Eye on Earth Summit: Data Supply

“When someone in my field [environment] says they have hope, listen to them, because we don’t say that often,” said World Resources Institute’s Vice President of Science and Research Janet Ranganathan on the potential of data visualization as a tool for catalyzing change.

Software systems are divided into two parts, the front end and the back end, to help identify issues, put a complex system into boxes and to simplify maintenance. Back end is usually associated with data scientists, engineers and databases, while front end is associated with users, designers, communicators and writers. Day two of the Eye on Earth Summit brought together both “ends” under the theme of data supply. The data supply back end? Data infrastructure investment, breaking down islands of information in the sea of the world wide web and citizen science. The data supply front end? Data visualization and mapping, education, communication and equal access.

Graphic credit: Digital Telepathy

The day opened with invigorating talks from Barbara Ryan, Secretariat Director of the Group on Earth Observations, who displayed an astonishing graph demonstrating the number of imagery downloads from the satellite LANDSAT once it was opened to the public, which jumped from 53 to 5,700. It’s easy to say that the increase is obviously due to access—and one would be correct—but the real insight came from the fact that a significant portion of the downloads were from other U.S. federal agencies. This fact emphasizes how open data reduces the amount of resources that each agency must allocate for information gathering and epitomizes the resource-effectiveness of open data. Muki Haklay of University College London and Director of the ExCITES program provided a history of citizen science and a call to action to move beyond citizens as just sensors, and emphasized a human-centered design approach when working with technology and communities. In other words, don’t just plop a cell phone in the community and expect results; work backwards from their needs.

Christopher Tucker, from Map Story, an open-source atlas of change, emphasized why policy-makers should care about these types of crowdsourced platforms. In ecology, usually the most resilient systems are those which have high biodiversity, or many different types of plants and animals in the system, and are therefore are more adaptable to changes in the environment. Tucker argued that open-source platforms like Map Story, among “official” sources of geospatial information, provide a key piece in the information ecosystem, therefore providing resiliency.

“I grew up during a time of rapid change, social and technical” Mae Jemison

The plenary closed with Mae Jemison, the first African-American astronaut and pinciple of 100-Year Starship, an organization dedicated to creating the future of human space travel. Jemison came to the realization in space that Earth will always be here, the question is, will we? Through studying other planets, we can learn more about our own and possibly gain insights to help us protect our life support, the environment.

Back End

The Global Network of Networks (GNON) is an initiative of Eye on Earth to create a technical supportive structure for individual projects with databases of environmental information to connect to other databases with similar or the same information. If a citizen science project is collecting water quality data and the field they use to describe “water quality” is “H20 goodness,” it will probably have significance to them, but won’t make any sense to say a UAE national organization like AEGDI. GNON, according to Rob Atkinson of meta-linkage, is NOT trying to create another set of standards. Instead, it aims to create a support system for these thousands of databases with crucial environmental information to explain what each field of data means to an individual project, and how it relates to a possibly similar field of data among these islands of information. If you’re interested in learning more, the Open Geospatial Consortium is soliciting projects for “testbeds,” where they will work with you and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) to prototype their concept. GNON anticipates and expects to evolve with coming technology.

Funding, funding, funding! Its loud and clear coming from the community and echoed by Marc Levy, deputy director of the Center for International Earth Science Information Network, during a panel on “Data for Sustainable Development.” “You have to commit to open data, but none of the agencies [funding organizations] provide help or services to do it,” he said. While it’s noble to commit to open data principles, there are no line items in budgets for the support services needed to enable research projects to share their data. Building on GNON, what is the point of sharing your data if your information isn’t discoverable and/or meaningful to someone?

The big question becomes, what does this cost? What costs are associated with maintaining a database and keeping it open? A panelist made up of representatives from International Union for the Conservation of Nature, BirdLife International and United Nations Environment Program-World Conservation Monitoring Centre presented their databases during a panel on “Understanding the costs of knowledge: cost of data generation and maintenance.”

How much mula do you need to keep that database filled with bird observations going?

