Citizen Science session, CSCW 2013

ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing
27 February, 2013
San Antonio, TX

Citizen Science session

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Sunyoung Kim – Sensr

Intro to types of citizen science, diversity of project types. Common underlying characteristic: using volunteer’s time to advance science. Many typologies, projects can be divided by activity types into primarily data collection and data analysis/processing. Focus here is field observation, has great opportunities for mobile technologies.

Problem is that most citizen science projects are resource-poor and can’t handle mobile technologies on their own. Goal is supporting people with no technical expertise to create mobile data collection apps for their own citizen science projects. Terms used: campaigns – projects, author – person who creates campaign, volunteer – someone who contributes to collecting data/analysis.

Design considerations include: 1) current tech use, similar available tools, needs for practitioners. Reviewed 340+ existing projects (campaigns) from scistarter.com, found only 11% provide mobile tools for data collection. Looked at types of data they’re collecting – primarily include location, pictures, and text data entry. 2) Data quality is paramount, and data also contains personal information. 3) How to recruit volunteers. Looked at similar mobile data collection tools like EpiCollect and ODK. They’re pretty similar in terms of available functionality, but Sensr is simplest to use. Most comparable platforms are open source so you need programming skills to make them work (free as in puppies!) – even the term open source can be very techie to the target users.

Built Sensr as visual environment combined with mobile app to author mobile data collection tools for citizen science. Demo video demonstrates setting up data collection form for “eBird”, pick fields to have on form. Just a few steps, creates back end database and front end mobile interface. Very straightforward interface to assemble a mobile app for citizen science data collection.

A couple of features: can define geographic boundary but can’t prevent people from outside the boundary to join (App Store is global), but you can help users target correct places. Can review the data before it is publicly viewable or goes into scientific data set.

Did case studies to see how nontechnical users did with it, betas with existing projects, before launching tool. Strong enthusiasm for the app, especially for projects with interest in attracting younger participants. Main contribution: Sensr lowers barriers for implementing mobile data collection for citizen science.

Question about native apps versus HTML5 mobile browser apps due to need for cross-OS support.

Question if there’s a way to help support motivation; not the focus in this study. Case study projects didn’t ask for it because they were so thrilled to have an app at all.

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Christine Robson – Comparing use of social networking and social media channels for citizen science

One of main questions from practitioners at Minnowbrook workshop on Design for Citizen Science (organized by Kevin Crowston and me) was how to get people to adopt technologies for citizen science, and how to engage them. They were questions that could be tested out, so she did some experiments.

Built simple platform (sponsored by IBM Research) to address big picture questions about water quality for a local project, and this app development was advised by California EPA. App went global, have gotten data from around the world for 3 years now. Data can be browsed at creekwatch.org, you can also download it in CSV if you want to work on it. “Available on the App Store” button on the website was important for tracking adoption.

Creek Watch iPhone app asks for only 3 data points: water level, flow rate, presence of trash. Taken from CA Water Rapid Assessment survey, used those definitions to help guide people on what to put in the app, timestamped images, can look for nearby points as well. More in the CHI 2011 paper. Very specific use pattern: almost everyone submits data in the morning, probably while walking the dog, taking a run, something like that.

Ran 3 experimental campaigns to investigate mobile app adoption for citizen science.

Experiment #1: Big international press release – listed by IBM as one of the top 5 things that were going to change the world. It’s a big worldwide thing when IBM makes press releases – 23 original news articles were generated, that’s not including republication in smaller venues. Lots of press, could track how many more new users came from it by evaluating normal rate of signups versus post-article signup. +233 users

Experiment #2: Local recruitment with campaign “snapshot day”, driven by two groups in CA and Korea. Groups used local channels, mailing lists, and flyers. +40 users

Experiment #3: Social networking campaign: launched new version of app with new feature, spent a day sending messages via FB and Twitter, guest speaker blog posts, YouTube video, really embedded social media campaign. Very successful, +254 new users.

Signups aren’t full story – Snapshot Day generated the most data in one day. So if you want more people, go for the social media campaign, but if you want more data, just ask for more data.

Implemented sharing on Twitter and Facebook – simple updates as usually seen in both systems. Tracking sharing feature – conversions tracked with App store button. Can’t link clickthrough to actual download, just know that they went to iTunes to look at it, but it’s a good conversion indicator. Lots more visits resulted from FB than Twitter, a lot more visitors in general from FB as a result. Conversion by social media platform was dramatically different – 2.5x more from FB versus Twitter or web, which were pretty much the same.

Effects of these sharing posts over time – posts are transient, almost all of the clicks occur in the first 2-5 hours, after that its effect is nearly negligible. Most people clicked through from posts in the morning, there are also peaks later in the evening when people check FB after work; then next morning they do data submission.

However, social media sharing was not that popular – only 1 in 5 wanted to use Twitter/FB feature. Did survey to find out why. Problem wasn’t that they didn’t know about the sharing feature, 50% just didn’t want to use it for a variety of reasons. Conversely, for those uninterested in contributing data, they were happy to “like” Creek Watch and be affiliated on Facebook, but also didn’t want to clutter FB wall with it.

Facebook campaign as effective – or more – than massive international news campaign from a major corporation (though the corporate affiliation may have some effect there), and much easier to conduct. Obviously there are some generalizability questions, but if you want more data, then a participation campaign would be the way to go. Sharing feature shows some promise, but it was also a lot of work for a smaller payoff. With limited resources, it would be more useful to cultivate Facebook community than build social media sharing into a citizen science app.

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