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Taking Citizen Science to Extremes: from the Arctic to the Rainforest


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Citizen Science is hardly a new concept, but during the last decade it has seen a rise in both 

academic  and  popular  interest  for  the  topic.  This  trend  is  in  part  driven  by  an  increased 

interest  for  open  paradigms,  as  well  as,  Information  Communication  Technology  (ICT) 

innovations  such  as  smartphones,  mobile  Internet  and  cloud  computing.  This  has  given 

rise to the emergence of a growing and highly diverse crop of new – and often innovative – 

initiatives that are being, or could be, labelled as Citizen Science. 

Whilst  there  are  often  big  differences  between  projects,  for  instance  when  it  comes  to 

power relations – “Who is working for who?” – or the determination of goals and outcomes 

– “Who is solving whose problems?” – there is hope that, at the very least, this rediscovery 

of  citizen  science  might  lead  to  a  renewed  mutual  interest,  and  perhaps  understanding, 

between scientists and the general public.

Most citizen science initiatives are set in affluent areas of the world, and by and large they 

target an educated, or at least literate, public.  Extreme Citizen Science aspires to extend the 

reach and potential of citizen science beyond this restricted context and is defined as:

Extreme Citizen Science is a situated, bottom-up practice that takes into account local

needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build

new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.

In this presentation, we are going to explore the various ExCiteS projects that span from the 

Arctic – where we aim to develop tools grounded in the needs of Yupik and Iñupiaq coastal 

subsistence hunters who are adapting to the rapidly changing climate – to the Congo basin 

rainforest – where we enable marginalised and forest communities to better to share their 

vast environmental knowledge more effectively locally and with other regional, national and 

global stakeholders.

We aim to design, develop, evaluate and deploy a generic platform that enables people with 

no or limited literacy – in  the strict and broader  technological sense –  to use smartphones

and  tablets  to  collect,  share,  and  analyse  (spatial)  data  along  with  a  methodology  for 

introducing,  engaging  and  empowering  marginalised  communities  to  participate  in  and 

benefit  from  citizen  science.  The  platform  is  and  will  be  used  in  a  variety  of  concrete

projects,  often  related  to  environmental  monitoring.  Ultimately  the  goal  is  to  let 

communities build so-called Community Memories: evolving, shared representations of the 

state of their environment, their relationship with it, and any threats it faces.

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Taking Citizen Science to Extremes: from the Arctic to the Rainforest