Following the case studies, Diego Juffebignoli, program officer for the Protected Areas program at the UNEP-WCMC, presented his research, which attempted to quantify how much it costs to maintain these cornerstone conservation “knowledge products.”The answer? It’s complicated. One of the notable issues in discerning costs was how to evaluate volunteer time, because a professional scientist volunteering her time is a different value than an interested and curious citizen. However Juffebignoli was able to provide a price range of investments for 2013—$116 – 204 million with an estimate of current annual investments of $65 million.

An incredible panel of individuals presented their efforts to incorporate citizen science for mobilizing policy action during “Crowdsourcing, citizen science: everyone is a supplier.” Tuntiak Katan J., arriving from Ecuador at 3am that day, presented his work with indigenous communities in monitoring carbon for the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation. Brian Sullivan of Google Earth Outreach presented Global Fishing Watch, a real-time feed of fishing boats in the world, and told a compelling success story of the nation of Kiribati, which was able to bring illegal fishers to court using evidence from this platform, eventually causing the perpetrators to settle out of court. Another argument that open data pushes transparency and ultimately to legal action.


The day ended with a plenary on data visualization and the citizen science award. A refrain heard again and again was “what gets visualized gets used.” We heard from some of the most prominent names in data visualization for decision-making. World Resources Institute (WRI) unveiled their prototype of Resource Watch, a platform developed with Vizzuality using a multiple-prong approach, from storytelling to accountability metrics. Craig Mills, CEO of Vizzuality added that while there are more than 7 billion cell phone subscribers, a large part of them don’t use smartphones. With Resource Watch, Vizzuality and WRI will move past data visualization for the first world and offer services to those who only have access to SMS and audio services, with a hotline to provide real-time data on your geographical region. This type of thinking will be vital to the #datarevolution, and should be praised and encouraged.

“The best part of the Ushahidi platform? Made in Africa!” – Angela odor Lungati

A panel filled with communicators, visualizers and data experts brings with it excellent metaphors, analogies and interactive content. However the most compelling metaphor was the simplest (not a coincidence). Ushahidi’s Angela odor Lungati, director of community engagement, described data, platforms and people as:

seeds = data

land = platforms, e.g. Ushahidi

farmers = people

Seeds and land are pointless without people to sow the land and care for the plants. Data and platforms are useless if they aren’t reaching the people who need them most.

Screen Shot 2015-10-08 at 11.01.22 AM
You can contribute too! Visit http://loggingroads.org/ to put perpetrators on the map

The last event was the award for the citizen science challenge. All three finalists were invited to attend the event. Biocaching gamified biodiversity observations using a mobile app. Hack the Rainforest, an initiative of Digital Democracy, brought developers to the Peruvian forest to aid communities in creating technological platforms for collecting and visualizing the data of deforestation. The winner, Logging Roads Initiative of Moabi, used Opens Street Map and Global Forest Watch to literally put illegal logging roads on the map in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

You can’t build a software system without people for the front-end and the back-end, any neither one is more important than the other. The Eye On Earth Summit 2015 has brought together the movers and shakers from both ends to build a software system for protecting our planet.

Eye on Earth Summit: Data Demand – from whom and for what?

H.E. Anwar Gargash the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs addresses the opening plenary

The Eye on Earth does not disappoint, with over 600 delegates representing different sectors of the information infrastructure. The first day of the summit was filled with where the data is needed most, from whom and best practices. However its worth noting, the irony of a summit focused on reinventing the information pipeline is that there is an incredible amount of information on information, you could almost say a meta-information pipeline. 

Opening Plenary: Aspirations and New Directions

H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency

There is no doubt, the Eye on Earth Summit has focused at least one eye on citizen science as a way to merge civil society, government and business to generate crucial environmental data across local, regional and global scales for informed decision-making. The opening plenary was graced by leaders from the United Arab Emirates such as, H.E. Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency and H.E. Anwar Gargash the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs followed by leaders from the Global Environment Facility, Global Footprint Network, Planet Labs and closed with a moving address from Pierre-Yves Cousteau on the future of oceans.  

