Citizen Science Conference

Open Science is often associated with trained researchers who are generating new scientific findings together with other trained researchers. However, many Open Science definitions include aspects that not only address researchers. Science should be open to any person willing to stay informed and contribute. Consequently, science is expected to stimulate the active engagement and contribution of actors beyond the scientific community from society, politics, and the economy. It is thus not surprising to find these aspects summarized as Citizen Science in University of Twente’s Shaping2030 agenda. Citizen Science, as the name suggests, pays particular attention to societal actors and aims at bridging the gap between innovation and society.

To increase the awareness of Citizen Science and join forces with all those who are interested or involved in Citizen Science, the UT organized the Citizen Science Conference on the 20th November 2020. The event comprised the launch of the Shaping Expert Group on Citizen Science and the actual conference, which included a session on the challenges of Citizen Science as well as its impact.

Kick-off

The Shaping Expert Group on Citizen Science was kicked-off in a little pre-conference event by Sabine Wildevuur, the Director of DesignLab and member of the expert group, and Renske van Wijk, the project leader of the group. In the beginning, three researchers presented their Citizen Science projects to demonstrate the relevance of Citizen Science at the UT.

Sefora Tunç presented Ibilight, an awareness system in the form of a presence light. It allows for micro-interactions throughout the day and primarily addresses older adults feeling lonely. The development of the tool relied heavily on a participatory design approach to address the users’ needs and wishes.

Léon Olde Scholtenhuis presented the next project. Fidett aims at supporting the energy transition in Twente. The process of renewing the energy infrastructure can be disruptive for the daily life of citizens. For this reason, they are also key stakeholders and able to contribute to making the process more efficient, for example, by providing data about houses and infrastructure and giving feedback on energy assessment and planning models.

Finally, Raúl Zurita-Milla talked about a tick app to help people understand and explore tick activity. Users can report tick bites back to the app to inform others who are living nearby or planning to visit the same area.

Afterwards, Peter-Paul Verbeek, Professor of Philosophy of Technology and co-director of the DesignLab of the University of Twente, interviewed Barend van der Meulen, director at the Center for Higher Education Policy Studies and member of the expert group. They discussed a couple of interesting questions, such as

  • Why should we have Citizen Science at the UT?  
  • Why is the UT a suitable place to do Citizen Science?  
  • Does Citizen Science require researchers to have skills beyond their own discipline?

Check the video to see the full interview and the answers to the questions.  

The Conference

Session 1: Challenges

The opening presentation was given by Prof. Wim van der Putten. He was a bit reluctant to provide a concrete definition of Citizen Science since it might narrow down things too much but he emphasized that Citizen Science is a two-way process: citizens can ask scientists for help and, vice versa, scientists can ask citizens to be involved in their research. But be aware: Citizens are not just cheap labour which is not only unethical but also not true since it takes researchers a lot of time and effort to involve citizens. In this context, he made us aware of the Ten Principles of Citizen Science, which underlie good practice in Citizen Science, such as considering proper acknowledgment for the efforts of citizen scientists.

Next on the stage was Dr. Katja Egorova from ITC talking about ‘Beyond Citizens as Sensors: Citizen Science in the Geospatial Domain’. She presented the diverse ecosystem of Citizen Science projects in the geo domain that build on the engagement of citizens, for example, for mapping damages after a disaster and monitoring green spaces in Suriname.

The last speaker of the session, Dr. Gaston Remmers, talked about Citizen Science from the perspective of the health domain, a relatively under-researched domain in Citizen Science. He showed some initial results of a survey asking whether there are differences between Citizen Science in health and other research areas. According to the participants, the main differences relate to the quality of the data which is under more scrutiny, the ethical requirements which are of different complexity, and the researchers who themselves can be subjects, too.

Session 2: Impact of Citizen Science

Prof. Muki Haklay kicked-off the second session of the conference. He investigates the impact of Citizen Science on a local and global scale. In this context, he pays particular attention to the challenges, for example, the balance between scientific goals, scale, and depth of engagement. Besides, he also focuses on the benefits to different stakeholders (e.g., researchers, citizens, funders) in Citizen Science projects.

Lea den Broeder talked about an exciting project investigating health in a local neighbourhood. The research was done by citizens who, after some training on health and personal competencies, conducted more than 400 interviews to find out more, for example, about the peoples’ food lifestyle. However, the citizen scientists not only collected data. They also learned a lot about health, created new social networks, had fun, and even developed health activism towards creating a healthier neighbourhood.

The final talk was given by Margaret Gold from Leiden University. Plastic Spotter is one of the projects she is involved in. Plastic Spotter is a mobile app allowing people to report on plastic garbage they have spotted in urban water systems, for example, rivers and lakes. The project also helps to identify plastic hotspots where taking action to avoid plastic garbage is much-needed, for example, next to markets and restaurants.

All in all, the conference was a big success with several insightful talks. If you would like to know more, check out the website or watch the videos of the Kick-off and the conference.

By Markus Konkol