H2020 citizen science discussion

I hear you @winnieponcelet . So what you’re saying is that best case is to have wet lab layer on a separate forum (BioFab or otherwise whitelabelled) based on your experiences of citizen scientists and their engagement with data analysis and dialogue online?

This means that we would have the econ and ethno lab layers on edgeryders mainland, funneled through or supported by a project wide forum. Evaluation dialogue would be incorporated there too. And then we have strong community management bringing the wet lab analysis and dialogue into these fora (as above, I’m designing training and PMs into our WP accordingly).

I understand the SSNA would still be possible (ping @alberto)


Yes, an online forum is a barrier. But in-person ethnography at this scale is an even higher one. So, we go for the lower one. Most people will not get it, and will not participate. That’s OK. It’s always been that way.

@johncoate can tell you how people got on the WELL: get a floppy disk mailed to you, then install software and configure their modem, then endure dial-up speed and a text-only interface. And pay for the service. Of course, most people thought they WELL users were weirdos and would have not been caught dead doing any of this. That’s OK, because the WELL did not need everyone. They only needed a few thousand people to get on board, and they got them. That’s OK for everyone, both participants and non-participants. Free country.

A good rule of thumb is not to go out of your way to accommodate people that will not go out of their own. Those early WELL adopters saw a clear value proposition, and accepted to jump through the hoops of 1980s computer-mediated communication in its name. With online dialogue, 95% of people are just not up for it. They are on Facebook. They are on Whatsapp. They wax lyrical about face-to-face contact. They point to UX glitches, but, in my experience, they are just not interested enough. Nothing you can do will get engaged. This is completely understandable, because written, online dialogue is hard work and not for everybody, including many smart, energetic, articulate people. You still do work on your UX, but you do it to accommodate users, not non-users. The 5% who do see the value.

It’s been the same for me throughout the years. Visioni Urbane, then Kublai, then Edgeryders 1, then Spot The Future, then OpenCare. We used Ning. We used Drupal. We used Wordpress. We used Discourse. We used Second Life, God have mercy on our souls. Identical results: a small minority gets very active and engaged. Everyone else shrugs and goes tight back to hang out with the cool kids. That’s OK, as long as the small minority is, in absolute value, large enough. Which it was, every single time. This is what gets us here, as a coveted partner in H2020 projects.

In practice: Biofab is Discourse: so is Edgeryders. The UX is identical. The tradeoff we are facing is:

  • If we break the four debates across four completely separate platforms (different codebase, different database, no single sign-up), this is more appealing to the “ontologist in our head”. Medieval history has a shelf in the library, business has another. This is a fallacy, because ontology is overrated, but whatever: it is how most people think at a superficial level. So the advantage is that it is initially more intuitive and easier to explain.
  • If we keep them close and “meshed” ( like different cats in the same Discourse instance: one signup, notifications from every topic that you contribute to, across all cats) we make moving from one debate to another easy, like wandering from one group of people to another at a party. We tried this in opencare, with significant spillover (explained above in this post). So the advantage is that, once people are aboard, it makes for a more diverse and richer conversation, with a stronger interdisciplinary stance.

Can you say more about this? Is it this platform or any platform? Is it because with what free time they have they don’t want to be in an online discussion about work? In short, I don’t quite get the nature of the objections.

My 2 cents… From the community perspective (eg the community around urban soil bioremediation that we’d like to build from Berlin), the online tools are an extension of the in-person meetings we will have locally. Perhaps a more distributed version of these meetings if our project grows beyond Berlin. This means the conversation there should be focussed on what’s relevant and important for the community and their project. It’s like an online meeting room. If the community keeps getting looped into other/meta conversations a good proportion of them will disengage.

So in my opinion each wet-lab community will need to be able to run their own suite of online tools, to support their own community (local organisational stuff, knowledge sharing, planning and reporting of experiments), in a way that is appropriate to that community. In my experience that’s some form of the following:

  • chat (whatsapp, telegram, signal, SMS group etc) – mainly for the core team for time-sensitive communication
  • forum for non-time-sensitive parallel or threaded discussions (eg discourse, slack)
  • versionable documentation (wiki, github repo, google doc, even zines).
    Specific choices about what platforms to use would depend on whatever is culturally appropriate for the local community.

