Thursday, 2 May 2013

Citizen Science: Participative Methods and VGI - by Ronja Redlich

-->Growing Participation in Citizen Science- More and more amateurs are collecting data and also analysing it.

Citizen Science is a category of activities within volunteered geographic information (VGI). Elements of collection, analysis and distribution of information and participation by volunteers, for the benefit of science and knowledge of humanity characterizes the projects of Citizen Science.

Citizen Science does not necessarily focus on geospatial information only. In Ornithology but also in Meteorology, Citizen Science has existed for a long time. For example the project “Christmas Bird Watch” has been going on since 1900. Many volunteers also participated in meteorological observations. These projects need volunteers that spend their leisure time observing and collecting data.

Due to the emergence of a new infrastructure, the Web and the Internet, it was possible to join in other projects of Citizen Science. Without being a specialist, everyone who has access to the Internet, GPS receivers or a mobile phone can help.100,000 volunteers are part of the project “GalaxyZoo” and class galaxies is one of the most developed activities in Citizen Science (Haklay 2012). Another example is SETI@home where volunteers’ computers were used to find extra-terrestrial life. Some of these projects such as Rosetta@home are constructed as a game. The aim of Rosetta@home is to find new protein structures. The volunteers are motivated by playing, competing or working together with other participants. The result can be a new solution how to fold the proteins (Hand 2010).

However, you can also find activities where collecting location information is an important part. Haklay calls them Geographical Citizen Science and it has the same definition as VGI (Haklay 2012).

Through the new technologies, it is a great way to get normal, non-professional people involved in academic research. Nevertheless questions regarding the quality and the accuracy of the data are serious issues and must be taken into account.

All in all, Citizen Science has been going on for years and is still growing. Considering the process and development of the projects, it is pretty impressive what the results can be.

Haklay, M. (2012): Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic Information – overview and typology of participation. In: Sui, D.Z., Elwood, S. and Goodchild, M.F. (eds.), (2013): Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge. Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice. Dordrecht; Heidelberg: Springer. 396 S.

Hand, E. (2010): Citizen science: People power. Nature 466, 685-687 S.


  1. Citizen science seems for me very limited if scientific standards should be considered. For example: it is hard to document everyones data/information acquisition. In some cases volunteer's work and the project's requirements can fit, in some it probably won't (imo).

  2. I think that is a good point, there are and will always be incidents and problems, where more scientific knowledge and accuracy is needed. But like many examples have shown, the volunteers help scientist a lot in their research and accelerate the work and research progress, that does not mean that the scientist are not needed anymore. And like Westphal and Anderson, many citizen science project founders are trying to find a way to solve this problem of data/ information accurancy. Having the developments of the last years in mind, I could imagine that they will also find a satisfying solution for this problem.

  3. I think it is a design question: How can we implement citizen-science projects that meet the needs of scientific accuracy but are also ease to handle for volunteers?

    I am wondering, what might be study-cases of citizen-science projects in Humanitarian Work and Disaster Risk Management?

    One might want to have a look at the "Satellite Sentinel Project" andthe "Tomnod" Platform. Both are excellent examples of volunteers engagement in satellite imagery analysis for humanitarian purposes.

  4. Werner Clödy8 May 2013 at 13:25

    In relation to new technologies, engaging in citzen science gets more and more easy. So i´m very optimisitc that issues like disigning etc. can be solved very soon.
    Furthermore citizen science is very crucial because it encourages the acceptance of science in society.

    1. well as the acceptance of society in science.

      According to Haklay 2012 participants seem to accept the difference of knowledge and expertise of the scientiest involved in a project while scientist need to develop respect towards those who voluntarily help them accomplishing their studies.

  5. I think bringing "sciene" to citizens is a wonderful idea. Of course not everybody has the same capabiliy to solve different scientific problems, but making people courious about science issues and giving them the feeling " You yourself, you can be a part of this project" is a first step to close the gap between people with different backgrounds in society. Projects like the Chrsitmas Bird watch a so simple and still effective!

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