Differences in opportunity for institution- v.s. community-based folks

Hey everyone,

With this community’s strong focus on equity I’d been thinking about whether it might be helpful to start a thread about differences in opportunity for our institution- v.s. community-based folks. What triggered it for me was thoughts about the 2018 ECSA conference, as mentioned by Jenny at the end of last year.

The last (first) edition of this conference was in Berlin in 2016. It was set up like a classic academic conference with high registration fees (around €300), excluding most non-institutional people. I was recently freelance (read: unemployed) at the time and (very naively and unpaid – I will not make that mistake again) agreed to work on some content to connect the conference with at least the local diy community. I argued for a low ticket price for non-academics, but in the end could only get them to open up for the last day of the event and the evening before for specific sessions, whilst a lot of the other content could have been very interesting to non-academics.

Despite quite some push-back in 2016 from the few diy community folks who had managed to join and even regular attendees about how the conference was inaccessible to non-academics, they have taken the same approach to the event concept for this year: high registration fees only, no support to cover travel and accommodation costs, and scheduled during the working week. As an organisation, ECSA claims to represent ‘diy approaches’ and there are a few mentions of grassroots citizen science in the guidelines for the call for proposals [pdf], but I can only assume that this an invitation to STS researchers rather than the practitioners themselves.

I don’t want to presume too much about their personal views, but the organisers effectively work with a very top-down definition of citizen science, targeting ‘professional’ academic citizen science practitioners as their main audience. Non-institutional folks are typically talked about in rather paternalistic terms as volunteers or hobbyists for crowdsourcing projects who need to be recruited and kept motivated.

With all that in mind, I don’t just want to be critical… I think it makes sense to try and work with these organisations to help them find a more equitable approach. Presenting the GOSH roadmap should definitely be part of that. I’m just concerned that they seem to be very slow to change and that more non-institutional folks will be exploited in the process. I wonder if there’s a way the GOSH community, out of solidarity for it’s non-institutional members, could use its platform to advocate more effectively for this change.

Or maybe it’s just me :slight_smile: Curious what you think about this… Perhaps the same issues also apply to other events or situations…


Hi Lucy,

Thanks for starting this topic, I’m writing quick as I only have a couple minutes at the moment. A couple thoughts: 1) the U.S. based CSA is struggling with similar things, not so much in reaching out to DIY science communities (as for some reason here that isn’t quite the same framing), but environmental justice communities which have a strong history of environmental health monitoring. I think some of this is in citizen science associations perhaps not having a clear concept of audience. I know CSA is doing a lot of work on this and I’m hopeful, but to put thoughts into action will require the association to let down barriers that have previously existed… 2) I’m going to be a keynote at ECSA this June and certainly do not represent a mainstream view on academic/top-down citizen science. I’m looking forward to talking about Public Lab, GOSH, etc. and welcome thoughts from the European DIY science community on how to make what I’ll be talking about more impactful and supportive of their work.



Hi @lu_cyP, long time no see! Thank you so much for bringing this up and I agree with the points you’ve raised back in 2016 and now.

I tried to make similar points near the end of my talk at the British Ecological Society annual meeting last month. In it, I tried to convey that rather than a top-down, or centralised, topology to citizen science where the “volunteers” are just mobile sensors collecting data for “scientists”, there is also a “distributed” topology that is grassroots and equally valuable. I was inspired by an article on network topologies by Stijn Peeters and how that might be applied to other fields. Perhaps because it was just a small part of my talk or that it was near the end of it, but I didn’t get much response/feedback from the audience…

I got the feeling, however, that while there are (too) many academics who think of “volunteers” as a cheap and exploitable labour force to tick the “public engagment” boxes on their grant applications, there are equally many academics who genuinely think the citizen science they do is great.

