Science, Maths & Technology

Citizen Science reloaded: What next?

Updated Thursday 26th July 2012

There's an ever-expanding range of projects where everyone's invited to join in with collecting data and doing experiments. Yoseph Araya shares a few of them.

Citizen Science - a scientific exercise where members of the public are involved in data capture and sharing - has been in practice for over a century. In the last three or four decades it has gathered pace and especially intensified over the last 10 years. [See the prequel to this article at Ever thought of becoming Citizen Scientist?]

This could be attributed (among others) with enhanced scientific awareness by citizens, willingness of researchers to engage the public, emphasis of funding bodies for knowledge transfer and also capability/availability of technology for doing so.

The applications of citizen science have been wide ranging: ranging from conservation (like birds and animal movement,) to astronomy (investigating the surface of the moon) and medicine (e.g. epidemiology).

Participation in citizen science exercises could be active i.e. gathering/manipulating data directly (monitoring bat sounds - iBat, or exploring sea floor from established cameras - HabCam) or passive i.e. allowing 'loaning' of computing power (e.g. Climate Prediction).

What is the current trend?

What makes citizen science particularly exciting now is the rapidly expanding capability and availability of digital networking, whether it social networking among enthusiastic citizen scientists (the community of naturalists sharing photos - iSpot) or the capability of powerful online based applications (e.g. Google Earth) and devices (smart phones, apps and equipment that can be connected to them Pocket Geiger Counter).

These have rapidly transformed the ease, capability and timeliness of data capture and sharing.

As a consequence, we have seen disease epidemics tracked in real time, environmental emergencies communicated, rogue elephants movements monitored (via collars and mobile SMS messages), and even civilians mobilized into action (such as during the Arab Spring).

Who else is out there doing Citizen Science?

Despite the massive number of initiatives being undertaken, there are a few brave attempts to compile comprehensive databases of projects.

Notable examples include Citizen Science Central of Cornell, the Scientific American Citizen Science portal and EpiCollect.net, ScratchPads.eu and OpenDataKit.org.

The Environmental Virtual Observatory hosted by the National Environmental Research Council and Cambridge Conservation Forum's Novel technologies in nature conservation were two recent events in the UK academic circles that have addressed employment of citizen science/crowd-sourcing technology in science research.

The diversity of participants (including academics, conservationists, technologists) clearly demonstrated the potential and far-reaching consequences of this marriage between citizen science and technological development.

What else is possible?

Of course not all citizen science has to be serious. Indeed there are attempts to make citizen science appealing (and hopefully more educative) to a broader audience through 'gamification'. Interesting examples of these sort of "edutainment" initiatives are Games for Nature and Silverbackers.org.

In conclusion, it appears this is only the beginning and undoubtedly there will be more to come from technology enhanced citizen science research.

Taking it further

Neighbourhood Nature and The Environmental Web are courses from The Open University which utilise citizen science activity.

Open Air Laboratories -Explore nature is an initiative celebrating biodiversity, environmental quality and people's engagement with nature.

 

 

For further information, take a look at our frequently asked questions which may give you the support you need.

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