Each speaker, in one way or another, mentioned citizen science as a key component to the data infrastructure that will inform environmental decision making and monitoring of the Sustainable Development Goals. Costeau announced the launch of the Hermes Project which aims to literally take the temperature of the ocean using the dive computers on scuba divers to create a dynamic data stream in real time of the ocean temperature, complimenting existing satellite and buoy data.  Strategic investments by the Emirate government demonstrated their commitment to building robust data platforms that incorporate the physical, social and economic indicators for decision-making. Examples of this are the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, a comprehensive project monitoring the UAE’s environmental indicators with a component focused on civic society input.

Mathis Wackernagel, president of Global Footprint Network, provided an metaphor comparing the economy to piloting a plane, in which pilots have protocols, sensors and fuel indicators that ensure they have everything they need to take off and land without incident. Quite like a plane, our economy needs these sensors and fuel indicators if we are to remain in balance between our biocapacity (natural resources) and our ecological footprint (use of natural resources) – of which Global Footprint Network aims to provide the indictors. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of sensors on a plane that provide the pilot with information that she can use to inform her action.  The good news? With mobile phone proliferation we have more than 7 billion sensors in every corner of the earth to provide us with a part of the information puzzle we need for accurate sustainable development.

A real success story was Robbie Shingler of Planet Labs, who brought the public good ethic of NASA’s open data and innovation in space to his company Planet Labs in the effort to democratize access to real-time geospatial data at unprecedented scales. To date they’ve launched 101 satellites, developed an autonomous work flow and created substantially smaller satellites which allows for incredible scalability. Shingler ended with announcing Planet Lab’s commitment of $60 million US dollars to create the first open geospatial country, stay tuned as they decide which country to partner with for this initiative.

Interspersed throughout the talks were captivating and emoting videos that expressed themes of shared responsibility, closing the data gap and equipping policymakers and decision makers with high quality and real-time data. 

Perhaps the talk that reframed the information paradigm the best was Achim Steiner, executive director of UNEP, who began with an image of the pale blue dot 40 years ago and our united realization that we live on such a fragile planet. Steiner noted that the age of understanding the environment as an add on is antiquated and being replaced with an understanding of the environment as the foundation for our survival. This reinvention of our economic infrastructure, with the environment as our foundation, will not come easily, but Steiner closed with this quote: “the best way to make dreams come true is to wake up” and the Eye on Earth is that wake up call.

Data for Policy Making

A demonstration of relational networks, a proof of concept for GNON

The day continued with incredible panels which ranged from “Donors demand for data”, “Measuring progress of sustainable development goals” and “Building knowledge to provide for healthy lives.” The “Data for policy making” panel provided fascinating insight on what policy makers want and need in terms of quality and actionable data in order to make informed decisions. Marcos Silva, secretariat of CITES, highlighted a citizen science data quality learning opportunity through studying how local police departments, who are the intermediaries for citizens reporting illegal animal and plant trade, handle judgement, accuracy and relevancy of these reports. These police departments are adept at filtering and judging citizen provided data points and communicating it to coordinating agencies such as INTERPOL. A lot of lessons could be learned from studying the information pipeline of illegal species trade.

Another theme from the data for policy making panel was collaboration and coordination in funding frameworks. If we want to envision a sustainable and interoperable “Eye on the Earth” data infrastructure then we must ensure that nations are funding complementary data projects. Large investments must be made in data centers and servers (infrastructure), longevity and sustainability to detect trends and supporting researchers open data initiatives with a framework for creating machine-readable and interoperable platforms for sharing data. Lastly, in the international standards realm, Silva noted that we must ensure a strong public-private partnership because a data behemoth like Google could come along and push their own information standards which could be fundamentally incompatible with public datasets.

