Abstract: This study explores the motivations and barriers for participation and persistence in an innovative citizen science pilot project with Virginia Master Naturalist volunteers. The project combines self-guided online training, in-person meetings, and collaboration through social networking and “mental modeling” to support on-the-ground development and execution of citizen science projects developed by participants. Results suggest that the two strongest motivators for volunteers to participate in the project were an interest in the environment and an interest in protecting a local natural resource. Our findings indicate that volunteers with more prior experience participating in citizen science projects and those with higher gross incomes were more likely to persist in the project. Our data also suggest that decisions to persist or drop out of the project were influenced by volunteers’ time commitment, their ability to use the online tools, the perceived relevance of the resources, and the saliency of the project. Projects that arose from pre-existing environmental issues seemed to be more salient and may have enhanced volunteer persistence. We discuss the influence of our findings and the implications for the development of future citizen science projects.

Source: Frensley, T., et al., 2017. Bridging the Benefits of Online and Community Supported Citizen Science: A Case Study on Motivation and Retention with Conservation-Oriented Volunteers. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 2(1), p.4. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.84

Excerpt: People who give up their time for online volunteering are mainly motivated by a desire to learn, a new study has found. The research surveyed volunteers on ‘citizen science’ projects and suggests that this type of volunteering could be used to increase general knowledge of science within society. The study, led by Dr Joe Cox from the Department of Economics and Finance, discovered that an appetite to learn more about the subject was the number one driver for online volunteers, followed by being part of a community. It also revealed that many volunteers are motivated by a desire for escapism.

Source: University of Portsmouth Press Office, 2017. Citizen science volunteers driven by desire to learn. University of Portsmouth News, July 31, 2017.

Abstract: In the last few years, contributions of the general public in scientific projects has increased due to the advancement of communication and computing technologies. Internet played an important role in connecting scientists and volunteers who are interested in participating in their scientific projects. However, despite potential benefits, only a limited number of crowdsourcing based large-scale science (citizen science) projects have been deployed due to the complexity involved in setting them up and running them. In this paper, we present CitizenGrid – an online middleware platform which addresses security and deployment complexity issues by making use of cloud computing and virtualisation technologies. CitizenGrid incentivises scientists to make their small-to-medium scale applications available as citizen science projects by: 1) providing a directory of projects through a web-based portal that makes applications easy to discover; 2) providing flexibility to participate in, monitor, and control multiple citizen science projects from a common interface; 3) supporting diverse categories of citizen science projects. The paper describes the design, development and evaluation of CitizenGrid and its use cases.

Source: Yadav, P., Cohen, J., Darlington, J., 2017. CitizenGrid: An Online Middleware for Crowdsourcing Scientific Research. Computers and Society. arXiv:1707.09489v1

Excerpt: Fred Isberner is a retired healthcare professor in Carbondale, Illinois. But on 21 August, the 69-year-old will be collecting data about the Sun’s superheated outer atmosphere during a total solar eclipse. Isberner is one of thousands of people across the United States who plan to gather data during the event. Their combined efforts will be one of the largest, one-off citizen-science efforts yet.

“It absolutely has the potential to be the biggest,” says Scott McIntosh, director of the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colorado.

Total solar eclipses occur about once every 18 months, but they often pass over remote areas such as the ocean. The 21 August eclipse is rare because it will be visible over a heavily populated landmass — the continental United States. About 12 million people live in the path of totality, which stretches from Oregon to South Carolina. Scientists and volunteers plan to take advantage of the situation to gather data and encourage the public to participate in research.

Source: Lallensack, R., 2017. Citizen Scientists Chase Total Solar Eclipse, 9 August 2017. Available at https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/citizen-scientists-chase-total-solar-eclipse/ [Last accessed 31 August 2017].

Excerpt: Saturday, citizen scientists throughout the U.S. gathered at watersheds to celebrate National Lakes Appreciation Month by conducting similar studies. Vincent Kaping, 10, of Felton, said he was surprised the disk wasn’t a more complex tool. He thought it would have some filter or other contraptions attached to it. “I was thinking that it would be a machine,” Kaping said. He took two readings; both were about 6 feet of visibility marked when the disk disappeared in the green water about midday.

Source: Todd, M., 2017. Loch Lomond’s algal bloom evident after citizen scientists test waters. Santa Cruz Sentinel, 29 July 2017.

Excerpt: The Cuyahoga Valley National Park will work to make students “citizen scientists,” with help from a $1 million donation to the National Park Foundation.

Starting with Woodridge High School, which sits on national park land in Peninsula, the park’s Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center will provide lesson plans and materials to classrooms, like a “national park in a box,” director Katie Wright said.

