Citizen Science & the Sustainable Development Goals

In this series of blogs, Rosy Mondardini (Managing Director of Citizen Science Center Zurich) shares her view on the potentials of Citizen Science as a way for researchers and citizens to contribute to the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and in particular to the implementation of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Part 1 – Science and the SDG
Part 2 – Citizen Science and the SDG
Part 3 – CS & SDG: Ongoing local (Zurich) and global activities

Part 1 – Science and the SDG

Image curtesy

In September 2015, the 193 Member States of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and agreed to the call to action at its core: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). By 2030, governments committed to end extreme poverty, promote prosperity and wellbeing for all, and tackle climate change. For some, the SDGs are a bold commitment to finish what the world started in the year 2000 with the Millennium Development Goals. For most, they are the last possible chance to tackle some of the more pressing challenges facing the world today. Either way, success requires stakeholder engagement from all parts of society, including Government, NGO, Business, Academia, Civil Society, and more. The overall ambition is to Leave-no-one behind, both in the giving and receiving parts of this global effort.

The SDGs are a conceptual framework, designed (with the help of citizens! ) to guide governments in developing strategies to tackle multiple aspects of sustainable development, and monitor progresses at the local, regional, and global levels. It can be summarized as follows:

  • The framework consists of 17 overall Goals, each covering a global issue.
    Example: Goal 3 – “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”
  • Each Goal has an associated list of Targets, or priorities, for a total of 169 targets.
    Example: Goal 3 has 13 targets. Target 3.1 reads “By 2030, reduce the global maternal mortality ratio to less than 70 per 100,000 live births”.
  • Each Target is measured with a certain number of Indicators, for a grand total of 232 indicators. These are the quantities used to monitor progress, inform policy, and ensure accountability for the SDGs.
    Example: For Target 3.1, Indicator 3.1.1 is “Maternal mortality ratio”.

The role of science

The “Scientific and Technological Community” is one of the 9 Major Stakeholders of the Goals, and the UN Secretary General, advised by the UN Science Advisory Board, acknowledgesthe need to mobilize science at multiple levels and across disciplines to gather or create the necessary knowledge to lay the foundations for practices, innovations and technologies needed to address the goals”.

But the role of science and scientific research is already embedded in the framework by design, as highlighted in the following points.

  • Scientific research is directly featured in the Goals
    In particular, it is explicitly mentioned in Goal 9, Target 9.5: “Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending”.

    Research is central to meeting the challenges set out, for example, by Goal 2 (ending hunger requires investment into agricultural research), Goal 3 (ensuring healthy lives requires more research for vaccines and new drugs), Goal 7 (supplying modern and sustainable energy services requires investments in renewable energy research), and Goal 9 (technology and innovation for infrastructures need multidisciplinary research and development). Not to mention, what is needed to preserve water quality, reduce pollution, ensure the conservation of ecosystems and their services, and more.

    In fact, there is not a single SDG in the new agenda that will not require inputs from science!
  • Science is necessary to strengthen the ability to measure and evaluate. Assessment of the “status quo” and progress monitoring for the SDGs implementation needs to be supported by quality data and objective information. Scientific knowledge is needed to ensure that appropriate metrics, monitoring methodologies, and evidence-based evaluation procedures are in place.

    An integrated scientific approach is needed to better understand key interlinkages among the Goals. However, addressing their multiple dimensions (social, economic and environmental) needs overcoming traditional disciplinary boundaries in science.
  • Science can help close knowledge and data gaps
    The current limitations in data availability, production, quality, and access, are a massive challenge for the SDG, particularly in developing countries. Four years into the effort, for instance, we lack data for 68% of environment-related SDG Indicators.

    Already in 2013, the High Level Panel, appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development agenda, called for a data revolution, meaning integrating official statistics and survey data with new insights gathered from open data, crowdsourcing, new ICTs , big data, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things.

    This revolution is a big opportunity for scientists to advocate for a use and interpretation of data that go well beyond filling statistical gaps. By adding depth and intelligence on human behaviours and experiences, such data help to clarify complex social issues, highlight local priorities, integrate cultural aspects, and can ultimately contribute to the necessary change in human’s “unsustainable” behaviours.

“Data are the lifeblood of decision-making and the raw material for accountability. Without high-quality data providing the right information on the right things at the right time, effective policies become almost impossible.”

UN Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development

Finally, the United Nations call upon scientists and policy-makers to “recognize science as a universal public good, that helps in laying the foundation for a sustainable world and is therefore more than a tool for the achievement of the 2030 Agenda”.

Are scientists ready? And how can Citizens help?

By Rosy Mondardini

“Two scientists come into a bar …” – Citizen Science at the Pint of Science Festival in Zürich

On Wednesday May 22nd after work, the team of the Citizen Science Center Zurich, along with about 50 other people, gathered in the BQM bar near the Federal Technical Institute in Zürich for the last evening of the Pint of Science Festival – and a night full of (citizen) science.

Pint of Science is an international science festival that takes place every year in May. It brings researchers to local bars to tell people about the latest happenings in the world of science. The perfect opportunity to meet the young people shaping the science of tomorrow. Zurich was only one out of many cities that took part this year. Researchers across 24 countries were sharing their discoveries with whoever wanted to hear them in their local pub, bar or cafe.

The Citizen Science Center Zürich organized a presentation & activity with Dr. Andrew Durso who you know from the Snake ID Citizen Science Challenge. He also gave an interview on this blog earlier this year. The snake ID project tackles the global health issue of snakebite, given the fact that snakebite was recently put on the list of neglected diseases by the WHO.

Andrew presenting at Pint of Science in Zürich

Andrew started at Pint of Science with a case scenario: Imagine, you are a team of emergency medical personnel. A patient comes in with a snakebite & a photo of the snake. As a team, in 5-7 minutes, decide: Should you treat this bite with an antivenom or not? If so & if you have time, what kind of antivenom should you use? If you have extra time, what species of snake should you report on the snakebite report form?

Image, info and solution
We tried hard to identify the snake.
The event was commented on twitter as well.

The visitors grouped and realized, that this task is actually not that easy, if you only have an image. But that is a reality in many snake bite situations, sometimes not even an image is around, making it even harder to treat the patient. But the people BQM were quite successful, three out of five groups came up with the correct answer and got a price. Afterwards Andrew gave some insights into the Snake ID Citizen Science project and provided the audience with a short overview on snake biology, with an excursion about venomous snakes in Switzerland.

Along with Andrew we heard three other fantastic presentations from young researchers: Nicole Ackermans talked about convergent evolution, Yagmur Erten told us what dinosaurs, birds, and elephants can teach us about cancer, and Stefan Milosavljevic convinced us that plants are the true super heroes of our planet. Find infos about their presentations here.

Pint of Science is organised by a grass-root community of thousands of scientists across the world. The idea is to leave the so called ivory tower and show that scientists people just like you and me, and you can come and meet them over a drink. Although one has to admit that the BQM pub which on campus and right next to the two universities main buildings, is a place where students and researchers use to hang out. But the festival took place at two other places more downtown in parallel.

This year Switzerland was participating for the first time, with events in Bern, Zürich, Basel and Lausanne. In Zurich the event took place on three nights and every night in three different pubs, with at least one but more often three presentations at every venue. Do the math and you will get a big number of different topics and speakers, ranging from “Smoke and Mirrors in your brain“ to “Climate Change”, to “Atoms and the Big Bang”.

Here is a list of all the places worldwide where the Pint of Science Festival took place this year. Have a look at the big range of places and topics, and come to the nearest Pint of Science festival in 2020!

Auf 1940 m Grenzen überwinden – Die Österreichische Citizen Science Konferenz 2019

von Sophie Hanak, Citizen Science Network Austria

(c) by Universitätszentrum Obergurgl

Derzeit liegt in Obergurgl (Tirol, Österreich) noch Schnee, jedoch wird dieser den saftigen Wiesen Platz gemacht haben, wenn sich die TeilnehmerInnen zur 5. Österreichischen Citizen Science Konferenz vom 26.-28. Juni in das Universitätszentrum Obergurgl aufmachen. Die Konferenz steht dieses Jahr unter dem Motto “Grenzen und Übergänge“. In zahlreichen Vorträgen, Workshops und Postersessions werden Fragen diskutiert wie beispielsweise: Was sind die Grenzen in Citizen Science, wer bestimmt diese, und wie können Grenzen, Übergänge oder auch Hindernisse genützt werden? Obergurgl ist dafür ein passender Ort, denn hier stößt man sowohl auf natürliche Grenzen, wie etwa auf die Schneegrenze oder die Baumgrenze, als auch auf politische Grenzen, wie die Staatsgrenze zwischen Österreich und Italien.