Jaqeline McGlade, Chief Scientists United Nations Environment Program

After a long day of pitches, visualizations and catalyzing conversations Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist of UNEP and citizen science advocate, brought the day to a close at the gala dinner. McGlade presented the Eye on Earth winner of the Data Visualization challenge to Airscapes Singapore. Airscapes used citizen scientists, equipped with air quality sensors linked to their smartphones, to provide real-time AQ data to inform people of the healthiest transit routes in Singapore. The team plans to to expand to San Francisco and Beijing.

Its worth going back to Steiner’s metaphor of Eye on Earth as waking up from a dream. The dream is easy: a reliable, relevant and global network of environmental information accessible and digestible by all. But quite like an early morning alpine start, this dream will require getting rid of the snooze button and getting up. The Eye on Earth Summit is doing just that right now.

My excellent reporting team & UNEP’s data visualization sphere:


Eye on Earth Summit 2015: Day 1, Abu Dhabi, UAE

eyeonearth1Today marks the first day of the Eye on Earth Summit, an alliance dedicated to the Rio 10 Principle of access to reliable, scientifically accurate and relevant information for environmental decision making. The multi-stakeholder alliance is dedicated to utilizing big data, existing networks and tackling the difficult issues of interoperability to prevent silos of information. Among the eight initiatives are:

  1. Access for All
  2. Water Security
  3. Global Network of Networks
  4. Environmental Education
  5. Biodiversity
  6. Community Sustainability and Resiliency
  7. Disaster Management
  8. Oceans and Blue Carbon

logoConceived by the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency and their Global Environmental Data Initiative in partnership with the United Nations Environmental Programme, the alliance held its inaugural summit in 2011. The second summit, this October 6th – 8th in Abu Dhabi, coincides with the signing of the Sustainable Development Goals which will be the main theme for the event. The days are divided into “Data Demand,” “Data Supply” and “Enabling Conditions.”

Citizen science will play a crucial role in providing the scale and granularity necessary for informed environmental decision making. However many barriers still exist to translating this information to decision makers, known widely in the community as data quality and integrity, participation and motivation, sustainability and duplication prevention. This summit will focus on some of these issues and demonstrate possible solutions, new initiatives and technology that could tackle the information pipeline from civil society (citizen science) to local, regional, national and global environmental decision making.

Elizabeth Tyson, of the Commons Lab, won their blogging competition and has the honor of reporting for the event as the Official Eye on Earth Blogger. Follow along for daily blog posts on exciting panels such as:

  • Addressing policy making demand,
  • Donors demand for data and environmental data for business performance
  • Collaborative research and activist knowledge for environmental justice
  • Connecting networks to support environmental sustainability
  • Understanding the costs of knowledge: cost of data generation and maintenance
  • Reaching audiences through innovations in visualization
  • Citizen scientists and their role in monitoring of local to global environmental change
  • Policies, partnerships and open data for sustainable development

Additional media providing excellent coverage include, Muki Haklay’s of University College London’s blog, Po Ve Sham and @STIPcommonslab, #datarevolution, #EOESUMMIT15, @EKTyson.



New Bill in Congress: The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 (3 of 3)

On September 30th, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015. The purpose of this bill is “to harness the expertise, ingenuity, and creativity of all people to contribute to innovation in the United States and to help solve problems or scientific questions by encouraging and increasing the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science methods within the Federal Government, as appropriate, and for other purposes.”

The man of the hour: Senator Chris Coons
The man of the hour: Senator Chris Coons. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

This is a bill worth celebrating.

Despite tremendous progress for crowdsourcing and citizen science in government—most recently recognition from the white house; and, the growth of an important federal community of practice—doubts about the legitimacy of crowdsourcing and citizen science remain. The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) is still a barrier to timely implementation. The question of who will make initial and ongoing financial investments in citizen science is open. Passing this bill will help resolve lingering doubts about the value of citizen science in government agencies.

In addition to signaling progress, the bill highlights important considerations to stimulate future efforts.