Unfortunately, the currently dominant academic-centric and paternalistic approach as you so eloquently put it have created real problems. One is the exclusion of non-academic/institutional people, another is something I’ve personally witnessed when running my citizen science project:

The citizen science project I help run does include lots of citizen scientists collecting data. I am just one member in a large team, and on the whole it is sadly still a fairly top-down approach. Despite this, some participants have become super enthusiastic, taken the initiative, and started their own projects outside of what we do.

I was taking to one such person recently, and he’s developed his own research questions, did field work, collected and analysed data, written code and even written an extensive report on his findings.

I was so impressed by what he did and commented that he should share his findings more widely and work with others. But he basically said “nah, I’m not a scientist, I’m just a volunteer so I don’t think my stuff is worth much”.

I am saddened by this dichotomy between academics and non-academics that the current top-down approach to citizen science has propogated, and this paternalistic thinking has even made some “volunteers” believe that they must be subservient to the professional “scientists”.

That said, I agree that it is important to work with these institutions to develop a more equitable arrangement, and I think this will likely require changes in thinking that’s so hard and slow to come by in academia. However, I am excited that @shannond will be presenting at the ECSA meeting and hopefully present our point of view (I also mentioned Public Lab as an example in my talk last month!).

I am struggling to think of a good way to achieve this change other than communicating with the academics through a medium they are receptive to. What about submitting a paper on this topic to, say, the CSA’s journal?

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As a “civilian” who works in a couple of other academy-dominated domains, I think this is a very important issue.

I’ve made significant contributions to those domains and have gotten some respect and even citations from academics, but often I can’t access or share the publications where I was cited (which is the fault of the academic journal racket, not the authors).

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Yes, this bias even harms our own citizen science group (Mz* Baltazar’s Lab) from within, since some of our organizers are part of a university (as lecturers) and some are not, which makes always the same people of our group eligible to apply to conferences that are actually relevant to all people in the group. Although we really try to do everything on eye-level and not hierarchically, this creates priviledges for some within our community and chair. I would therefore love to contribute to any interventions planned in this thread, to create access for non-academics.

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On a related note, I was just made aware of a new book, “Mapping and the Citizen Sensor”. It is published under CC BY 4.0 which is great.

However, I was taken aback by some of the wording in the abstract, e.g. “…The proliferation of inexpensive and highly mobile and location aware devices together with Web 2.0 technology have fostered the emergence of the citizen as a source of data…”, or “…the use of citizen sensors in mapping.” (emphasise mine). I feel this objectifies citizen scientists, especially the second quote… :frowning:

Those are some great arguments. Assuming that interacting with organisations like ECSA and CSA could be valuable to communities like GOSH, I think you’re right that just conceding to their inequitable practices can be damaging. Going along with this two-tier system without protest implies we accept their assumptions that non-institutional folks can’t or don’t take part in the scientific/scholarly discourse (comments from @hpy and @bhaugen) and creates unnecessary tensions in mixed communities (comment from @Mz_Baltazars_Lab).

This is how they describe the conference in their cfp:

The International ECSA Citizen Science Conference is aimed at scientists, practitioners, activists, funders, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, artists, and interested citizens in the field of Citizen Science. […] We would like the 2018 conference in Geneva to focus on citizens in Citizen Science - the participants who make the project work, regardless of the terminology that they and the project coordinators use (see Eitzel et al. 2017).

Clearly a €350 registration fee won’t bring together the kind of mixed community they claim to be aiming for. Like @shannond said of CSA, it seems ECSA also has problems defining or understanding their audience.

What kind of strategies have been used to bring about cultural change in events like this? I can think of #AllMalePanel - both a social media campaign, and the policy of demanding that more women be included. The equivalent here could also be social media action, and demanding that the conference be made accessible to those without travel and conference expense budgets (at least a contingent of free/low-cost tickets, if not also travel bursaries).

It might not be that simple, but what do you think? Do we have any other examples of strategies?

btw - we have a longer thread on related issues of exploitation of DIY practitioners/communities by institutions over at the hackteria forum with folks from there including @dusjagr: http://forum.hackteria.org/t/diy-bio-fair-play/131
This is a problem that comes up again and again and it’s really insidious.