The focus is to educate students about water quality, particularly in the Cuyahoga Valley Watershed, Wright said. This will include “working with the Ohio EPA protocols to collect stream and river data,” according to a project overview.

Source: Morice, J., 2017. Donation boosts Cuyahoga Valley National Park educational programming with ‘Citizen Science’. Cleveland.com, 10 August.

Excerpt: At a lab inside the 2,650-acre Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater, bones are stacked on shelves, centuries-old clay smoking pipes are reassembled and imported shells once used to make buttons are stashed in a drawer.

Outside the lab Wednesday, a half-dozen citizen scientists worked in the sweltering heat to uncover more artifacts and information. They’re examining how humans interacted with the environment in the past, a task that could be used to address problems we face today, according to the center.

Source: Pacella, R., 2017. At Smithsonian archaeology lab, citizen scientists work to unearth environmental history. Capital Gazette, 18 July.

Editor’s Choice: This paper attempts to disentangle the complex relationship between the folks that are “paid” to run the Zooniverse and the unpaid volunteers who provide the classifications. At what point does it become the responsibility of the paid professionals to move from a simple transactional relationship with the volunteers to a more democratized relationship where the volunteers have more say in the production of the science they are contributing to? This is indeed a difficult question.  –LFF–

Abstract: This paper explores the relationship between paid labour and unpaid users within the Zooniverse, a crowdsourced citizen science platform. The platform brings together a crowd of users to categorise data for use in scientific projects. It was initially established by a small group of academics for a single astronomy project, but has now grown into a multi-project platform that has engaged over 1.3 million users so far. The growth has introduced different dynamics to the platform as it has incorporated a greater number of scientists, developers, links with organisations, and funding arrangements—each bringing additional pressures and complications. The relationships between paid/professional and unpaid/citizen labour have become increasingly complicated with the rapid expansion of the Zooniverse. The paper draws on empirical data from an ongoing research project that has access to both users and paid professionals on the platform. There is the potential through growing peer-to-peer capacity that the boundaries between professional and citizen scientists can become significantly blurred. The findings of the paper, therefore, address important questions about the combinations of paid and unpaid labour, the involvement of a crowd in citizen science, and the contradictions this entails for an online platform. These are considered specifically from the viewpoint of the users and, therefore, form a new contribution to the theoretical understanding of crowdsourcing in practice.

Zooniverse. People-powered research

Source: Woodcock, J., et al., 2017. Crowdsourcing Citizen Science: Exploring the Tensions between Paid Professionals and Users. Peer Production and Work, Issue 10.

Editor’s Choice: For everyone who thinks they are a practitioner of Citizen Science, this article is a must read as it drives home the need for clear data management practices with Citizen Science projects especially as we see the dramatic proliferation of CS projects. Will your data obtained from volunteers be maximally useful in potentially combining with other projects or over time? –LFF–

Abstract: Powered by advances of technology, today’s Citizen Science projects cover a wide range of thematic areas and are carried out from local to global levels. This wealth of activities creates an abundance of data, for example, in the forms of observations submitted by mobile phones; readings of low-cost sensors; or more general information about peoples’ activities. The management and possible sharing of this data has become a research topic in its own right. We conducted a survey in the summer of 2015 in order to collectively analyze the state of play in Citizen Science. This paper summarizes our main findings related to data access, standardization and data preservation. We provide examples of good practices in each of these areas and outline actions to address identified challenges.

Sketch of methodology. Source: Schade and Tsinaraki (2016a).

Source: Schade, S., et al., 2017. Scientific data from and for the citizen. First Monday Vol. 22 No. 8.

At your own risk

Abstract: In this article, the author proposes that the emergence of digital, disease-tracking applications over the past ten years like HealthMap (healthmap.org) and Flu Near You (flunearyou.org) that allow non-experts to contribute information about emergent public health threats have facilitated a “do-it-yourself (DIY)” risk assessment ethic. Focusing in particular on Flu Near You (FNY), a crowdsourced, flutracking program, the author argues that some participants use the mapping feature to curate their own risk information experience in determining the preventative behaviors they may want to engage in (if any) to prevent fl u. As outbreaks of infectious diseases increase (Smith et al., 2014), mHealth technologies like disease-tracking apps are evolving as an important risk assessment tool for both public health experts as well as non-expert, public audiences. Better understanding how non-experts use such information can inform not only the design of these apps but visual risk communication strategies more generally speaking.

Source: Welhausen, C.A., 2017. At Your Own Risk: User-Contributed Flu Maps, Participatory Surveillance, and an Emergent DIY Risk Assessment Ethic. Communication Design Quarterly, Vol 5:2, 51–61. DOI: 10.1145/3131201.3131206