  • Understanding ethics in citizen science and crowdsourcing. The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 defines a citizen science participant as “any individual or other entity that has consented as a volunteer in a crowdsourcing or citizen science project.” Beyond this, the Act points to considerations including mode of consent as electronic or written; data ownership and access rights; and, adherence to regulations for conducting human subjects research. Generally, the Act leaves decisions to agencies themselves (e.g., regarding consent) or lets difficult issues remain open (e.g., by failing to specify whether and when citizen science and crowdsourcing are human subjects research).
  • The importance of designing projects with motivation in mind. Motivation is one of the most commonly studied, yet least understood, concepts in citizen science. We are aware of a handful of high-level motivational factors (including learning; attribution and recognition; socialization; and, altruism, as highlighted in the Act). But less is known about how motivation changes between cultures, how motivation changes over time, how motivation depends on different application domains, and how technologies such as games may motivate new and different volunteers.
  • Documenting partnership models. Agencies are encouraged to cooperate with one another, and to work with organizations including for-profits, nonprofits, and NGOs to “share administrative duties” for citizen science. The federal citizen science projects that are most successful at achieving their goals typically forge partnerships with universities, museums, schools, and other institutions. Articulating successful partnership models that others may replicate will go a long way towards supporting sustainability for the field within and outside of government.

A smooth and expedient passage of the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 will not only legitimize this important research paradigm, but usher in new research on these and other important issues.

White house memo has implications for DIYbio/Maker/Hacker communities (2 of 3)

Yesterday, John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies calling for a variety of actions to be taken to fast track the use of citizen science and crowdsourcing in the federal government. Among the specific actions are (1) for each agency to appoint a citizen science and crowdsourcing coordinator and (2) for agencies to list citizen science and crowdsourcing projects in a new GSA website (similar to Challenge.gov that lists prizes sponsored by agencies) to help the public find federally funded projects. This latter effort can build on the current Commons Lab database of federal projects.

Towards the end of the memo OSTP outlines suggestions for building capacity through five areas: policy, resources and staffing, technologies and scientific instrumentation, grant-making and rigorous research. While the recommendations are specific to federal employees, one area in particular, grant-making mechanisms, should be of particular interest to Do-It-Yourself biology and maker communities.

The memo states:

Create mechanisms for providing small grants to individuals and communities that may not be affiliated with universities or traditional government contractors

TechShop, a shared space with a variety of tools for woodworking, robotics making and 3D printing. Photo Credit: DARPA

It then highlights DARPA’s Fast Track Initiatives as a flagship model for funding that could be applied to citizen science and crowdsourcing. The Fast Track Initiative opens up small research grants to individuals instead of traditional institutions like universities and beltway contractors.

This call could have huge implications for all “grassroots” or DIY initiatives who have long been excluded from traditional science and engineering funding mechanisms. In 2012, the Institute on Science for Global Policy held a conference on “21st Century Borders/Synthetic Biology: Focus on Responsibility and Governance” which called for a similar reform:

Federal funding agencies should develop metrics and procedures to allow actors outside the traditional academic or business communities to apply for and receive federal grants. If we want to harness the intellectual power of this movement, federal funding agencies should rethink their mechanisms for awarding grants – Todd Kuiken, Wilson Center

This is good news that the cry’s for diversifying science funding mechanisms in the federal government have been heard and we look forward to watch the ripple effects unfold. Citizen Scientists, DIYbio, maker and hacker communities will no longer be restricted to crowd-funding platforms and should stay tuned and watch closely.



White house highlights citizen science (1 of 3)

The Commons Lab will publish a three part blog series in celebration of the White House Event on Open Science and Open Innovation. Each article will highlight a different initiative announced during this forum. The first article in this series is an announcement of Citizen Science Day reposted from the Citizen Science Association.

The Citizen Science Association launched their new website today. Congratulations to all who worked on the white house forum, and also the CSA. 


