Citizen science: active citizenship vs. data commodification
Location FASS Building Meeting Room 2/3
Date and Start Time 27 Jul, 2018 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Josep Perelló (Universitat de Barcelona) email
  • Katja Mayer (Technical University of Munich) email
  • Alexandra Albert (University of Manchester) email
  • Martina Franzen (WZB Berlin Social Science Center ) email

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Short abstract

There is a boom of initiatives calling for citizen involvement. Usually, participants are assigned a passive role by design, i.e. they are mainly confined to data gathering. We will explore barriers and opportunities for more systemic participation in research to create socially robust knowledge

Long abstract

Digital technologies are increasingly facilitating the collective generation of data. Initiatives using crowdsourced data have mushroomed in a variety of fields such as science, politics, or industry. In scientific research, citizen science has been mostly motivated as a method to increase the scale and efficiency of data collection in a vast variety of disciplines, such as environmental science, astronomy, biology, and also social science such as political science, market research, sociology of social movements and urban planning. However, most initiatives working with citizen scientists include them only in certain steps of a research process (mainly data gathering and feedback tools), rather than systematically. Typically citizen scientists are excluded from research design, analysis, and interpretation. Despite the vast potential of active citizenship for evidence based "good governance", most of the time people are restricted to act as mere sensors, or data producers rather than data owners or advocates in their own right. Moreover, it is widely debated how sustainable the involvement of citizens via digital platforms can be, in terms of renewing or maintaining citizen enthusiasm and motivation to participate. In this panel, we aim at exploring different drivers/barriers to systemic participation of citizens in all research phases. How research should be transformed to allow active citizenship?. How can crowdsourced data initiatives, particularly in science, become sustainable? How can citizens become involved in more phases of the research process? How can be assured a fair use of the data produced? How to implement good standards in citizen science initiatives?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


When co-creation of citizen science drives empowerment: an example from the mental health community

Authors: Anna Cigarini (Universitat de Barcelona) email
Josep Perelló (Universitat de Barcelona) email
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Short abstract

A collaborative exercise of co-creation in citizen science practices can encourage in-community mental health care promotion and provision. The effort results into a collective experiment which creates the right data to respond to specific community concerns through games on digital platforms.

Long abstract

The need for community engagement in mental health promotion and care provision has been widely acknowledged. Yet, the participation of communities in evidence-based policy making is still underdeveloped. In a collaborative attempt to test the ability of citizen science practices to contribute to public decision making processes, we aligned the interests of different actors of the mental health ecosystem (affected, caregivers, relatives, professionals) to prove the potential of communities for effective mental health care.

We co-created a collective experiment with and for the mental health community to explore key aspects of the mental health recovery process through games on digital platforms and social dilemma paradigms. The co-creation process counted on the efforts of representatives of the mental health ecosystem via their systemic involvement in all research phases. 270 volunteers took part in the final experiment run over 48 sessions all around Catalunya. This collaborative exercise allowed to raise and address true and shared concerns, unveiling the different ontologies of the social dynamics at play within the collective. Referring to an ecosystem when we dialogue about mental health allowed us to frame its complex interdependencies while encouraging narratives of community care. Citizen science in its "extreme" level of engagement can drive the co-production of socially robust knowledge on how virtuous cycles of inclusion might be encouraged in a 'care in the community' framework, thus promoting facts-based policies in a participatory way.

Quantitative account of social interactions in a mental health care ecosystem: cooperation, trust and collective action. Scientific Reports, in press.

Citizen science from below or from above: a tale of two projects

Author: Ana Delicado (Lisbon University) email
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Short abstract

This paper aims to discuss and compare two citizen science initiatives, one promoted by scientists and through digital platforms, the other analogical and citizen-driven, in order to explore the potentials and pitfalls of the two formats, under the framework of active citizenship.

Long abstract

Citizen science has been heralded as a new, more effective, form of public engagement with science. Going beyond boring lectures by scientists or faux-interactive push-button machines in science centres, citizen science promises to promote encounters between scientists and willing volunteers who can contribute to science by counting stars in galaxies, deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, identifying birds during country walks, or playing games to search for clogged blood vessels.

STS have been quick to unpack the limitations of citizen science: there is little involvement of citizens in other stages of the research process beyond data collection, the ethics of using free scientific labour is questionable, online platforms and digital tools facilitate global crowdsourcing but raise other barriers between researchers and the people assisting them.

Much less attention has been paid to other citizen science initiatives that break this mould of scientist-driven large-scale ICT-based projects. When citizens self-organise and seek out scientists who can provide guidance in their research, what do they achieve? What do these projects tell us about engagement with science? What limitations do they have?

This paper aims to discuss and compare two citizen science initiatives, one promoted by scientists and through digital platforms, the other analogical and citizen-driven, in order to explore the potentials and pitfalls of the two formats. Both projects involved senior citizens and took place in Portugal in recent years. . It is hoped that from it can be derived useful inputs on active citizenship that can inform the debate on multiple forms of citizen science.

