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Privacy policy gaps in citizen science and participatory research projects

Researchers Anne Bowser and Andrea Wiggins surveyed 30 North American participatory research projects–volunteer-driven citizen science and participatory sensing efforts–to understand how well the projects handle privacy design and implementation. The paper appears in the August 2015 issue of the Human Computation Journal. The study used publicly available policies from the project websites and found that while most projects consider policies and technical designs to protect users, the levels of completeness varied, as did where and how the information was presented. Assessing project policies in greater depth uncovered gaps and discrepancies between intent and implementation. These observations resulted in a set of Ethical Guidelines for policy and technology design for the projects.  Data sharing is considered essential to the operation of these projects, but ensuring users are presented with clear statements and prompts at appropriate points in the participation process is important. The researchers recommended designing policies and tools to support protections of those involved in the research at any level, as well as compliance with legal requirements for protections.  The paper contributes a new framework for ethical engagement of volunteers in participatory research, synthesized from the principles of the Belmont Report and guidelines for privacy protections in participatory sensing, with recommendations around Ethical Engagement, Ongoing Assessment, Informed Participation, Evolving Consent, Participant Benefit, Meaningful Choice, and Evolving Choice.     Please like &...

Learning to Teach Sustainability

Last month, I joined a cohort of faculty in the Chesapeake Project, which provides UMD faculty with support for incorporating sustainability into courses across the university. We were led through a whirlwind tour of sustainability: definitions, visions, facilities, programs, issue areas, and teaching tools. It worked. Not that I needed much encouragement, but I now have specific ideas for integrating sustainability into my courses this fall. For example, in my usual coverage of organizational culture, I’m planning to replace current lecture examples of communicating social norms from selections that target moderate drinking, to sustainability-themed norms with the “Terps ♥︎ the tap” and “Terps leave small footprints” campaigns. For the same lesson, the in-class activity was previously about planning for organizational culture change at NASA after the Challenger disaster. Instead, I’ll have students design a “greening the firm” culture change plan. It requires the same kind of problem-solving, and I suspect it will also be uplifting for students to identify concrete ways that they too could leverage their positions and skills to support sustainability. I’ve also decided that the lesson on “maintenance” will become “maintenance and sustainability”. The in-class activity might be something to do with designing an IT system for cradle-to-cradle product management, such as those of Patagonia and Nike. The larger themes of maintenance and sustainability are often-neglected aspects of the information lifecycle that are important in practice, and I think the students will benefit from the exposure. All in all, it was a cathartic experience. The Chesapeake Project gave me the tools and provocation to bring sustainability into my classes, and ideas for expanding sustainability efforts in...

Citizen science on the Diane Rehm Show

Citizen science is clearly an idea whose time has come; I’ll be appearing on the Diane Rehm Show to discuss citizen science for the Environmental Outlook show on May 5. For those tuning in after the fact, the show will be archived online. Obviously, this is an amazing opportunity to share my passion for citizen science with (ulp!) 6-7 million listeners across the nation. I’ll be in the studio with Sharman Apt Russell, author of “Diary of a Citizen Scientist”, with call-in discussion from David Bonter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Liz MacDonald of NASA and Aurorasaurus. I actually know David and Liz quite well–the citizen science world is small! Sharman and I also crossed paths at a conference a couple of years back, and I’m devouring her delightfully articulate book at the moment. It reminds me so much of my own dissertation fieldwork, studiously learning everything I could to identify birds and coming to understand the things I studied in so much more detail than I had previously imagined they could possess. I’m looking forward to the discussion with these fantastic panelists, and excited about the chance to talk about citizen science’s recent growth, achievements, and trajectory. Please like &...

Speaking at DC Science Café on May 5

On May 5, I’ll be speaking at the DC Science Café on “the power of citizen science”, appearing on a panel with author Sharman Apt Russell and Aurorasaurus project director Liz MacDonald. It’s an exciting opportunity to talk about my research with the public! The challenge, of course, is that my usual audiences are 1) other academics, 2) grad students, and 3) public sector staff with substantial background in science. In other words, not the general public! There’s so much I could say about citizen science that it’s hard to know where to start. Further, it sort of sounds like slides aren’t the usual choice–and I can’t really recall the last time I did a talk without slides. So this is an interesting challenge, especially given that it’s the end of the semester and I’ve got a lot of other big events on the calendar for that week! The event is 6:30-8:30 PM at Busboys & Poets at K and 5th (in DC). I’m told that audience members should arrive early to get a seat, since their capacity is 150. The DC Science Café is a free monthly event organized by the DC Science Writers Association. I’ve heard of these events before, as a form of public engagement in science communication, but I’ve never attended one—and I certainly didn’t expect to be on stage for my first science café experience. It should be fun; come join the conversation! Please like &...

OK Lab co-hosts crowdsourcing workshop

A curious thing happened after giving my UMD job talk: Dr. Neil Fraistat of MITH struck up a conversation about how public participation compares in citizen science and digital humanities. I was struck by the observation that almost all of the challenges facing a wide variety of instigators–developers, researchers, project leaders, and organizers–were fundamentally the same. Volunteer management is volunteer management, regardless of humanities or sciences context, and the same crowdsourcing techniques were being used across these intellectual silos. So we decided to start a conversation on how we can best engage the public in scholarship and stewardship across our disciplinary boundaries. We partnered up with Mary Flanagan of Dartmouth’s Tiltfactor Studio, who was leading an effort for a crowdsourcing consortium in libraries, museums, and archives, and designed an event that would serve as a capstone for her workshop series, drawing from an even broader array of practitioners and traditions. Reflecting the diverse communities each of us represents, we pulled together support from 3 fantastic funders (Institute of Museum & Library Services, National Endowment for Humanities, and Sloan Foundation) to bring together people from a wide range of backgrounds. The workshop will bring 60 guests representing a diverse array of organizations, disciplines, and scholarship have been invited to College Park for an intensive 2.5-day conversation from May 6-8, 2015. We’ll be livestreaming some of the sessions to enable broader participation, tweeting with #crowdconf, and creating a professionally-produced proceedings summarizing the wisdom of experts studying and using crowdsourcing in a wide array of contexts. More details about the workshop are available from CrowdConsortium.   Please like &...

ADVANCE seed grant awarded

It’s official: the Open Knowledge Lab’s latest new project, a study of how researchers assess data, has been funded under the UMD ADVANCE seed grant program! Lab Director Wiggins will work with Dr. Melissa Kenney and her team on a study of climate indicators—data visualizations with brief text descriptions and links to provenance describing the sources of data and analysis processes—and how scientists assess the data when these pieces of content are delivered in different ways. Right now, there’s a big push for scientific data to be shared and re-used, but sharing these data effectively is harder than it sounds. First, there’s a lot of “extra work” involved, and the payoff to the sharer isn’t always obvious or direct. Second, without that extra work (or in spite of it), using data collected by someone else is often simply harder from an analytical standpoint, even if it does save you a whole lot of time and money on collecting the data. There are a lot of reasons that it’s challenging to re-use scientific data, but right from the start, you have to figure out if the data set in front of you will be useful. This is an especially challenging task and still a fairly big problem in the area of data discovery, so we hope the results of this study can help reduce this critical bottleneck to effective data discovery and use. At the end of the day, if representing data sets in a particular way helps convey their value to potential data consumers more effectively, then it would clearly be worth the relatively small added effort required to...