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UCL Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) secure €7m in research funding in three months

28 April 2016

ExCiteS, UCL’s interdisciplinary Extreme Citizen Science research group, have announced a total of €7 million in European funding for three research projects in as many months.

The interdisciplinary research group focus on developing tools and methodologies to address the bottom-up needs of local communities and allow groups to collect, analyse and act on scientific information. The announcement of this significant research funding from the European Commission (EC) and the European Research Council (ERC) highlights a growing recognition of the need for deeper engagement with local communities in the scientific knowledge creation and decision making processes, as well as UCL’s expertise in this area.

Children explore and discuss icons after a participatory software dev.

Children explore and discuss icons after a participatory software dev. Photo – Gill Conquest, UCL ExCiteS

ExCiteS announced the WeGovNow! project in late February 2016. Receiving circa €660,000 from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme call for meeting new societal needs by using emerging technologies in the public sector, the project will focus on civic participation in local government. It will be coordinated by the German company Empirica, and the funding was secured together with Mapping for Change, the social enterprise that is part of UCL ExCiteS.

WeGovNow! aims to turn citizens into partners as opposed to customers in the delivery of public services and to overcome the current limitations of existing digital tools for citizen reporting, e-participation, and communication between the citizen and the government, integrating a set of innovative technologies within a unified citizen engagement platform.

A second project, ‘Doing it Together Science’, is funded by the European Commission from its Horizon 2020 programme for integrating Society in Science and Innovation, with almost €4m committed to the three-year project. The project is aimed at developing public participation in science and innovation across Europe. The 11-partner project, co-ordinated by UCL ExCiteS, aims to enable people to find the level of science contribution suitable for them, whether through using a crowdsourcing app to log air quality or working in a citizen biological laboratory.

Finally, the European Research Council will also fund a €2.5m project on ‘Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation’ (ECSAnVis, or Intelligent Maps) to continue ExCiteS work towards creating intelligent maps. The group has developed the Sapelli platform, a mobile data collection and sharing platform designed with a particular focus on non-literate and illiterate users with little or no prior ICT experience, with EPSRC funding. This ERC grant will allow ExCiteS to take the next step and develop geographical analysis and visualisation tools that can be used, successfully, by people with limited literacy, in a culturally appropriate way.

UCL ExCiteS includes researchers from a variety of specialities and has a history of developing tools to help communities collect data and participate in decision making, with this expertise instrumental in the development of these €7m research projects. From work with non-literate peoples in the Congo to document environmental damage, to collaborations with communities around Heathrow to monitor noise pollution, UCL ExCiteS enables people to change their world through participatory science and information.

Professor Muki Haklay, co-director of UCL ExCiteS and Professor of Geographical Information Science in UCL Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering, said:

These projects represent a step-change in European public engagement with science and innovation, and a commitment to see wider participation in decision making. Prior projects show this is possible and now we want to promote this ‘deep’ engagement. Our goal is for the public to be engaged in all aspects and stages in the scientific and innovation progress, at a level suitable for them.

Professor Nigel Titchener-Hooker, Acting Dean of UCL Engineering, said:

UCL has a great history of working with communities and various public groups, through organisations such as Mapping for Change and London Biohackspace. I’m proud we at UCL Engineering are supporting these bridges between scientists, engineers, innovators, and the people they serve, and moving towards a world where science is done with and for society.

Citizen science in action with Professor Muki Haklay.

Citizen science in action with Professor Muki Haklay. Photo – Cindy Regolado, UCL ExCiteS

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