Guidelines for developing citizen sensor observatories and education platforms

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D14.4 Guidelines for developing citizen sensor observatories and education platforms
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Project ENVRIplus
Deliverable nr D14.4
Submission date 2017-06-29
Type Guideline

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With the explosion of the internet, many citizen seismology projects have been carried out in the last 15-20 years. Many of which have been funded by the European Commission which included a ‘Science with and for the Society’ theme within the H2020 framework program. In seismology, most of these fall into the subcategory of citizen observer/sensor networks, where citizens either help deploy sensors, and/or gather observation data of catastrophic events such as earthquakes.

During their development, most of these projects easily found their public because people found these initiatives entertaining and pioneering. They were led by enthusiastic and active people (researchers, engineers, teachers, developers …) and the development of efficient and ergonomic tools ensured their success. Moreover, many of these initiatives have benefited from media coverage and received funding to organise workshops dedicated to the public and/or to schools. However, at the end of the day, many of these projects are either stopped or are slowly dying. The two main causes are the lack of continuous and stable funding and the difficulty of retaining the participants in the long term.

Most studies of the guidelines and best practices in citizen science come to the conclusions that, in citizen science, participant retention is a key element. The success of a citizen science project is not a technical issue. Most authors insist that one needs a clear and feasible engagement strategy and must keep in mind that there must be a mutual benefit between citizens and scientists. Volunteers should receive regular feedback from the scientists. They need to be convinced that their participation is useful and to know how their data is used. Participants’ motivations and their evolution over time must be understood and taken into account. The lack of motivation will result in a poor participant retention which, in the end compromises the success of the project.

Building on our experience in citizen seismology with QCN[1], Raspberryshake[2] and the LastQuake App[3], presented in this report, we propose additional recommendations on the necessity to identify pre-existing communities in relation to the project’s topic. These communities can be well established (e.g. association, schools) or spontaneously formed such as the eyewitnesses of natural disasters. In this latter case, one can harness the teachable moments, that time frame where witnesses are ready to share their experience and are more likely to participate to citizen science projects.

Our experience shows that there are several types of communities that are very different from each other and that must be considered: structured communities (e.g. birding associations), emergent communities (e.g. eyewitnesses of a natural disaster), concerned people (e.g. regarding disease, pollution), amateurs (e.g. Raspberryshake) and students. The targeted community will influence the development, the communication and the whole engagement strategy.

On a technical point of view, most citizen science projects use widespread and advanced technologies such as the Internet and smartphone Apps. Apps will certainly play a growing role in citizen sciences project in the future but the pitfall is that there are so many Apps available that their average lifetime can be very short; the vast majority of the Apps available in the App stores never get any audience.

The chances of success of a citizen science project are also greatly improved when using open source software and databases as well as sustainable archiving systems to ensure data access and management over the long term. The scientific outcome and the societal impact of the project must be assessed and communicated. Then, citizen science facilitators like the ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) can help in enlarging the audience of the project and getting funding.

Finally, citizen science will soon have a tangible impact on decision making. For this, the ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) recommends that common platforms for environmental citizen science data acquisition and harmonisation are a prerequisite, as well as access to an overarching open access data archive for European Science data. Here, projects like ENVRIplus have a real role to play in order to push in this direction and influence policy makers at the EU level.

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