Citizen Science Day announced

In conjunction with today’s White House forum, “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” we are pleased to announce efforts of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) to coordinate a nationwide Citizen Science Day.With support from SciStarter and in partnership with numerous national organizations, CSA will provide planning resources and promotional materials for sites around the country to host events to bring attention to citizen science impacts and participation opportunities.A major celebration will be held on April 16th, 2016, in conjunction with the National Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. This will kick off a series of citizen science “open houses” and activities to be locally-sponsored by science centers, museums, libraries, universities and schools, and federal agencies around the country.Imagine such activities as:

  • Zoos hosting a series of guest speakers addressing wildlife-related project research;
  • Parks conducting a bioblitz;
  • Festivals engaging visitors in citizen science and crowdsourcing activities;
  • Libraries displaying SciStarter on a kiosk to connect people with projects;
  • Science centers hosting a forum to discuss the implications of a project’s findings.

Already interested in hosting an event? Add your activities to SciStarter’s online calendar.

We are pleased to partner with the following organizations in planning and promoting Citizen Science Day celebrations:

Federal Community of Practice for Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)
Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)
Astronomy Magazine
Discover Magazine


Citizen Science & The Law: A New Web-Enabled Policy Tool

court-house-25061_640Navigating legal and administrative barriers while implementing citizen science and crowdsourcing projects at the federal level can be complex and confusing. The Commons Lab published a report earlier this year, Crowdsourcing, Citizen Science and the Law: Legal Issues Affecting Federal Agencies, which examined in depth the legal issues, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act and Antideficiency Act, that federal citizen science initiatives will have to comply with. This excellent research produced a wealth of knowledge on the topic.

In order to make it more accessible we condensed the 116 page report into a web-enabled policy tool which allows federal project managers navigate and understand these issues before they embark on citizen science initiatives. The tool is hosted on the Wilson Center website and may be accessed here.

Privacy in Participatory Research: Advancing Policy to support Human Computation

This summary has been written by Rohin Daswani, who is Research Assistant with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.


The paper Privacy in Participatory Research: Advancing Policy to support Human Computation by Anne Bowser and Andrea Wiggins explains the important role played by privacy and privacy related policy in participatory research activities. The participatory research activities focused on in this paper are Citizen Science and Participatory Sensing. So what is Citizen Science and Participatory Sensing? Citizen Science (CS) is the involvement of volunteers in scientific research , which allows scientists to gather and analyze larger and more diverse data by using volunteers to crowdsource the data collection . In contrast Participatory Sensing (PS) uses mobile devices and phones to create interactive, participatory sensor networks that enable public and professional users to gather, analyze and share local knowledge. The applications are especially designed to provide direct utility to participants and external parties such as researchers.

Given that CS and PS are two models of human computation in which the privacy of the participant is a key concern, technological safeguards are only partial solutions for informing volunteers decisions regarding participation. Bowser and Wiggins point out that a holistic solution is required which would encompass technological safeguards along with a complete description of privacy related policies. They do this by surveying the policies of 30 participatory research projects to study how privacy related policies are presented and their alignment with actual practices. What they found was that the majority of projects had only a little understanding of the need for privacy policies. Many projects either hosted incomplete policies or described their practice inaccurately. A majority of the projects in the sample had published web content that Anne and Wiggins considered privacy policy, while a different majority had published content that the two considered terms of use.

The ethical implications of their findings for project management, design and research are plenty. The Belmont report suggests that research participants should be informed about the risks and benefits involved in participation. However, most projects did not inform participants about the types of information collected during registration and data collection nor how the information will be used. They either omitted the information or presented it in a confusing manner. These practices are contrary to respect for persons and participant primacy. Transparency is also a major legal issue that Bowser and Wiggins touch upon.

They conclude the paper by proposing a set of ethical practices for Participatory Research Design as guidelines to inform the development of policies and the design of technologies supporting participatory research. They suggest that project leaders should incorporate Ethical principles for Participatory Research Design into their decision-making process when establishing or revising policies and practices. Working with these principles will remind both project leaders and technology developers of the fundamental importance of respectful relationships with volunteers, without whom project goals cannot be achieved.

This is just a summary of the paper. To access the entire paper click here.

