Friday, February 17, 2012

Citizen science, getting stuck in

Science is sometime shown as gleaming labs and shiny white coats, we all know that is not how it really is. Two talks from the second afternoon session at the London Citizen Cyberscience Summit showed how far this view can be from reality.

Lilian Pintea from the Jane Goodall Instituteis using community based monitoring in western Tanzania to protect the chimpanzee and their forest habitats. They use a holistic approach engaging and empowering communities to look after their natural resources (including chimpanzees). Based on Google's Open Data Kit they get locals to get identify and tag local landmarks. However it is not always so high tech they have pulled data from maps drawn in the sand. It is still a bottom up approach, with the team just being a catalyst and facilitator, providing tools, training and stipends.

Jon Parsons from the Global Canopy Programme is using Technology to enable non-technical people to record the natural environment. He started his work in the UK with the Woodland Trust with a project digitising  phenology (plant and animal life cycle events) datasets from as far back as 1736. They then asked for help from the public to do observations on ancient trees and the BBC programme Springwatch got involved and they had a massive uptake. They now have 75,000 catalogued and validated and almost 20,000 more. He then moved to more foreign climes, Guyana. The project uses a native community to monitor, record and verify areas and landmarks in the rainforest. It was not a normal project testing included making sure the phones could survive a dunking and mango fall! One of the stranger problems the encountered was that older members of teh community had very dried out skin so could not use the touch screen without licking their fingers first.

These are only 2 of many projects showing that citizens are not just people sitting at home analysing data on their home PCs, sometimes they are local tribes avoiding falling mangos.

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