Crowdsourcing data from happy amateur scientists is not new, but develops very fast right now thanks to tools (smartphones, internet, etc.) and virtual communitites. SETI@home was a project initiated 1999. To pick up signals from intelligent extraterrestrial life, people were encouraged to let the SETI@home software run on their computer as a screen saver. The more people involved, the bigger the chance to pick up such a signal.
The 1-day international workshop
Åke Lindström arranged a workshop the 24 of April, to address the current development and challenges with crowdsourcing data.
In case you missed the excellent Citizen Science workshop, keep on reading or go to:
I have been mulling over the right way to write this blog post for a while now. There was so much useful information for scientists aspiring to crowdsource data, during this workshop.
Therefore, I have been compiling some of the best tips from a few of the speakers in this post.
Jonathan Silverman works with iSpot, which is a site and tool online. 150 organisations work with iSpot and most users are students and universities. You can upload an image of any plant or animal to iSpot, and get almost instantaneous answer to what species it is. This is crowdsourcing for anybody. iSpot helps people learn. The longer you have been observing, the more likely you are to put an ID yourself instead of waiting for someone else to do it. Also there is an iSpot quiz to help you sharpen your identification skills. Everything is geo-referenced as well, except for species on IUCN Red List of threatened species (that are geo-referenced in an area, but not to the precise sighting).
Helen Roy – the landscape of citizen science, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, UK
One of the raison-détre for the Ladybird Survey UK, is to record ladybirds across the British Isles, linking their distribution to climate change. Helen is an enthusiastic bug scientist, and being very interested in crowdsourcing for science, she eventually wrote “Guide to Citizen Science” – UK Environmental Observation Framework. She and her co-workers report a surprising finding in that book; there is not one type of person that engage in crowdsourcing, but all kinds of people with different interests, goals and ambitions. (What? Are you saying that we are all nerds?)
Best tips: Clarity of goals for the people joining the crowdsourcing project is essential! Explicit, simple aims for the participants. No need to argue; the Ladybird Survey UK has been extremely successful. Important to identify and understand target participants (for example children) so that we can shape the crowdsourcing accordingly.
Kjell Bolmgren – Turning passion into practice, Swedish University of Aricultural Sciences
For 73 years, Gunnar has been writing down his observations about the weather and the flowering timepoint for 25 different species of flowers. Not surprisingly, Gunnar is a farmer. Kjell Bolmgren from Swedish University of Aricultural Sciences, says it is useful to turn to some groups in society that already has done some crowdsourcing already. Gunnar´s data ended up in a publication in International Journal of Biometeorology in 2013!
Kjell also points out that it can be useful to work together with authorities that need the data. He explains; “The crowdsourcing work is no longer dependent on a few dedicated enthusiasts.”
Having a professional communicator in his family, Kjell gets a lot of tips for succeeding with crowdsourcing. People need motivation and a purpose to help scientists gather data (climate change for example). It needs to be convenient and simple for them. Perhaps they can do some sourcing at spots that they pass by every day. They need accurate instructions and some support (perhaps facebook).
Best tips: Let people follow different protocols to engage on different levels. Let them have ONE focus.
Åke Lindström – Swedish Bird Survey
Swedish Bird Survery (http://www.zoo.ekol.lu.se/birdmonitoring/Eng/index.htm) has been counting birds all over Sweden for 30 years. “We ask a lot from our surveyors. It is so important with the sampling design and data collection”, Åke says. Raise the awareness about the scientific method! How? Popular science writing, lectures, teach at courses, year reports to surveyors, workshops for surveyors, community, project webpage.
Åke sees a drawback with “the old scheme” used in Swedish Bird Survey: people count birds where they live and where it is nice to watch. Therefore new scheme was established in 1996. There are new fixed routes that takes about 6 hours to walk. 716 routes exist in Sweden, and 501 routes were counted in 2013.
Best tips: Make your survey small. There is a remarkable strength of a small survey. An example of this is how we get a good idea of how people will vote in election polls. Surveys done for elections are very small, but give an immense information.
This was just a few of the speakers! Take a look at the Youtube-link to see more.
PHOTO: Still of Richard Ottvall, surveyor.