified that not only do users learn to distinguish between different noise levels over time, but by enabling them to express how pleasant they rate an environment where a noise level is recorded, it also increases their degree of engagement to the research.

Andrea Deol’s – DEFRA – talk focused on the need for safeguarding plant health through the development of stronger biosecurity policies in a bid to stop the spread of disease and increase resilience to the threats from unwanted pests. To tackle this, Andrea emphasized the necessity for a more collaborative approach in impact monitoring through the use of public engagement and professional expertise providing the benefits of longitudinal analysis, larger datasets, and long term financial investment. Evidence in support of this citizen science approach was also discussed through DEFRA’s recent findings from past projects, OPAL, Living Ash and ObervaTREE. Have a look at UKEOF’s Guide to Citizen Science and report ‘Understanding citizen science and environmental monitoring’ for more information.

The talk’s session was closed by David Slowson and Hilary Geoghegan from The Open Air Lab (OPAL) Tree Health Survey who spoke about the lessons learnt and engagement practices incorporated since the project started in 2007. In their efforts to inspire large numbers of people across the UK to help them look out for early signs of the four most common tree diseases, OPAL used survey packs, training sessions and a simple identification smartphone application to teach and encourage participant’s awareness of tree health. It was realised too the fundamentally true importance of both providing feedback to those people who actively took part in the survey as well as valuing and showing appreciation for the data that was collected. To see the current distribution of tree diseases across the UK look on OPAL.

For me, the talks only magnified the true potential of this growing research discipline that brings citizens together to map, monitor and understand our everyday living. It also demonstrated that anyone can be a scientist, no matter where you are in the world, whatever your age or skill. And what projects like OPAL showed is that with every one piece of contributed knowledge uploaded and shared by citizens, pushes the boundaries of science ever further to discovery about the world in which we live.

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