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Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - ECSAnVis (Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation)

Reporting period: 2019-11-01 to 2021-04-30

The challenge of Extreme Citizen Science is to enable any community, regardless of literacy or education, to initiate, run, and use the result of a local citizen science activity, so they can be empowered to address and solve issues that concern them. Citizen Science is understood here as the participation of members of the public in a scientific project, from shaping the question, to collecting the data, analysing it and using the knowledge that emerges from it. Over the past decade, the Extreme Citizen Science programme at UCL has demonstrated that illiterate, non-literate, and those with limited technical literacy can participate in formulating research questions and collecting the data that is important to them. The project "Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation" (ECSAnVis) takes the next ambitious step – developing geographical analysis and visualisation tools that can be used, successfully, by people with limited literacy, in a culturally appropriate way. At the core of the proposal is the imperative to see technology as part of socially embedded practices and culture, and avoid ‘technical fixes’.

The development of novel, socially and culturally accessible Geographic Information System (GIS) interface and underlying algorithms, will provide communities with tools to support them to combine their local environmental knowledge with scientific analysis to improve environmental management. In an exciting collaboration with local indigenous partners on case studies in critically important, yet fragile and menaced ecosystems in the Amazon and the Congo-basin, our network of anthropologists, ecologists, computer scientists, designers and electronic engineers will develop innovative hardware, software and participatory methodologies that will enable any community to use this innovative GIS.

The research contributes to the fields of geography, geographic information science, anthropology, development, agronomy and conservation.

The overall objectives of the project are to:
1. Understand the social and technical requirements for the incorporation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) in GIS and geographical technologies, and define the process to capture and import locally situated requirements.
2. Develop participatory methods and tools to create geographical visualisations suitable for non-literate users or those with very little technical expertise, in ways that provide useful information for the community, as well as opportunities to share information with trusted intermediaries.
3. Test the tools in situ, and understand the organisational, technological, and societal support that such tools require to be used effectively.
4. Developing the methodology to achieve socially-integrated technological development, incorporating ethical considerations and the Responsible Research and Innovation framework into a set of practical engagement methodologies as well as technical codes that are integrated into the software and hardware.
During the 4 years of the project, the following work took place:

The first theme of work included understanding the contextual information that is necessary to develop the technology. This is done through anthropological research that is aimed at providing the context for technological development, and the baseline for evaluation of the project as a whole. This theme relates to the first objective – eliciting comprehensive requirements for analysis and visualisation tool that is suitable for TEK. A multi-scale examination of the application will be carried out, starting with the end-users – focusing on social organisation and kinship, political relationships inside the community and beyond, ecological ontologies and knowledge representation, geographical awareness and use of spatial information and other relevant local issues. Here, work has identified several locations for collaboration with detailed projects developing in Cameroon, Namibia, Brazil, and Kenya. In each of these cases, an anthropologist with detailed familiarity with the community in question visited and engaged in a process of free, prior and informed consent (FPIC), leading to the establishment of a community protocol. Because participants have limited literacy, the project established an approach of video recording the community protocol, so the video can be used for future reference.

The project team initiated a range of case studies - including the monitoring of animal movements, and the use of local plants; Working with eight indigenous and local forest communities in Cameroon for tracking illegal wildlife crime and for monitoring species movement; Monitoring deforestation and risks to trees in the Maasai Mara, Narok County, and further cases.

The project team has explored different technological developments that can support fieldwork. A major development in the technological experimentation during the first period was the comparison between Sapelli Collector and Tap&Map (the former using a digital interface in comparison to the latter physical one, in which participants tap on a card to indicate the feature that they identified). The team found that linear navigation structures were usable and that Tap&Map was not suitable for complex monitoring projects despite appearing to produce fewer errors. The primary reason for this is that there is a limit to the number of cards that users can carry and flip through while holding a smartphone. Further design experiments are currently taking place.

We have established a process of recruitment and engagement that allow us to carry out London-based experiments with digitally illiterate participants for ECSAnVis prototype development. The work was presented recently in the European Computer-Supported Cooperative Work conference (ECSCW 2019) and attracted much attention.

Finally, work also progressed in improving the visualisation tools and establishing an early prototype to visualise the results of data collection in the field. This includes the development of hybrid app prototypes for polygon-based data collection and visualisation to subsequently support communities collecting land use and land tenure information and experiments with paper maps prototypes.
The project has progressed beyond the state of the art through several scientific developments: the development and evaluation of a digital-only interface with a mixed physical and digital interface; longevity, scale, and creativity in indigenous communities’ participation in ecological data collection; new learning from the experiences of anthropologists and computer scientists working together; and methodological development of working with low literacy communities in London to test techniques that will be used with remote communities.

First, the implementation of the Tap&Map interfaces allowed for the comparison of a digital interface in the Sapelli Collector application, with an interface that mixes digital and physical objects, as a way to enable communities with low literacy to participate in data collection. The full development allowed the identification of challenges in configuration, with a need to register nearly 400 cards and consider how they should be provided to participants in a way that is usable for field use. It also allowed for observing how participants use it in the field in comparison to the use of smartphone only application. The experiment showed that the use of Tap&Map can be awkward physically and how the cards are provided to participants require further design. On the other hand, as with the preliminary prototyping, the cards lead to higher accuracy in data collection - a critical issue in citizen science.

Secondly, the range of case studies allowed the ECSAnVis team to have an emerging dataset that has the longevity and scale to be used as a basis for visualisation experiments. The case study in Maasai Mara led to the collection of nearly 3000 data points over an extensive area which can be used to develop algorithms and visualisation of the plant species that were identified. The case study in Cameroon has now been providing continuous data collection for over 2 years about wildlife crime and animal monitoring and this can support experiments in temporal visualisation. Finally, the cases in Namibia and Cameroon provide a demonstration of community-led design and the refinement of the process of engaging and working with communities.

Third, while some of the origins of the field of Human-Computer Interaction are linked to the work of anthropologists, the field is now not directly linked to social anthropology practice. Within ECSAnVis expeditions, we had cases of a team of anthropologists carrying out a usability engineering experiment (between Tap&Map and Sapelli) and analysed the data, and GIScientist joined the anthropological study in Kenya. These studies bring up new insights about the methodologies to carry out such studies in the field with indigenous groups in a culturally-appropriate way, as well as reflections on the practice of carrying out such studies within an anthropological research context.

Finally, we have established a process of recruitment and engagement that allow us to carry out London-based experiments with digitally illiterate participants for the visualisation prototype development. The work attracted much attention as a methodology to carry out early experimentation that can work across the Global North/South divide.
Experimenting with data visualisation at the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia (credit: Megan Laws)
Map visualisation experiments at the Nyae Nyae Conservancy, Namibia (Credit: Megan Laws)