  1. 1. Taking Citizen Science to Extremes: from the Arctic to the Rainforest Michalis Vitos PhD Student ExCiteS Research group UCL Emerging ICT for Citizens’ Veillance: Theoretical and Practical Insights JRC, 21/03/14
  2. 2. Audubon: Christmas Bird Count “Scientific activities in which non-professional scientists volunteer to participate in data collection, analysis and dissemination of a scientific project” (Cohn 2008; Silvertown 2009).
  3. 3. Citizen Science: Volunteered Computing
  4. 4. Citizen Science: Volunteered Thinking
  5. 5. Citizen Science: Participatory Sensing
  6. 6. Levels of Citizen Science Level 4 ‘Extreme’ •Collaborative Science – problem definition, data collection and analysis Level 3 ‘Participatory science’ •Participation in problem definition and data collection Level 2 ‘Distributed Intelligence’ •Citizens as basic interpreters Level 1 ‘Crowdsourcing’ •Citizens as sensors Haklay (2013)
  7. 7. ExCiteS Research Group
  8. 8. Our challenge is to provide communities with tools that empower them to take action, and protect their local environment and way of life.
  9. 9. Projects
  10. 10. Mapping for Change • Mapping platform which provides: – mapping, – geographical analysis – and community engagement services for all types of projects and entities. • Projects: – Community Air Quality Mapping – Community Noise Mapping Contact: Louise Francis
  11. 11. Citizen Science Games for Biodiversity and Conservation • In collaboration with ZSL. • It aims at the design of innovative citizen science games and methodologies for environmental monitoring and biodiversity conservation. Contact: Gianfranco Gliozzo
  12. 12. How can ICT assist Arctic hunters to adapt to climate change? • Aims to develop a mobile technology for Yupik and Iñupiaq coastal subsistence hunters who are adapting to the rapidly changing climate in Arctic Alaska. • The technology is co-designed with the local people, reflecting their ways of hunting, learning and knowing. Contact: Diana Mastracci
  13. 13. Community Mapping in the Brazilian Amazon • Aims to capitalise on the ExCiteS tools and methodology and apply them in the Brazilian Amazon. • Answering the question of how digital technology can help indigenous peoples to communicate their needs and their perceptions of the environment in order to improve their livelihoods in the forest. Contact: Carolina Comandulli
  14. 14. Participatory Monitoring in the Republic of the Congo
  15. 15. The Problem • extensive legal and illegal logging by artisan timber pirates and industrialised timber companies • rights of local population are often overlooked
  16. 16. Impact of logging activity on forest people. • Direct competition for resources – eg. Sapelli trees. • Roads make access easier for outsiders – commercial hunters and poachers.
  17. 17. Legal context • FLEGT VPA signed in May 2010. • Includes socio-economic obligations for the logging companies: • respect customs, practices and resources • have procedures for ongoing dialogue and compensation/dispute resolution.
  18. 18. • In 2013, we collaborated with Forests Monitor. • Participatory monitoring for forest management and measure social impact of logging.
  19. 19. The Challenges • Illiteracy & education ⁻ Language ⁻ Technology ⁻ Maps • Lack of network connectivity • Lack of electricity
  20. 20. • Robust Android touch- screen devices • Sapelli Data Collector: – Icon-based – Hierarchical decision tree – Easy to adapt in the field • ExCiteS methodology
  21. 21. Sapelli Data Collector
  22. 22. Photo and Audio
  23. 23. Challenge: device interface
  24. 24. Sapelli Launcher or
  25. 25. Component Architecture Amazon Server Relay Phone Dropbox HTTP
  26. 26. Data Transmission via SMS and/or Wi-Fi/GPRS/3G • Efficient use of limited space (1 SMS = 160 7-bit characters = 140 Bytes) • Chaining of multiple SMS messages (“transmissions”) • Compression (GZIP, LZMA) & Encryption (AES) • (Optional) flight-mode cycling to preserve power • Dropbox upload for media files
  27. 27. Hatsuden Nabe
  28. 28. Iterative, Participatory Software Development Embedded within a wider participatory methodology that encompasses: • A detailed process of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) • Building Community Protocols for engagement with: • The project itself • Other stakeholders in the problems local people have identified
  29. 29. Feeding data back to communities 000111110 101111111 010001010 111001110 001110001
  30. 30. Conclusion Opportunities • The ExCiteS approach worked well within the scope of the project – people were able to use and contribute to the design of the software, and found innovative ways to use it to meet their different needs. Challenges • However, the extent to which local people could participate in this process was limited by the goals and structure of the project itself. • Although the application was easy to use for some, other people required a lot of training and guidance.
  31. 31. Thank you for your attention. Any questions? References Lewis et al. (2007). “Logging in the Congo Basin: What hope for indigenous peoples’ resources and their environments?”. In: Indigenous Affairs 4/06, pp. 8–15. Lewis et al. (2012). “Accessible technologies and FPIC: independent monitoring with forest communities in Cameroon”. In: Biodiversity and culture: exploring community protocols, rights and consent (PLA 65), pp. 151–165. Vitos, Stevens, Lewis & Haklay (2013). “Making local knowledge matter. Supporting non-literate people to monitor poaching in Congo”. In: 3rd Annual ACM Symposium on Computing for Development (ACM DEV 2013; Jan. 11-12, 2013, Bangalore, India). Stevens, Vitos, Lewis & Haklay (2013). “Participatory monitoring of poaching in the Congo basin”. In: 21st GIS Research UK conference (GISRUK 2013, April 2-5, 2013, Liverpool, UK). Email: Website: Blog: