H2020 citizen science discussion

Been fermenting ideas about how to approach the citizen science in the H2020 proposal. I’m trying to connect dots through what the involved have been saying. It’s maybe some rambling, bear with me.

@lucy has been mentioning Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets in our conversations and it reminds me of a similar book about mushroom cultivation that I’ve read. The story of these kinds of books is usually similar: passionate person, usually nearing the end of their career, share the expertise they have built over 20-50 years of doing it in the field. So they are not scientific reports, and usually the writers are not scientists. You’ll read things like “use empty jam jars and cook them in your pressure cooker on the stove”. But: the decades of experience are as valid as what is regarded as science. Even if the knowledge is not “formalized” in papers or articles: the results have been tested, reproduced over decades. I’d say this makes this kind of knowledge more valid than science: it’s antifragile.

So these books and their impact is not new, but the approach is not efficient (takes a lifetime to make them) or sufficient (we don’t have many lifetimes left to solve our problems). This is where the collective intelligence tools can make a big difference: can we crowdsource a highly locally contextualized manual of the same level with a large group of citizen researchers, over eg. 2 years?

This is perfect material for energetic wanna-be mushroom farmers and I’m sure every single local mushroom producer has in some way benefited from Stamets’ knowledge. It connects to what Milan said about wanting a connection to local entrepreneurship. The kind of data that is produced by citizen science is potentially readily usable for entrepreneurship.

We have positive experiences ourselves with doing research to draft manuals. We crowdsourced (among a handful of people) our own manual on mushroom materials about two years ago. The impact locally has been big. It has enabled hundreds, if not thousands, of people to start right away and has helped out several startups. There’s signs that the impact is also there internationally. Next week we’re doing a Wikithon to make more different manuals. These are some methods we could use.

So @cindy mentions correctly that

Citizen data is of a different scale and provides a different perspective: it is often hyperlocal and is sometimes accompanied by qualitative context which provides insight and granularity that ‘professional data’ that aims to be ‘objective’ does not. They have a complementary role and so the real issue in my opinion is that this is not generally recognised and is at odds with the way canonical science currently operates.

Basically I understand it as more applied & contextual knowledge. More applied than how it is generally understood by science (applied research funding calls are still more theoretical). And in my activities as a social entrepreneur, it is all about contextual knowledge. In essence entrepreneurship is high-tempo interdisciplinary science for me.

Thoughts? Does anyone have other conclusions, or similar ones?

ping @anique.yael @alberto @rachel


Also a lot of friction and costs generally come from trying to force the citizen data (hyperlocal, contextualized, granular, …) to fit the scientific standards (reproducible or at least the perception of it ;), suitable to apply statistics, sterile, …). It makes sense to just not force citizen data into this framework, and then you quickly arrive at using it for entrepreneurship (or even more general: doing stuff. Could also be hobby growing). A project will be thus be much more efficient and effective.

An example, which sadly didn’t take off yet due to lack of time, is a local research project that involves us and a local mushroom grower to test growing edible mushrooms on paper waste. Many citizens and hobby growers would also like to contribute to this research, since the results will be highly relevant and open to everyone. It’s a cool challenge, it can fit well in this scope.

I bet you can crowdsource the content for that manual. But, given the experiences with “collective intelligence” that we made, that content will be in dialog form. Not suitable / comfortable as a reference source of knowledge. Which is why we have ethnographers to extract relevant pieces and compile it into well-structured reports. Or in your case, you could have (paid?) community members who work as editors and create a manual out of all the threads with knowledge.

In my experience, typical online community members are just not motivated / prepared to write well-structured content into an online platform. A few Wikipedia nerds etc. aside, “normal” people only do that when they must (grantwriting, book authoring etc.). In Edgeryders, I probably wrote >80% of the long structured content on the platform (esp. in the Documentation category) …

I like your mycelium manual and wonder how you made it into that well-structured form. Who was the editor, in the end? :slight_smile:


Good points. We’re trying to tackle that exact thing with the Wikithon: make it fun and communal. It will also involve actual lab experimentation so that those who are bored of writing can do hands-on things.

The whole process will be in one room, so my hope is also that it creates a dynamic in which it’s clear that it takes diverse contributions to make something have an impact. Whatever phase you are usually involved in, you see the parts of the puzzle before or after your contribution.

@Elise and I did the editting work on the manual. I editted it specifically for the BioFab Forum. Doing the tasks that are least favorite of people is my biggest contribution, mostly as volunteer. We’re exploring ways to go around that bottleneck.

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You make an excellent argument. Hold it in your mind, we’ll come back to it.

Possibly. But not without effort. Anyone what has tried maintaining a wiki knows that substantial centralized work is needed to make “the crowd” effective. So, the problem becomes how to fund that work. Possibilities:

  1. “Passionate person”, like in your example. The person is funded by her day job. Great, but not very scalable, and highly idiosyncratic.

  2. Future profit. “Wait, we can use this knowledge to sell some good/service on top of it!”. This is the entrepreneur’s way.

  3. Positive externality. “Actually, I happen to know someone that will pay for this because of their own reasons. And then we can try to sell some good/service on top of it”. This would be… well, the Edgeryders research network’s way.

Proposal. Why do you not bake something like this as a deliverable into CCCP? You already have a great argument for how someone interested in citizen science would want to pay for that. And if CCCP does not work out, we can look for other opportunities.

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Why do you not bake something like this as a deliverable into CCCP? You already have a great argument for how someone interested in citizen science would want to pay for that.

That could work. If I understand you: the deliverable could be a crowd-sourced and tried-and-tested manual for certain aspects of urban farming?

A nice thing is that your 1, 2 and 3 scenario’s can co-exist. We do workshops with our manual (nr. 2), providing us with some income, while there are passionate people still contributing (nr. 1) and some of paid educational work involves also producing new knowledge (nr. 3).

One thing I am investigating with the BioFab Forum, is to consider it as a commons shared between education professionals. In grants that we are filing for now, we have “online guidance” budgeted into them. Community organizing scales well, so having multiple people using it professionally as a P2P learning platform lowers the cost for everyone. Essentially we are also helping people get started on educational activities where they are. Going to pilot it end of this or next month with someone from Washington.

Quick question for @anique.yael and/or @alberto: will the online community management be done by Edgeryders in WP1?

The deliverable is an excuse. But a good one, one that would hold water in a proposal. What you want is the activity: get some people’s time covered to accelerate this sort of work. Pick any activity, and then throw some time at it so that (a) any tacit knowledge lying around is harvested and documented and (b) have more knowledge generated, simply by having people do the same thing again and again, and documenting hacks that work (“empty jam jars and cook them in your pressure cooker on the stove”) and hacks that do not work so well.

Yes. Which does not mean we are closed to anyone else participating in that.


Some more thoughts…

I notice Edgeryders is taking on some of the offline work in WP1 as well. I had first envisioned that ER would be doing mostly online community & facilitation, and RG the offline wet lab work.

But now thinking about it, it makes more sense to divide the work differently: ER taking the lead on community infrastructure (offline & online) and RG taking the lead on scientific knowledge and infrastructure (offline & online). Of course there will be overlap. This way it’s more mixing of expertise and especially dividing the problem into more manageable subparts for our approach. There’s no constant “handing off” of certain activities or people from the online to the offline.

Also, I’m thinking that by defining an “online” part and an “offline” part, the offline/online interface becomes kind of self-fulfilling, no? But if you have a community part that flows from offline to online, tackled by the same team, the transition could go more smoothly.

Also from experience it’s sometimes surprising what has the biggest impact. Coming back to the discussion in this thread: constantly stewarding information is quite fundamental, both offline and online. We have now 8 design students running around in our lab working on 2 questions:
“How do we reduce the amount of knowledge lost in the community eg. from people not documenting what they do”
“How do we increase the amount of knowledge that newcomers have access to, eg. by making it apparent what they can do in the lab when they walk in?”
That would be way more effective if done by one team over both the offline and online.

So my hunch is that “community” and “wet lab work” done by different partners will integrate with each other more easily than “offline” with “online”. Maybe that’s how you already thought it up, so in that case I got it just now :wink:


Yes, this is how I think of it. EDGE is, specifically, running the conversation part; we want a conversation about citizen science, for the community to reflect on what it’s doing. It doubles up as the primary dataset for an ethnography of citizen science. This ethnography is itself done as citizen science, involving citizen ethnographers – and they, in turn, participate to the conversation about citizen science and citizen ethnography.

At the same time, wetware hackers will maintain their own wikis and, possibly, more technical channels (even though it would be great if they were on the biofab forum, because this means those could become ethno data too). Similarly, citizen ethnographers will have their own wiki with the evolving ontology (in fact, we are making it a deliverable), and again we will create on edgeryders.eu a “citizen ethnographers” category. This recursion is what makes CCCP so elegant. The main difference is that EDGE will work more closely with TANT Lab on the ethnography than with Reagent on the wet lab work.

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Our current Hackuarium mycelium experiments are certainly going to benefit from the manual you have made already! It is also driving a new biohacking project in the lab - a mushroom picking device… However, for a citizen science project that could pull in many players and provide both workshop opportunities and potential deliverables, we had some thoughts more along the lines of an ‘urban gardens boosted by rhizobial bacteria’ project. I think I mentioned this before, and again I am not the expert (should our expert join this forum, I think I asked also already), but the idea is that you soak seeds in solutions with the beneficial bacteria that fix nitrogen, in a sense making fertiliser ‘in situ’ … Should I send some more complete text about this idea? In its current form, it could both provide new knowledge and get more passionate people involved. (sorry again I am late joining this thread…) It’s awesome that you are going to Washington to do more, Winnie!

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I was assuming that the wet lab work would go on the biofab forum and that EDGE would play a (smaller) part in helping host the conversation around the wet lab work, both live (eg. hosting a local workshop like the OpenCare one when I first joined you in Brussels) and online (eg. welcoming people, hosting community calls). Basically to make connections between the layers.

Do you see this as realistic? Just trying to see where activities end and begin, as well as trying to design for maximum interaction. Or is this something we should discuss later and focus on high level now?

Yes, this works too.

You known why we are so flexible? Because Biofab Forum has Edgeryders under the hood. If people discuss on either of the two platform, we can easily (a) point interested individuals to the right categories, no additional signup required and (b) still do the coding and harvesting with Open Ethnographer + Graphryder. This whitelabelling thing is really an asset!

We will need to give some thinking to how to break down the conversation. Do we want to have:

  • Three separate fora, one for citizen biochemistry, one for citizen ethnography and (maybe) one for citizen experimental econ.
  • One single forum on citizen science .
  • One single forum as a top-level category. divided into three sub-categories.

In the first solution, each category could live on edgeryders mainland or on biofab forum, indifferently. In the second and third, the whole thing needs to live on either mainland of biofab forum.

Also: like in opencare, we are going to need a category where we manage the project. But… the project is about citizen science, and the conversation we want to convene is also about citizen science. So, maybe we could have a fourth category for managing the project, which contains both practical information and a sort of collective notebook on what we are learning. Like with opencare, it would be open to the community too, but here I see an even stronger participation of the community to it.

In opencare/research, 60 of the 90 unique participants are not working for any of the consortium partner. They are people from the much larger (337 participants) opencare forum. At the same time, though, the 30 people who were working for the consortium partners wrote the bulk of the content.

We did not code opencare/research by default. When we found something interesting, we tagged it so that it would get in the coding queue.

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Fully agree about the whitelabelling, but it will need some more work to make it usable. The user experience is still confusing in some regards, especially for less digitally versed people. The ER skin popping up randomly, ER previews when link sharing, confusion when arriving on Edgeryders.eu, … are similar feedbacks we’re getting as how it was with Open Insulin.

