Webinar on Citizenscience.gov

Interested in learning more about the Citizenscience.gov  platform?  Join the Wilson Center Commons Lab and the General Services Administration (GSA) for a webinar tomorrow afternoon from 11am – 12pm.  Hosted via DigitalGov University, topics of the webinar will include an introduction to the platform, a tour of the Federal Catalogue, and a few citizen science examples from federal practitioners.

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Whether you’re a seasoned citizen science practitioner, aiming to promote a current project within the federal community, or simply interested in what Citizenscience.gov, and the field as a whole, have to offer – all are welcome to attend.  By capturing the input and enthusiasm of the general public, citizen science and crowdsourcing projects are tackling the problems of today and tomorrow.  Citizenscience.gov serves as the hub for federal endeavors of this nature, providing the populace and federal practitioners with three pillars of support: a Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, a Federal Catalog, and a Community Page.

Presenting at the webinar are Elizabeth Tyson, a CoDirector of the Commons Lab, and Kendrick Daniel, a representative from the GSA’s Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, and the Program Lead for Citizenscience.gov.

Click here to register.

Serious Games: A Key Player in the Years to Come

Written by Christian Belcher, a Research and Social Media Intern with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Serious games and citizen science – at a glance both appear somewhat unconventional in nature.  As relatively new fields attempting to establish themselves alongside more conventional counterparts, formulating an appropriate vocabulary can be a challenge.  While they are each busy trying to establish common terminology, they also face remarkably similar challenges from within.

Last week the Commons Lab sat down with Eric Church, a prolific game designer and Program Associate at the Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative. As relative novices when it comes to serious games, having only dabbled with the Fiscal Ship, we asked him what factors determine the success of a serious game.  His reply was cut and dry: clearly set goals and immediate feedback to participants.  The two elements he highlighted are also evident in citizen science projects, especially as a means of inspiring and maintaining participation.

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The Fiscal Ship, a product of the Wilson Center’s Serious Games Initiative, lets players craft the Federal Budget.

Every serious game worth playing has an objective, a clearly stated mission with which participants can understand.  For example Eyewire, a serious game developed by MIT, encourages players to help scientists map the neurons of the occipital lobe, the portion of the brain responsible for vision.  This charter is clearly advertised on their website, and directly referenced in the name of the game.  By engaging the public with their message, through the medium of an interactive game, they’ve successfully mapped more than 700 neurons.  Citizen science projects within the medical and health field have proliferated as well.  A UK-based app is doing its part to fight Parkinson’s disease globally; participants in the 100 for Parkinson’s program simply upload information on ten aspects of their health over a hundred day period, all in the aims of gathering data to learn more about the affliction.

Some projects require creative participants. Projects that follow an ideation model, like the U.S. Army’s SciTech Futures exercise, are examples of open-ended crowdsourcing. Last week, participants from around the world were asked to speculate what the future will hold by answering the question, “What technological emergence or sociopolitical trend will shape the year 2040?” For the Army, a successful crowdsourcing project in this model is one replete with diverse answers or original content. Using SciTech Futures as an example, the goal of a similar venture, e.g. answering an open-ended question on future sociological trends, should be made clear to participants. The specific methods used to reach that goal depend on the nature of the assignment at hand, in this case canvasing as many scenarios as possible.

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Ocean-based hydroponics, one of most popular concepts on the SciTech Futures Marketplace (photo credit: Forward Thinking Architecture)

Mr. Church’s second criterion for success is a reward system.  This is perhaps where citizen science and crowdsourcing-based serious games diverge most from one another.  While both revolve around the largesse of volunteers – citizens willing to spend time, and occasionally money, on assignments extracurricular of work and family life – each rewards participants differently.  Citizen scientists conducting research for Zooniverse might find themselves at the forefront of an incredible discovery, a thrill for amateur and professional scientists alike.  People participating in one of the National Park Service’s many BioBlitz events can rejoice in contributing valuable information to biodiversity databases, all while spending a day at the park.  Serious games, on the other hand, seem to yield more verifiable results, that is to say, the accuracy of a player’s answers can be readily determined.  Wrong answers can be addressed, while correct answers may be rewarded, either in the form of in-game progression, symbolized by achievement notifications and virtual medals, or a tangible remuneration, like cash or concept art, the prizes taken home by winners of the Department of State’s Fishackathon and the Army’s SciTech Futures events respectively.  At the end of the day however, both citizen science and serious games seek to educate and empower individual participants, whose contributions benefit their local communities and the world as a whole.

