Jaume Piera is an engineer, biologist, and doctor in environmental sciences passionate about nature observation. He carries out his research at the Institute of Marine Sciences (ICM-CSIC) and is an associate researcher at CREAF. Currently, his research activity is focused on monitoring systems based on citizen science.
Since he was a boy, in the middle seventies, Jaume has been interested in taking action into science. Then of course there was not such a thing called ‘citizen science’, but he was a volunteer to make bird censuses in coastal areas, the first censuses made in the Delta del Llobregat and Delta del Ebro (Catalonia). But his relationship with citizen science is not just a hobby, his research career is focused on environmental observation systems of different types. In the past his research group used high technology, such as drones, to monitor the environment, but this was expensive and it didn’t cover an extensive area. Then Jaume start thinking that involving people to help them gathering data was a great opportunity, and they applied for the project Citclops, in which, for the first time, his research group mentioned that they were going to work with a coastal citizen observatory. Since then, he has been involved in several citizen science projects, including Natusfera, with the Real Botanical Garden, the CREAF, the ICM-CSIC, GBIF, and Bineo Consulting participation.
Jaume, you experience citizen science from both sides, the academic field, and the citizen scientist’s perspective. How would you define it?
For me, citizen science is inheriting different forms of social participation to generate a new way of understanding and practicing science while the data generated can be useful for research. However, citizen science is not a new field, but an old idea with a new name and tools, in the sense that there has always been the participation of people in science outside of academia. The difference is that the latest technological tools and communication channels have allowed evolved apps, connecting people and creating projects with much larger information flows.
‘Citizen science is inheriting different forms of social participation to generate a new way of understanding and practicing science while the data generated can be useful for research‘Jaume Piera.
Nowadays, we hear a lot about how citizen science can help research or support better evidence-based policy making with the data collected, any example?
There are already several examples of researchers or institutions which already use citizen science data. For instance, according to the scientific publication ‘Contribution of citizen science towards international biodiversity monitoring,’ many research teams on biodiversity already use the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) data for their research. The impressive data is that 50% of the GBI data comes from citizen science projects!
Another example is the Mosquito Alert platform. The project collects observations of the tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito vectors of Zika, Dengue, and Chikungunya, to monitor their distribution. In some cases, these data are useful for health institutions to take measures.
‘There are already scientific articles that demonstrate citizen science data is already contributing to monitoring the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which aim to achieve a better and more sustainable future for humanity and the planet‘Jaume Piera.
In the internet world, where we have lots of information just a click away, do you think citizen science is an ally to increase trust in science?
Of course. If citizens actively participate in a project, they are more informed and will have a clearer idea of how the scientific method works. For example, if I collect air quality data in my area, I will be aware of what I am breathing, and I can share this information with other users, create a pollution map and demand better air policies. Therefore, this can facilitate collective knowledge, and this also creates strands of opinion that fight against fake news.
Cos4Cloud aims to boost citizen technologies and involves a lot of organizations and citizen observatories, but how was the project born?
The project was born as a result of the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) initiative, which goes far beyond citizen science. The EOSC goal is to integrate most of the services and results of Open Science that will be carried out in Europe in the coming years in an open virtual space, where scientific personnel can reuse these resources for their research, innovation, and educational purposes. This cloud will allow the contributors to have more decision-making and governance capacity about their own data or resources than by using private infrastructures such as Amazon. Within this framework, we identified a prominent niche for citizen science, which we believe has to play a vital role in the EOSC ecosystem.
‘We identified a prominent niche for citizen science, which we believe has to play a vital role in the EOSC ecosystem’Jaume Piera.
What value do you think the services developed by Cos4Cloud will bring to the EOSC?
At the very least, consolidate and clearly locate the role of citizen science in the EOSC ecosystem. A seed effect that encourages more citizen science initiatives to be part of this new European cloud.
How will Cos4Cloud tackle some of the citizen science challenges?
One of the challenges of citizen science is to verify that the observations coming from citizen observatories are of the quality and accuracy that the scientific and political community needs. Our goal at the Cos4Cloud project is to create and evolve tools to increase the observations’ credibility, so the academic, political, and social fields trust to use them. For example, we are working on services that use artificial intelligence that will provide a certain degree of verification. Another example is an expert platform, where you could see if an observation is validated or not by an expert. All of this creates a social framework in which academics and politicians can accept this data, benefit from it, and invest in citizen science.
‘Our goal at the Cos4Cloud project is to create and evolve tools to increase the observations’ credibility, so the academic, political, and social fields trust to use them‘Jaume Piera.
Another challenge for citizen observatories is that they are currently not sustainable in the long term due to lack of funding. Integrating citizen science in the EOSC can help platforms interact more with each other, as they are doing in the Cos4Cloud project. Besides, we are developing transversal services that will be uploaded to the EOSC in the form of modules so any existing citizen observatory can add new functionalities. All of this can contribute to the sustainability of the citizen observatories, in the way that if one is less active, it does not mean that the community and the data have to disappear.
The Covid is affecting us on a personal level, but also at work…How do you think Covid impacts the development of the Cos4Cloud project?
One of the project’s values is the co-design, which encompasses a technological and social pillar. The technological one focuses on how we develop services, and this has not been particularly affected. However, the social component with which we have to test the services could be affected in the near future.
Will there be a continuation of Cos4Cloud?
Yes, although it is not called Cos4Cloud, we hope to sow a seed from which more citizen science projects will be born at the EOSC.