I think the steps are both to gather and clearly document examples of where there is a double standard, and to draw up and publish some universal guidelines or principles for best practice. We could use this as a resource to argue for better conditions. It would be amazing to find some way to get support for this… it’s a lot like union representation.

Hi everyone,

Interesting conversation. I am having similar problems at ECSITE, the European Science Center Association conference, also in Geneva the same week as the ECSA conference. I will be the convenor during a session called " Let´s talk about DIYbio at Museums and Science Centers". I want to challenge the museum community and find out why the DIYbio culture-movement is not yet embraced by decision makers at Science Centers. The conference fee is above 600 euro. I have requested one of the few grants they offer that just cover conference fees. I can´t invite speakers that do not attend the conference, therefore speakers or the institutions they work must cover the registration fee and travel expenses. That means that I am pretty much restricted to speakers that work at museums. However, we shouldn´t be surprised by these limitations. We are talking about horizontal top-down institutions, run by academia, museum professionals, scientists, and educators. It is my (our) role to challenge their traditional views and methods, and help them move towards community driven, transversal, open models that value and incorporate the work and ideas of independent communities and creators. Not an easy task, but they have no choice but to embrace it since this is what the future holds.

By the way, I am also planning to attend ECSA and I am looking forward to presentations like Shannond´s. I am sure it will be a breath of fresh air.

Thanks for listening!



Hmmmm… this also sounds strangely familiar.

i was involved in discussions about “Makerspace@ECSITE” starting in 2014… but we didnt not come to an agreement, due to the same problem of that registration fee.
by 2015, second try, Sabina Cuccibar hosted a panel on “Hacking the Institution” and for this one we finally got the registration fee waived (as it turned out only to visit on that 1 day, the black colored pass, and not allowed to get food from buffet, but i did it anyway and no one checked, slept on a sofa of one of the organizers and paid my own travel).
She did manage to bring very interesting “outside” views into the panel.

i tried now to find more info… but somehow lost on old harddiscs.

and some reflections here in a pdf

i have left that discussion group later-on. the ecsite network is mostly larger museums of science communication, the conference seemed primarily aiming at bringing the directors together and have some behind-doors discussions amongst themselves. so as an “audience” wasnt so interesting for me.

specifically the topic of “makerspaces in musuems” has been developing ok, more and more has happened. but of course the challenge of these spaces being part of large hierarchic and slow museum structures dont make them so inttersting to serve as “open spaces” of cross cultural interdisciplinary work. but they do fun experiments with kids. and maybe that’s all they should do.

i am now again in some discussion groups, cos it’s happening in switzerland. and we had some arguments.
and also left the group after some disagreement of our roles. please be aware that housing, hotels and food will be super expensive in geneva.

quote Bruno S, (part of the committee and kinda on “our side”), sorry it’s french.
"Merci pour ces précisions.
Je n’ai malheureusement pas la possibilité de lever des fonds pour l’instant. De plus on ne peut pas demander à une organisation citoyenne comme Hackuarium, qui vit des cotisations de ses membres et de bénévolat, de fournir des prestations gratuitement. La situation est évidemment différente pour une institution comme l’Université ou le CERN dont les membres sont salariés, qui disposent de ressources financières conséquences et qui sont partenaire de l’organisation.
Faites-moi signe lorsque vous aurez des précision sur l’était du budget."

for geneva i wasnt interested to do anything, also i am planning more GOSH related activities in Indonesia and will be there from may to august.

maybe that helps.

Marc, thanks for your feedback. It is helpful. I actually renounced to invite speakers from the DIYbio community because I couldn´t get funding to cover their expenses to attend the conference, not even conference fees. I did mention the unique opportunity of involving the highly talented and active biohacker community in Geneva and Laussane when I spoke to the director of the Natural History Museum during my visit to Geneva last year for Biofabbing Convergence. I also decided not to run a temporary biomarker space or any workshops at the conference. ECSITE was interested but they couldn´t secure any funding for it.

