Project to encourage citizen scientists gets funding

University of Nottingham has received a share of a £1.4 million fund to encourage members of the public to get involved in research projects which tackle issues that affect their lives.

Citizen journalists have changed the way the media gathers news and now academics want to transform their relationship with the public, on a scale not seen before, and get them to contribute to their research projects as citizen scientists.

Academics from the University of Nottingham who are world-leaders in using satellite imagery to tackle world problems from climate change to modern slavery, are one of over 50 projects to be given a grant from the funding body, UK Research and Innovation, to achieve this vision.

The team at the University will publish a report outlining the benefits of citizen science data and suggest a blueprint for future engagement. The project is led by Doreen Boyd, Professor of Earth Observation at the University. Dr Boyd has previously worked with citizen scientists on a study which, along with recent images from Google Earth, provided the first ever accurate estimate of the number of brick kilns across the South Asian ‘Brick Belt’ – a breakthrough in the fight against modern slavery.

I am delighted to have been given this opportunity to realise the full potential of Earth Observation projects by using data from citizen scientists. The role of EO data in solving social and environmental problems cannot be understated. Images and first-hand reports help us to identify the nature, location and extent of the problem. It can be expensive and challenging to acquire accurate data from a local area, to corroborate our interpretations of the images we have captured from above, but we can overcome this by using citizen scientists. Our overall goal is to move more of my fellow academics towards valuing citizen scientists. We will produce a compelling report, showcasing case studies that should inform future developments in using citizen science data.

Her team has partnered with the National History Museum who have over 20 years of research and practical experience of citizen science, the University of Sheffield and the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

The project is divided into three phases, starting with an online questionnaire to establish the concerns and barriers researchers have in using citizen science data in their Earth Observation studies. This will be followed by a workshop to brainstorm ideas on how citizen scientists can be embedded into the work of EO scientists. The final phase will see the publication of a report outlining the benefits of using citizen scientists.

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