Jan 20, 2017

Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing for Earth Observations: An Analysis of Stakeholder Opinions on the Present and Future

Abstract: The impact of Crowdsourcing and citizen science activities on academia, businesses, governance and society has been enormous.
This is more prevalent today with citizens and communities collaborating with organizations, businesses and authorities to contribute in a variety of manners, starting from mere data providers to being key stakeholders in various decision-making processes.
The “Crowdsourcing for observations from Satellites” project is a recently concluded study supported by demonstration projects funded by European Space Agency (ESA).
The objective of the project was to investigate the different facets of how crowdsourcing and citizen science impact upon the validation, use and enhancement of Observations from Satellites (OS) products and services. This paper presents our findings in a stakeholder analysis activity involving participants who are experts in crowdsourcing, citizen science for Earth Observations.
The activity identified three critical areas that needs attention by the community as well as provides suggestions to potentially help in addressing some of the challenges identified.

Estimated Article Reading Time: 4 min.

Authors: Suvodeep Mazumdar * , Stuart Wrigley and Fabio Ciravegna
Academic Editors: Steffen Fritz, Cidália Costa Fonte, Norman Kerle, Xiaofeng Li and Prasad S. Thenkabail


Over the last few decades, satellites have taken a primary role in a large number of our daily activities. Billions of users across the globe consult weather services, navigation applications, send and receive data, and share information online via satellites. Satellite observations and applications are hence embedded into the daily fabric of modern society with a large number of application areas such as agriculture, land monitoring, emergency response, defence, security and natural resource management.

Observations from Satellites (OS)—including observations of our home planet from Earth Observation (EO) satellites; measurements, experiments and videos taken from the International Space Station (ISS); observations of the universe (Space Science); and measurements from and for the Global Navigation Satellite Systems (GNSS)—provide the foundation for science to better understand our planet and universe.

Rapid advances in the last few years in the field of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)—including the Internet, cloud computing, social networks, and most importantly mobile telephony—has revolutionized the way people connect and share information with each other. The proliferation of smartphones and accessible Internet connectivity has largely contributed to a massive amount of information readily available at the disposal of citizens. This has transformed the information environment, where information is ubiquitously available to users, at all times of their lives even during long commutes.

At the same time, citizens can create and share content across a wide variety of platforms using multiple mechanisms. To this end, many businesses and entire industries have based their business model out of the collective contributions of citizens and users. Popular websites such as TripAdvisor, Amazon, eBay and most modern e-commerce platforms exploit the potential of crowdsourced data to provide customers with a greater understanding of the value of the purchases they intend to make. Wikipedia, Flickr and OpenStreetMap, on the other hand, serve as excellent real-world examples where crowdsourcing has provided immense wealth of information to be further used by organizations and communities worldwide. In fact, it has also been reported that in many instances information collected from citizens and informal institutions can be more detailed and of higher quality than provided by official institutions [1,2,3,4] and role of citizen-generated information is ever increasing. As a testament to the importance of citizen-generated crowdsourced data, the Digital Earth vision also encapsulates the role of citizens in daily life as not only mere providers of data, but contributors and collaborators [5]. The Digital Earth vision highlights the main policy, scientific and societal drivers that enable the vision of a “Digital Earth” as a multi-resolution, three-dimensional representation of the planet to find, visualise and analyse large volumes of physical and social environment data.

These two primary advancements have thereby created entirely new opportunities for users of OS—also becoming providers of information to exploit the data for both science and societal applications. Citizen science and crowdsourcing itself has had a rich history, dating back centuries with early examples of crowd participation in tasks such as providing contribution to developing what would eventually be called The Oxford English Dictionary [6] or inventing means of finding longitude to an accuracy of 30 miles [7]. Large numbers of volunteers can be recruited over wide geographical areas to collect, submit and interpret data at low cost [8]. Such widespread data collection (potentially over extended time periods) would be simply infeasible without citizen participation. Indeed, a wide geographical spread is essential to understanding the processes behind many of the important global challenges of today: vegetation loss, climate change, natural resource management, migration patterns, etc. Additionally, the volume of observation data (satellite-, airborne- and land-based)—some of which can only be interpreted by humans—is constantly growing.

Crowdsourcing detailed, high-resolution annotations of such data hence facilitates timely scientific analysis and decision making. Most studies, in this respect, focus on validation of OS and annotation of images by employing volunteers (e.g., [9]). While this potential has already been recognized (The Horizon 2020 Space Advisory Group’s Advice on potential priorities for research and innovation in the Work Programme 2016–2017 notes the importance of crowdsourcing and citizen science and involvement of the public [10]) as significant [11], thereby resulting in several research projects (The NASA Roses Program’s Citizen Science for Earth Systems [12] call for project proposals addressing Earth Observations and Crowdsourcing; [13]) and funded competitions [14] in the recent years, we believe that there is a need to systematically study the potential, benefits, and opportunities as well as risks involved in such efforts by involving different communities.

To this end, the Crowd4Sat project [15] aimed at studying how crowdsourcing and citizen science can impact on Satellite Observations and explore its potential through four demonstration projects involving different stake holders and crowdsourcing mechanisms. This paper presents the findings from an activity within the project where stakeholders in crowdsourcing, citizen science and Earth Observations were contacted to provide their views and opinions on the present state and future of the field. While several studies discuss how crowdsourcing can contribute to Earth Observations and Observations from Satellites [16,17], to our knowledge, this is the first systematic study of stakeholder views and opinions on the highly evolving field. The next section presents an overview of crowdsourcing and citizen science, followed by a description of the stakeholder analysis activity. Finally, we present a summary of stakeholder opinions and highlight three most critical aspects that need to be addressed by the community. We conclude the paper with a discussion on future work.

More info