6 April 2022 - This virtual side event organized by UNITAR, as part of the Crowd4SDG project, brought together passionate stakeholders involved with Citizen Science Data (CSD). Speakers shared their experience working with citizen scientists, as well as enabling the use of CSD by National Statistical Offices and Systems (NSOs and NSSs).
Ms. Hayoi Chen, Coordinator of the Inter-Secretariat Working Group on Household Surveys at the UN Statistics Division moderated this session and representatives from UNITAR, Office for National Statistics UK (ONS), the Dutch National Institute for Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Politecnico di Milano, the University of Geneva, the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) participated in the discussion.
Although challenges may arise when engaging with Citizen Science Organizations (CSOs), remarkable gains have been identified. In fact, collaboration with Citizen Science Organizations can be a win-win situation for official statistics producers because they already produce or have the potential to produce valuable data to inform policies – data are either not available within NSS or not granular enough or not timely enough or difficult or expensive to collect using traditional methods. According to the 2020 study by Dilek Fraisl, CSD could contribute to the monitoring of more than 76 global SDG indicators.
Ms. Elena Proden, the Senior Specialist at the Strategic Implementation of the 2030 Agenda Unit of UNITAR, introduced a policy brief developed with partners specifically to guide Governments and NSOs on the path to a fruitful collaboration with citizen science organizations (CSOs). This includes a Quality Assurance Framework for CSD and recommendations to help create an enabling data governance environment. Different approaches to engaging with CSOs were also presented depending on the objectives and capacities of NSOs. The CSD light or passive approach can be used by NSO if the desired data is already available, with minimum time investment. Here, Quality Assurance frameworks can play an important role for data validation. The co-creation or active approach can be used if NSOs seek to collaborate on the production of new data. This process is more time-consuming, but NSOs can provide stewardship from the outset to ensure the CSD meets key quality criteria. It also promotes collaboration between NSOs and CSOs and can lead to new joint data projects and a more enabling environment.
These challenges and win-win dynamics as well as innovation and different approaches encountered by official statistics producers when collaborating with CSOs were perfectly showcased by Senior Analysts at the Office of National Statistics UK (ONS), Atanaska Nikolova and Emma Wood, as well as Air Quality Scientist at the Dutch Natural Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Ms Hester Volten. The ONS and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) were able to come together to further the monitoring of indicator 14.1.1 (b) thanks to the impressive amount of data on beach litter collected throughout the years by the Charity and efforts to assess, treat and enhance this data with a new protocol developed for non-official statistical sources available here. In the Netherlands, increasingly strong ties between the RIVM and CSOs concerned with air quality helped establish a virtuous feedback loop. The RIVM stewardship enabled the creation of an innovative platform Measure Together using data from citizen sensors, with the biggest community being Sensor.Community. This has allowed the availability of more localized data compared to official national stations once data from citizen sensors have been adjusted.
As for Academia and their experience with CSD, this quote by famous scientist Jean Piaget very much encompasses what Professors Barbara Pernici from the Politecnico di Milano and François Grey from the University of Geneva work on within the Crowd4SDG project: "The principal goal of education is to create men and women capable of doing new things…, who are creative, inventive and discoverers". Activities include experimenting with innovative tools to leverage crowdsourcing for CS projects or supporting innovators from all around the globe to refine their data initiatives through the innovation GEAR Cycle so that relevant data is produced to help advance the SDGs.
With the second Gather, Evaluate, Accelerate and Refine (GEAR) Cycle now closed, it is time to look ahead and inspire new participants to create new projects, this time on the SDG 13 and SDG 16 nexus.
Technology Advisor in the Methodology, Education and Training Section at OHCHR George Hodge, reminded how intrinsically connected human rights and the environment are. The impacts of environmental harms and actions on human rights as well as access to information, the civic space or environmental justice were cited as some of the topics needing urgent attention.
To conclude interventions, the immense potential for CSD projects was highlighted once again, especially in regard to data that is difficult and costly to collect as noted by Ms Jillian Campbell Head of Monitoring, Review and Reporting at the Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD). Ms. Campbell also reminded the necessity to engage with people and communities located where most of the biodiversity can be found and where few CSD projects are running, which is to say, outside of Europe and North America, currently the largest contributors to CSD.
During the open floor discussion, the question of motivation and incentives was raised as data gathering is often not enough for people to get involved in CSD projects. NSOs need to take into account that actually seeing change happen could greatly encourage participation. Financial rewards could also be considered especially, in locations where data is needed but extremely difficult to collect.
Crowd4SDG is an EU-funded research project exploring how citizen science can track progress towards the SDGs and how grassroots innovation can help achieve such progress. UNITAR'S Strategic Implementation of the 2030 Agenda Unit is a member of the consortium along with the University of Geneva, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), the Politecnico di Milano, and the Université de Paris-CRI.