I think discourse is great for the forum solution, and I can see why it would make sense for the wider project to use the edgeryders instance. But, as @winnieponcelet describes, our science hack day community started using a corner of the opentechschool discourse and I’ve had quite some problems with it that would make me think twice about doing it again (cap on the number of admins, onboarding challenges, confusion with the branding)… these are important issues that we’d have to resolve if we don’t want the platform to be a barrier. It’s not an issue of unwillingness to engage with online platforms - it’s an issue of bandwidth and noise.

My main concern would be about control and longevity for communities that exist beyond the scope of this project. For example, we are also looking at other funding applications for the bioremediation project and intend for it to continue for quite some years to come. How longterm can a community expect to be able to continue on the edgeryders platform…? How much control does the community have over their content? Might there be the option to export the content if it needed to be re-homed elsewhere? Or would it be possible to set up wholly parallel instances of discourse but in such a way that edgeryders can still extract the data it needs for the ethno and econ research.

BUT - I don’t mean any of this to be negative. It’s great that we are having these conversations and taking them seriously… :slight_smile: Looking forward to develop this further.


That’s quite close to our proposed new solution. Turns out, the current combination of communities into one Discourse platform is not satisfactory, neither from a user’s nor programmer’s perspective …

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I think EDGE can decide what platform and how to use it based on all the input. I trust you’ll make the right call. Have you thought more about it?

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Yes, I have thought about it. My call is this:

  • Case 1: the local community already has a lively, widely used online platform. In this case, the best is they keep using it. We will need to audit the specific situation: for example, it they are using Facebook, we kind of have a problem, both legal and technical. It is not long-term sustainable to to SSNA out of Facebook, but we could conceivably make it work during a funded project, where we can allocate paid technical support. That is pretty dreary work, though.
  • Case 2: the local community does not have a lively, widely used online platform. This can be because the community is being convened around this experiment or project, like I imagine the case of Milan. In this case, the best solution is to allocate a category within edgeryders.eu. There are great technical benefits (the stack of tools just work, single sign-in and techno-social proximity with the other CCCP communities) and almost no social costs. If the community wants to keep going after the project, it can keep hanging out in Edgeryders; or export its data and set up its own Discourse (which is far and away the best open source solution for forums); or again adopt Edgeryders whitelabelling, which will have grown more mature.



That works. Will RG and EDGE then look at the communities case by case and see what is the ideal solution for their situation? Does this need to happen now or during preparation if the project is a go?

No need to do that now! Also, the situation might change between here and there.

Agreed. I’ll update the budget to include potential technical support for Case 1.

Personally I’m wondering if there is any way that Edgeryders can encourage or get involved in research towards bacteriophages? It’s been in the back of my mind for many years, and brought back by this recent essay… How a cocktail of live viruses can work when antibiotics fail | Aeon Essays

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Man, that is some deep science there. I had not known anything about phages. It reminded me of when a close friend had pneumonia and was in the hospital for an extended period. He had to sleep almost nonstop because the battle going on inside him at the microbial level was so intense he had no energy left for anything else.

Anyway, I recommend reading that well-written article. (And I have no idea if we can be part of such things. It would be amazing if we could, but again, that is seriously high-level science.)

Thanks, John! It was the last two sentences of the article in particular that felt to me aligned with Edgeryders values:

These approaches incorporate the notion that the human body is not a single entity, but an ecosystem teeming with bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microscopic inhabitants. Their efforts and those of others who adopt this ‘eco-evo’ model of medicine might someday lead us towards a different medical paradigm – one that recognises and works with, rather than against, the invisible world thriving within, upon and all around us.

I also see hints in the article that the kind of research needed is less big-money blockbuster, but rather smaller, more human scale.

I wouldn’t imagine the relatively tiny Edgeryders itself taking on this kind of research, but we have a network, and what can’t be done with the right network of people with aligned values working on an issue of real significance?