The barriers and opportunities to participation in the Empty Houses Project: crowdsourced citizen social science for more socially robust knowledge

Author: Alexandra Albert (University of Manchester) email
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Short abstract

Citizen social science (CSS) enables the detailed examination of the barriers and opportunities to participation in generating socially robust knowledge. The data produced in CSS is an epistemology, and politics, not just a realist tool for analysis, and one that allows for more active citizenship.

Long abstract

The resurgence of citizen science and participatory science, where non-professional scientists voluntarily participate in scientific activities, raises questions around the ownership and interpretation of data, issues of data quality and reliability, and new kinds of digital literacy. Citizen social science (CSS) calls into question the way in which research is undertaken, as well as who can collect data, what data can be collected, and what such data can be used for.

This paper outlines an experimental probe into the Empty Houses Project to explore the barriers and opportunities for more systemic participation in research to create socially robust knowledge. The Empty Houses Project was set up to investigate how citizens could be mobilised to collect data about empty houses in their local area, so as to potentially contribute towards tackling a pressing policy issue.

The paper uses empirical data to reflect on how the possibilities of CSS exceed the dominant view of it as a new means of creating data repositories. Rather, CSS enables the detailed examination of participation. It considers how the data produced in CSS is an epistemology, and a politics, not just a realist tool for analysis. The paper provides empirical reflections on the key facets of CSS: everyday data in place, relational ethics and the politics of method, data use and meaning making. The paper concludes that CSS is a transformative practice that emphasises collective citizenship.

Re-situating participatory social research in Citizen Social Science

Authors: Barbara Kieslinger (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation GmbH) email
Katja Mayer (Technical University of Munich) email
Teresa Schaefer (Zentrum für Soziale Innovation GmbH) email
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Short abstract

How can open and participatory Citizen Social Science produce robust social knowledge for decision making in inclusive ways? How can we assess and value the social robustness of such approaches and their results? What about the benefits for the participants?

Long abstract

Participatory social research, in particular participatory action research, has a long tradition of working closely with research subjects. Focusing on how to best collaboratively understand social phenomena by changing them and reflecting the interventions could also be a core objective of a Citizen Social Science that goes beyond framing participation as social sensing or data collection. Openness is the agenda setting processes as well as in the research procedures is thus a vital aspect of such projects. This includes not only the opening of methods and data, where possible, it also encompasses the re-situation of evaluation procedures within the scope of the project.

This paper is based on a European project that aims at making the crossroads of Citizen Science and participatory social research productive. It enables citizens to co-design, intervene in, and improve data-driven decision-making processes in regard to issues of social inclusion. We will highlight major challenges and benefits of building an evaluation framework for such Citizen Social Science projects. Following the concept of impact literacy, evaluation procedures are co-designed and part of the project from the beginning, closely intertwined with a dynamic informed consent procedure. We believe - in line with principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) - that integrating the reflection of effect and impact is vital for the creation and transfer of and engagement with socially robust knowledge. However, participation alone does not democratise scientifically informed decision making, it is a matter of how to promote meaningful interaction among the societal stakeholders with the help of open and participatory Citizen Social Science.

A history and vision of participatory scientific activities in South Korea

Authors: Yunjae Kang (Dongguk University) email
Ji Yeon Kim (Korea University) email
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Short abstract

This essay aims to study the history and vision of participatory scientific activities in South Korea. Especially, the emerging new type of participatory scientific activities, such as "citizen science," is focused on.

Long abstract

In South Korea, science and technology have been widely regarded as the means for national competitiveness. In this environment, developmentalism could become a key ideology through the history of Korean scientific activities. It has a tendency to prevent citizens from participating in scientific activities in the country. A study on participatory scientific activities could serve as a meaningful step for looking for the new vision of scientific activities.

The origin of participatory scientific activities dates back to the mid-1980s. However, it is only after the establishment of the Civic Science Center in 1997 that participatory scientific activities in South Korea truly became established. Recently, however, a new type of scientific activities has emerged that could be classified as "the next generation." Because participants and activities are so diverse, such as "citizen science," "living lab," "fab lab," and "the maker movement," it is hard to place them into just one category. Nevertheless, it is certain that this new generation differs from the current one in that they mainly aim to solve social problems by producing knowledge.

In this presentation, firstly, we try to summarize the history of participatory scientific activities in South Korea, with a focus on developmentalism. Secondly, we attempt to grasp the meaning of "the next generation" of participatory scientific activities in South Korea. Based on the results, we examine whether participatory scientific activities have a potential to become an alternative in South Korea, and if so, what should be done to promote it.