It is taking longer than I expected for institutions, especially science centers, to realize the huge potential of DIYbio and open labs. That I know of, The Tech Museum in San Jose (California), and perhaps Biotopia (Munich) and CosmoCaixa (Barcelona) are or would like to be the exception to the rule.



I just saw the following call for papers on the topic of “Policy Perspectives in Citizen Science”. One of the points they are interested in is:

How can science and technology policy be crafted to support citizen science, either through opening opportunities or mitigating barriers?

I wonder if it’ll be worth submitting the ideas in this thread to this call for papers? They only need a 250-300 word abstract by 01 March, and the full length paper (if the abstract is accepted) isn’t needed until later. I highly doubt someone else will bring up the issues raised here unless we submit something…

The call is for the journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice”, which is one of the more prominent citizen science academic journals. So if we successfully get a paper in there it will have fairly wide exposure.

What do you think?

Here’s the call for papers:

Special Issue Call for Papers:
Policy Perspectives in Citizen Science

Issue editors: Lea A. Shanley, Anne Bowser, and Aletta Bonn

Citizen science and crowdsourcing enable the public to make meaningful contributions to scientific and engineering research and monitoring. These approaches also produce accurate data to inform a wide range of management and public policy issues while encouraging civic partnerships with government at all levels:

· Through local scale activities, as demonstrated through drinking water quality monitoring in Flint, Michigan;
· Through national or supranational scale activities, as revealed in the National Telecommunications & Information Administration’s National Broadband Map; and,
· Through local-to global scale activities, including the inclusion of participatory monitoring and management in international biodiversity assessments.

Conversely, the impact of citizen science on public policy is often constrained by legal, policy, and institutional barriers, which consider issues including privacy, liability, physical and intellectual property, data quality assurance (or “fitness for use”), and organizational cultural change, among others. This special issue of the Citizen Science Journal will invite contributions that explore the ways in which citizen science may inform management and public policy, or that examine the legal, policy, and organizational challenges to conducting citizen science, including strategies for improving bureaucratic processes to increase the impact of citizen science on public sector policies and practices.

Among many possible citizen science and public policy issues, this Special Issue could address the following:

· What are the opportunities for citizen science to work with decision-makers in all levels of government, indigenous communities, and NGOs to inform management and shape public policy? How do we measure success and impact?
· How can science and technology policy be crafted to support citizen science, either through opening opportunities or mitigating barriers?
· What legal issues must be considered and addressed when developing and implementing citizen science projects?
· How do we make citizen science data information more trustworthy, efficient, and actionable for management and public decision-making? What do concepts like “fitness for purpose” mean in practice?

This special issue invites research articles and research perspectives along with articles in other formats, such as essays, as outlined on the Theory and Practice website.

Abstracts (250-300 words) for proposed papers due by March 1, 2018
to the Editorial team (citscipolicy@gmail.com)
Notification of accepted abstracts by April 1, 2018
2-Page extended abstract (750-1,000 words) of approved contributions due by May 1, 2018
to the Editorial team (citscipolicy@gmail.com)
Submissions of full approved papers due by September 1, 2018 at

With questions about this issue, contact citscipolicy@gmail.com

Citizen Science: Theory and Practice is an open-access, peer-reviewed journal providing a central space for cross-disciplinary scholarly exchanges aimed at advancing the field of citizen science. It focuses on advancing the field of citizen science by providing a venue for citizen science researchers and practitioners – scientists, information technologists, conservation biologists, community health organizers, educators, evaluators, urban planners, and more – to share best practices in conceiving, developing, implementing, evaluating, and sustaining projects that facilitate public participation in scientific endeavors in any discipline.

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Hi everyone, this is Jakob from Vienna. I met some of you at Biofabbing last year, where I got very excited about DIY Science for the first time.