So in order to make connections with the broader edgeryders.eu platform during the CCCP, I would make the user experience as though it’s a completely separate website. The first option seems most workable. I’d have only the wet lab science on the BioFab Forum, but a link & explanation in a pinned post somewhere linking to the other project fora. Also regarding the shared accounts.

Perhaps you might consider spinning off the hosting or whitelabelling business under another name, and edgeryders.eu becoming of client of that.

Hosting the conversation on different instances becomes more efficient for the people doing the work, if it’s the same back-end.

All in all I like the way this is turning out!

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Hmm, I see what you mean. Discourse has redundant plumbing, with many ways to go from A to B, and we must find them all to make sure there is proper separation between the various identities of the underlying Discourse instance. I just submitted an issue onto Github, but I am sure it won’t be the last one.

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Great discussion on this. My feeling is one single forum with three sub categories + management. If we want the citizen science of citizen science to be accessible and legible I think let’s community manage in one place that links to biofab for wet data. Offline events can also unfold accordingly i think.

Related to that, welcoming new members has become more tricky because I can’t tell when someone new came in through biofab or ER. It would be easy enough to make separate messages, but again, no way yet to know which is which.


I echo that. I’d like to welcome people to biofab, but it’s hardly possible at the moment. Also there’s people I trust to be moderators on BioFab, but it’s very awkward for me to ask @matthias to make them moderators, since they have rights also on the rest of the ER platform. I can’t make that call, except for people I’m close with who anyway don’t have time to moderate.

@anique.yael If we use BioFab Forum for the H2020 proposal, it needs to be disconnected from the other fora I feel like (or with links that are perceived as external). Either the fora are fully part of each other (not a good option for us) or the fora are external to each other. Halfway solutions will become a mess for both platforms in terms of experience.

The Edgeryders platform has been notorious for having a hard selection mechanism when it comes to who gets involved. If you want to host a citizen science ethno research that involves also the unusual suspects, you’ll either have a lot of work or you won’t succeed in retaining a diverse community. And you risk that all your research questions become “does incentive X or technique Y help for overcoming the obstacle that is the platform?” rather than intended as “does incentive X or technique Y help for involving people in citizen science?”

Did you consider hosting the project on a different whitelabel yourself?

If you trust them to be moderators, what about telling them where they can and cannot go? I guess that is a risky way to find out someone was up to the standard you thought they were.

But right now it breaks the process of welcoming new people since there in no way to differentiate. Conundrum.

A few things @winnieponcelet

Thanks for breaking this down further although I’m a little worried by what you’re saying here. I think this is one of the reasons I’m inclined to one single fora for all three CCCP labs (wet/ econ/ ethno) on the edgeryders mainland as @alberto spoke of above. That way, community management can do its thing in connecting and threading, and exposing ethno coding across the lab and evaluation layers. I don’t have a strong opinion around a separet CCCP whitelabelled site, although would consider should we have a few H2020 projects going at the same time, and the effects.

On another note, what are you envisioning in terms of realworld sites for WP3 @winnieponcelet ? I had imagined 1. City of Milan, 2. Berlin with @lucy’s community, 3. Switzerland with @rachel’s Hacquerium community and then 4. Ghent/ Reagent’s existing active networks in Belgium.

Our WP is being designed to include support for community managers across the three lab layers (training and PM allocation), and we have agreed to English and Italian with TANT as the two languages.

There is a major bottleneck: I don’t feel comfortable hosting citizen science on the Edgeryders forum. I have heard 10’s of testimonials of very capable people that are negative about it. Read: people who are at home in citizen science, born with the internet, digitally skilled, … They are pushed away by the platform. They won’t get involved, especially not in their free time. Imagine how it is for people who don’t fit that profile. Eg. people who are outside more often, the exact profile you want for urban farming.

We tried to separate BioFab Forum from Edgeryders as much as possible for that reason. Even then it’s hard to involve people who are none of the above. During workshops and other live interactions all we hear is that an online forum is a barrier in itself. And “what is this Egderyders thing, I don’t understand”.

But I think it’s managable on a platform dedicated to one topic only: biofabrication. Or urban farming.

I don’t see other solutions at the moment.