Epistemic cultures in citizen science and humanities: distribution, epistemic subjects, programs and anti-programs

Authors: Dick Kasperowski (University of Gothenburg) email
Christopher Kullenberg email
Frauke Rohden (University of Gothenburg) email
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Short abstract

This paper report from studies of epistemic cultures in citizen science and humanities projects. As outsiders are mobilized into epistemic cultures inclusion is conditional, minimizing the realization of volunteers as epistemic subjects. However, this cannot be controlled by owners of projects.

Long abstract

Inclusion in epistemic cultures in citizen science and humanities projects are conditional, often relying on minimizing the realization of volunteers as epistemic subjects as a necessity for mass mobilization and distribution of tasks. However, such cultural processes are outside the control of owners of projects. Projects aiming for scientific output (peer-reviewed publications) must have an instance in the research process were citizens are constructed as on par with researchers to assure data quality. These instances are often situated in the participatory protocols (programs) harnessing some kind of ability of the crowd, which make their participation and contributions valid for research. At the same time, projects also uphold boundaries between citizens and researchers. Intuitively, this might not be necessary as researchers by their professional training have acquired abilities beyond volunteer contributors. In practice, such boundaries are not so clear. The aim of this paper is to present preliminary results from when and how such boundaries are challenged as epistemic subjects come into being beyond what is expected by owners of projects. The purpose is to illuminate the relationship between the citizen as constructed as a contributor to research with specific, but static qualities (programs), and the development of contributors over time, as epistemic subjects realizing themselves through anti-programs. Data consists of interactions in the epistemic cultures of researchers and contributors on discussion forums on platforms for citizen science and humanities projects.

Radiation monitoring after Fukushima: rearticulating "citizen science" as active citizenship

Authors: Michiel Van Oudheusden (KU Leuven) email
Go Yoshizawa (Osaka University) email
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Short abstract

This paper illustrates how radiation monitoring by citizen scientists has emerged as a public issue in post-Fukushima Japan, and how citizen-initiated monitoring transforms ostensibly passive citizens into active citizen scientists. It asks how such processes reconfigure science and society.

Long abstract

This paper illustrates how radiation monitoring by citizen scientists (e.g. Safecast; Citizens' Radioactivity Monitoring Project) has emerged as a public issue in post-Fukushima Japan, and how citizen-initiated monitoring transforms ostensibly passive citizens into active citizen scientists. Drawing on a conceptual distinction made in Japan between science by citizens and science for citizens, it argues that these citizen-science initiatives are best understood as expressions of scientific citizenship rather than as forms of public participation in scientific research. Whereas the latter form posits citizens as "sensors" or data providers, the former engages citizens in the definition of problems, data collection, and analysis; thereby foregrounding the necessity of opening up science and science policy processes to the public (Irwin 1995). The paper shows how various citizen-science groups articulate this demand for a more open, democratic science by generating their own participatory, open-source data, do-it-yourself measurement devices, and radiation maps, and by empowering publics with reliable, actionable data about their environments. It asks whether, and how, these processes strengthen or undermine present-day government-science-society relationships, as citizen scientists resourcefully "work around" established institutes and university-industry linkages (Meyer 2013) to create their own communities and forms of scientific citizenship.

Irwin, A. (1995). Citizen science: A study of people, expertise and sustainable development. Psychology Press.

Meyer, M. (2013). "Domesticating and democratizing science: A geography of do-it-yourself biology," Journal of Material Culture, 18(2): 117-134.

Citizen science: paving the way for automated knowledge production?

Author: Martina Franzen (WZB Berlin Social Science Center ) email
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Short abstract

While the debate around citizen science revolves around the question of whether it will make science more democratic, this paper proposes an alternative reading: To what extent is citizen science a transient phenomenon - just another step on the way to an automated system of knowledge production?

Long abstract

Citizen science is currently experiencing a boom in almost all scientific disciplines. Citizens' participation in the research process is seen on the one hand as an opportunity to generate socially robust knowledge for sustainable development, and on the other hand as a participatory method for bridging the gap between science and society. And indeed, Citizen Science is EU-funded for precisely these reasons.

Extending the virtual workforce from scientists to non-scientists can sometimes lead to impressive research results. This is particularly evident in gamified projects with a large number of participants, which have a clear task structure and do not require any specialist expertise. However, if we look at the majority of citizen science projects, citizens are only involved in certain stages of the research process, namely data gathering and processing. When collecting data, citizens often act as sensors in wildlife monitoring or as unpaid crowd workers who take over the curating of Big Data.

Against this background, and taking into account further socio-technical trends, it seems misleading to further speak of citizen science under the heading of a democratisation of science. This paper therefore proposes a different interpretation, focusing on the aspect of human computation. From this perspective, the rise of citizen science can rather be understood as a transitional phenomenon - as one step on the path from individual knowledge acquisition, through crowdsourcing of routine scientific activities to the gradual automation of knowledge production.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.