An integral part of any project though, citizen science and serious games alike, is the feedback provided to the participants.  For citizen scientists, this feedback can be a reward in and of itself; engaging in an open-dialogue with career experts in a shared field of interest is a marvelous opportunity.  Naturally, the amount of feedback depends on the nature of each task; those requiring methodological consistency would demand greater moderation, yielding a data set that’s easier to aggregate, while ideation exercises benefit from a high degree of independence, and subsequently provide more creative returns.

Moving forward, it’s safe to say that citizen science and serious games will face a few similar challenges on the road ahead, in the form of standardization, or maintaining legitimacy, but promising strides are being taken to address these obstacles.  Currently there is a team, of which the Commons Lab is a part, working to establish core standards for sharing data, and establishing metadata standards among citizen science projects.  Furthermore, in 2013 SRI and Concordia University conducted a study that highlighted the potential of serious games in the classroom: STEM students whose curriculum’s included simulations experienced a 25% improvement in achievement.  It’s steps like these that foment the open innovation movement, establishing citizen science and serious games as key players in the years to come.

4th USA Science & Engineering Festival Highlights Citizen Science

Video: Google Hangout recording at the USA Science & Engineering Festival of citizen scientist experts from across the country discussing how mobile technology can assist the growth of citizen science

At the 4th USA Science & Engineering Festival, the largest science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education exposition in the United States, more than 1,000 STEM organizations such as the National Science Foundation, Lockheed Martin, and the U.S. Department of State, presented interactive activities to encourage the next generation to pursue a career in the STEM field. Over the course of two days, tens of thousands of visitors of all ages came to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center located in Washington, D.C. to engage with STEM activities.

While the organizations covered a broad range of science and engineering areas, a common focal point was citizen science. Specifically, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Park Service, United States Geological Survey (USGS), Homeland Security, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and SciStarter aimed to further the general public’s participation in and understanding of citizen science, its success and significance today, and its potential applications for the future.

NOAA, for example, discussed the critical role citizen science plays with emerging technology and the numerous NOAA projects that could not have succeeded without the support of citizen science and crowdsourcing.

Continue reading “4th USA Science & Engineering Festival Highlights Citizen Science”

EVENT: Citizen Science and Public Decision Making in the United States

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Source: Wikimedia Commons 

How does the disconnect between professional scientists and public decision makers in normal policy settings translate for citizen science projects? To address this question, the Commons Lab and the Environmental Law Institute collaborated on a research paper that outlines the numerous legal and administrative components in the United States that impact what data and research methods can be employed when dealing with environmental issues concerning air quality, land use, water quality, and more.

A deeper understanding of these complicated facets will drastically improve citizen science project designs and the quality of research, while facilitating communications between the professional scientists and public decision makers.

In addition, we will explore the role of citizen science in the policymaking process within the Convention on Biological Diversity based on research conducted by Rob McNamara.

The event will be live webcast and you can tweet us, @STIPCommonsLab, with questions using the hashtag #impactcitsci.

Please join us and the Environmental Law Institute on Wednesday, April 27 from 2:00pm to 3:30pm at the Woodrow Wilson Center for the launch of this research paper and a panel discussion from the authors.

Moderator: David Rejeski, Director, Science and Technology Innovation Program

Panelists:

James McElfish, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Institute

Rob McNamara, Adjunct Professor,  International Environmental Studies, Sierra Nevada College

Please RSVP for the event at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/clearing-the-path-citizen-science-and-public-decision-making-the-united-states

Flint Offers Lessons on How Citizen Collaboration Can Hold Governments Accountable

This post is re-blogged from New Security Beat, the blog of the Environmental Change and Security Program at the Wilson Center. You may find the original piece here, posted on April 21, 2016. 

The author of the article, Louise Lief, is a former Wilson Center fellow and current scholar-in-residence at the American University School of Communication’s Investigative Reporting Workshop.

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Higher release of iron is evident in the Flint water glass reactor containing iron than that with Detroit water (Photo courtesy of FlintWaterStudy.org)

A couple of weeks ago, the task force Michigan governor Rick Snyder appointed to investigate Flint’s now infamous water crisis issued its long-awaited report.

The findings detailed failures in multiple government agencies to address high levels of lead, a neurotoxin, in the city’s water. To cut costs, in the spring of 2014 Flint’s state-appointed emergency manager had switched the city’s water supply from Detroit’s system to the more polluted Flint River and kept it there, despite community protests, for 18 months.