Citizen Science used in studying Seasonal Variation in India

The article was written by Rohin Daswani, who is a Research Assistant with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Climate change has started affecting many countries around the world. While every country is susceptible to the risks of global warming some countries, such as India, are especially vulnerable.

India’s sheer dependence on rainfall to irrigate its vast agricultural lands and to feed its economy makes it highly vulnerable to climate change. A report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts global temperature will increase between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius and sea levels will rise 82cm (32 in) by the late 21st century. But what effect will the changing rainfall pattern have on the seasonal variation?

One way to study seasonal variation in India is to analyze the changing patterns of flowering and fruiting of common trees like the Mango and Amaltas trees. SeasonWatch , a program part of the National Center for Biological Sciences (NCBS), the biological wing of the Tata Institute for Fundamental Research, does exactly that. It is an India-wide program that studies the changing seasons by monitoring the seasonal cycles of flowering, fruiting and leaf flush of common trees. And how does it do that? It does it by utilizing the idea of Citizen Science. Anybody, be it children or adults, interested in trees and the effects of climate change can participate. All they have to do is register, select a tree near them and monitor it every week. The data is uploaded to a central website and is analyzed for changing patterns of plant life, and the effects of climate change on plant life cycle. The data is also open source so anyone can get access to it if they wish to. With all this information one could answer questions which were previously impossible to answer such as:

  • How does the flowering of Neem change across India?
  • Is fruiting of Tamarind different in different parts of the country depending on rainfall in the previous year?
  • Is year to year variation in flowering and fruiting time of Mango related to Winter temperatures?

Using Citizen Science and crowdsourcing, programs such as SeasonWatch have expanded the scope and work of conservation biology in various ecosystems across India. The program serves as an example of the extent to which Citizen Science and crowdsourcing can be used to understand and limit the effects of climate change and global warming around the word. While SeasonWatch just has 154 volunteers and 368 schools signed up currently, it is gaining traction. As it expands to different regions of the country, the data it collects will become even more useful to non-profits, municipalities and governmental agencies, who can use the information to study seasonal variation caused by global warming.

Dhau - Acacia Nilotica. Some of New Delhi's most beautiful trees that need help.
One of New Delhi’s most beautiful trees that need help. As SeasonWatch grows, such trees will get protection through the watchful eyes of India’s public. Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/07/12/delhi-native-trees-delhi-_n_7760466.html?ncid=fcbklnkinhpmg00000001

Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Metadata Workshop Summary

Databases are compiled for a variety of different reasons and come in all different formats, metadata is critical to understanding the provenance and ability to share information across databases effectively. (Photo Credit: Michael Mandiberg, Flickr)

On July 9th & 10th, 2015, the Wilson Center’s Commons Lab in coordination with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, hosted a Citizen Science & Crowdsourcing Metadata Workshop.

Four databases of citizen science and crowdsourcing projects —  SciStarter, the Citizen Science Association (CSA), CitSci.org, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (the Wilson Center Commons Lab) — are working on a common project metadata schema to support data sharing with the goal of maintaining accurate and up to date information about citizen science projects.  The federal government is joining this conversation with a cross-agency effort to promote citizen science and crowdsourcing as a tool to advance agency missions. Specifically, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), in collaboration with the U.S. Federal Community of Practice for Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing (FCPCCS), is compiling an Open Innovation Toolkit containing resources for federal employees hoping to implement citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. Navigation through this toolkit will be facilitated in part through a system of metadata tags. In addition, the Open Innovation Toolkit will link to the Wilson Center’s database of federal citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. These groups became aware of their complementary efforts and the shared challenge of developing project metadata tags, which gave rise to the need of a workshop.

The results of the workshop included 30 fields describing citizen science project metadata (found in the Workshop Summary Appendix). Seven of the fields will be applied in a demonstration of data sharing between the four databases. However, the current list of project metadata tags requires expansion, especially around concepts related to crowdsourcing.

This publication is a summary of the results from the workshop and a definition of the collaboration moving forward. Click on this link to download the file.