It’s funny that I stumbled upon your post right now. Two days ago I visited the Austrian citizen science conference in Salzburg and left with a very similar impression. I was genuinely surprised by the audience, which seemed professional (as in paid to go there) and academic, and the taken-for-grantedness of a certain notion of CS, that includes the public (as Pen-Yuan said) merely as cheap sensors and sometimes analysis tools. This notion was not discussed and speakers literally said it was obvious that data collection/analysis is the only place, where it makes sense to include citizens - not the valuing of relevance, formulating hypothesis or interpreting results.

The conference was held on a Thursday and Friday, student tickets were reduced from 80€ to 60€.

As an anecdote: when asked why he wanted to include middle school students in his reasearch project, one of the speakers said he wanted to do something with his old teacher friends. Also, they realized, that the project was at places boring for the students. I don’t want to criticise that too much, because I’m sure they had good intentions and put a lot of effort to make this happen for the students who still had a valuable experience. But I imagine lots of missed opportunities to do really great stuff, because this ‘comfortable’ and low-risk (in terms of surprising, unexpected outcome) way of involving the public.

Lucy, I also think this is part of the broader fair-play and ‘union representation’ discussion. I think that a lot of this is about the term ‘Citizen Science’ and I feel like many DIY scientists have given up on that term and don’t use it anymore. Maybe we should put an effort to claim it back. On the one hand, the term is so generic, that it gives the impression ‘CS = everything related to science and citizens’. On the other hand, it’s used in the context of funding opportunities, that should not only be accessible to the academic ‘citizen-sensor’ way of CS.

On the bright side, there are two Science Centers being built in Austria, one in Graz and one in [St. Pölten] (https://www.fhstp.ac.at/de/forschung/projekte/haus-der-zukunft-st-poelten) (site is German only), both of which want to include some kinde of open lab. I talked to the guy from Graz and it seems like he doesn’t want it only because it’s hip right now… But what do I know?

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@hpy: sorry for not responding sooner. Thanks for the suggestion… I’ve been trying to decide whether I’d be up for it. The focus of this particular call seems really to be crowdsourced data-gathering. I don’t mean to say you can’t do independent DIY crowdsourced data-gathering… but DIY science is about a lot more than that. So I’m not sure it’s such a good fit.
But should we write academic papers as a strategy for getting the message across… I’d like to know what everyone else thinks. Do you think it would work? Are there already papers out there that carry this message? Have they had an impact?

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[quote=“lu_cyP, post:14, topic:794”]
The focus of this particular call seems really to be crowdsourced data-gathering. I don’t mean to say you can’t do independent DIY crowdsourced data-gathering… but DIY science is about a lot more than that. So I’m not sure it’s such a good fit.[/quote]

I was thinking this is exactly the place for us to state that DIY science is about a lot more than professional “scientists” asking “volunteers” to collect data for them, and this should be considered in policy-making. I think we can make our contribution tie into the the following parts in the call for papers:

  • “What are the opportunities for citizen science to work with decision-makers in all levels of government, indigenous communities, and NGOs to inform management and shape public policy?”
  • “…opening opportunities or mitigating barriers”.

What do people think?

I see many “citizen science” and “crowdsourcing” papers in journals covering the natural sciences, but they are mostly about farming out work to volunteers to save scientists time/money. I often see “volunteer sensors” being thrown around, which sounds dehumanising to me. There are some social science papers on the “citizenship” part of citizen science, but AFAIK nothing directly pertaining to the topic of this thread.

In a way, I think what we’re talking about here is “novel” from the perspective of academics. By submitting a paper to a journal academics read, we can communicate with them on their wavelength.

If there is still some interest here, one possibility is that we can draft a short, initial enquiry to the editors asking them if a paper on this topic is of interest to them. I know a couple of those editors so I would be happy to email them with this enquiry on our behalf. How does this sound?