Calling the crisis “a clear case of environmental injustice,” the task force issued 44 recommendations that will cost millions to implement. The long-term damage to many Flint children is irreversible.

The hidden success story in this disheartening tale of denial and indifference was the collaboration of an ad hoc coalition of journalists, citizens, and academics whose combined efforts finally compelled the state of Michigan to act. “Without their courage and persistence,” the report noted, “this crisis likely never would have been brought to light and mitigation efforts never begun.”

As New Jersey and Ohio have discovered, lead’s story doesn’t end in Flint. There are an estimated 10 million lead service lines in the U.S., part of the nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure that will require an estimated $1 trillion to rehabilitate.

As other communities wonder what perils they face, the Flint collaboration offers a road map on how to tackle environmental and other problems when government fails to act, especially for the most vulnerable communities.

Continue reading “Flint Offers Lessons on How Citizen Collaboration Can Hold Governments Accountable”

CitizenScience.Gov segment on Wilson Center NOW

This week the General Services Administration (GSA) and the Wilson Center launched citizenscience.gov, a new central hub for citizen science and crowdsourcing initiatives in the public sector. The site will catalog activity and provide tools for the conduct of citizen science projects. Anne Bowser, Co-Director of the Commons Lab at the Wilson Center explains the goals and potential of the project in this edition of Wilson Center NOW.

Guest

Anne Bowser is a Senior Program Associate with the Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP). She co-directs the Commons Lab, which takes as its mission mobilizing public participation and innovation in science, technology, and policy. Anne also leads the Wilson Center’s participation in a research project on encouraging bilateral cooperation in science and technology innovation between the US and the EU. She also supports the Wilson Center’s initiative on serious games.

Anne’s personal research focuses on understanding the role that technology plays in citizen science and crowdsourcing. She recently defended her PhD at the University of Maryland College of Information Studies, where her dissertation explored a cooperative approach to designing Floracaching, a geocaching game for biodiversity data collection created to mobilize participation in university communities. Anne is also working on an NSF-funded project to study location privacy in citizen science. Finally, she supports the international practice of citizen science as the co-founder of a data and metadata interoperability working group of the Citizen Science Association.

Host
John Milewski is the executive producer and managing editor of Wilson Center NOW and also serves as director of Wilson Center ON DEMAND digital programming. Previously he served as host and producer of Dialogue at the Wilson Center and Close Up on C-SPAN. He also teaches a course on politics and media for Penn State’s Washington Program.

 

– See more at: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/launch-citizensciencegov#sthash.lzpLI2Wk.dpuf

Indiana Jones as a Citizen Scientist ?

How can citizen science help preserve ancient Egyptian ruins? Modern- day Indiana Jones Dr. Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama has one answer: Working with the global citizen science and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to use satellite imagery to discover and protect hidden archaeological sites around the world.

The winner of the 2016 TED Prize, space archaeologist Parcak announced on Feb. 16 that she plans to use the $1 million grant to create Global Xplorer, the first crowdsourced online platform to locate archaeological sites using satellites.

Analyzing infrared satellite images and tracking discrepancies in the terrain, Parcak has already potentially discovered 17 pyramids and more than 3,100 settlements and 1,000 tombs in Egypt. However, with potentially millions of sites left to be found, she cannot undertake this challenge alone. By engaging the global citizen scientists and crowdsourcing community, Parcak aims to preserve as much of the world’s cultural heritage as possible. Continue reading “Indiana Jones as a Citizen Scientist ?”

Citizen Science and the Flint Water Crisis

 

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LeeAnne Walters shows Dr. Marc Edwards a used filter that was filled with rust after seven days of use (Photo courtesy of FlintWaterStudy.org)

In April 2014, the city of Flint, Michigan decided to switch its water supply source from the Detroit water system to a cheaper alternative, the Flint River. But in exchange for the cheaper price tag, the Flint residents paid a greater price with one of the worst public health crises of the past decade.

Despite concerns from Flint citizens about the quality of the water, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality repeatedly attributed the problem to the plumbing system. It was 37-year-old mother of four, LeeAnne Walters who, after noticing physical and behavioral changes in her children and herself, set off a chain of events that exposed the national scandal. Eventually, with the support of Dr. Marc Edwards, an environmental engineering professor at Virginia Tech (VT), Walters discovered lead concentration levels of 13,200 parts per billion in her water, 880 times the maximum concentration allowed by law and more than twice the level the Environmental Protection Agency considers to be hazardous waste. Continue reading “Citizen Science and the Flint Water Crisis”