Das Universitätszentrum in Obergurgl ist nicht nur mit Vortrags- und Seminarräumen inkl. neuestem Stand der Technik ausgestattet, sondern auch mit gemütlichen Zimmern, einem Restaurant und einer Bar, wo die spannenden Vorträge und Workshops  abends am Kamin reflektiert werden können. Und sollte der Konferenztag gar zu spannend gewesen sein, kann man im hauseigenen Wellnessbereich diese Spannung auch wieder abbauen.

„Besonders gespannt sind wir auf unsere beiden Keynote-Speaker, die uns Einblick in ihre vielfältigen Tätigkeiten im Bereich Citizen Science geben werden“, freuen sich Florian Heigl und Daniel Dörler, Gründer und Koordinatoren von “Österreich forscht“. Denn Mag. Susanne Hecker untersucht am Helmholtz-Zentrum für Umweltforschung und am Deutschen Zentrum für integrative Biodiversitätsforschung in Leipzig den Einfluss von Citizen Science am Übergang zwischen Wissenschaft, Gesellschaft und Politik. Im Mai 2016 hat sie außerdem die erste europäische Citizen Science Konferenz in Berlin organisiert und ist Erst-Herausgeberin des neuen Buches “Citizen Science – Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy”. Durch Susanne Hecker werden wir die neuesten Entwicklungen zu Citizen Science in Europa erfahren.

Monica Peters, wird in ihrer zweite Keynote hingegen Citizen Science in Neuseeland beleuchten und diese spannende Herangehensweise mit der europäischen vergleichen. Neben der breiten Beteiligung von BürgerInnen in wissenschaftlichen Projekten zum Natur- und Artenschutz (sogenanntes “community-led environmental monitoring”), wird Monica Peters vor allem auch über “Matauranga Maori”, das traditionelle ökologische Wissen der neuseeländischen Ureinwohner, sprechen, und dabei die Verbindung zu Citizen Science aufzeigen.

Gleich zu Beginn der Vorträge werden die Übergänge zwischen Wissenschaftskommunikation, wissenschaftlicher Bildung der Citizen Scientists und deren Beteiligung an der Forschung dargestellt. Beispielsweise wird im Vortrag „Biodiversitätsmonitoring mit Landwirtinnen: Grenzen zwischen Landwirtschaft und Naturschutz auflösen“ ein Projekt präsentiert, in welchem BäuerInnen und AlmbewirtschafterInnen mit extensiven Wiesen und Weiden teilnehmen können. In diesem Projekt werden jedes Jahr bestimmte Indikatorarten festgelegt, die die TeilnehmerInnen beobachten und zählen sollen. Diese Daten werden dann auf einer Online-Plattform, gemeinsam mit der Bewirtschaftungsart der Wiesen gespeichert und ausgewertet.

Im Zentrum der zweiten Vortragssession stehen Projekte aus inter- und transdisziplinärer Zusammenarbeit wie etwa D-NOSES. In diesem geht es darum gemeinsam mit BürgerInnen, NGOs, lokalen Behörden, geruchsemittierenden Industrien und Hochschulen Maßnahmen zur Bekämpfung von Geruchsverschmutzung zu gestalten.

„Die grundlegenden Fragen von wissenschaftlichen Untersuchungen, wie Studiendesign, Datenqualität, Datenschutz oder Reproduzierbarkeit werden in der dritten Session behandelt“, so Heigl. In diesem Zusammenhang besonders interessant dürfte auch die Diskussion über das Spannungsfeld zwischen professioneller Forschung und ehrenamtlichem Engagement werden. Im Vortrag “Homegrown – There is nothing like a homegarden” beispielsweise, werden die Nutzung bäuerlicher Hausgärten und die Veränderungen der Gärten und ihrer Bewirtschaftung über die Jahre dargestellt.

Vortragssession vier beschäftigt sich mit dem Überwinden von Grenzen. Citizen Science kann in diesem Bereich in einer sich ständig verändernden Welt eine Vielzahl an Lösungsansätzen bieten. Um kritische Ereignisse, wie vermehrte Felsstürze und Murenabgänge besser verstehen und vorhersagen zu können, ist es wichtig, möglichst viele Daten darüber zu sammeln und zu analysieren. Das Projekt CitizenMorph etwa beschäftigt sich mit der Erfassung und dem Verstehen geomorphologischer Phänomene, ein besonders aktuelles Thema in Zeiten des Klimawandels.

Für die Mitarbeit der Bevölkerung an Forschungsprojekten ist das grundlegende Verständnis für Wissenschaft Voraussetzung. Dieses Thema soll in der letzten Session behandelt werden. Ein Vortrag über Wissensvermittlung durch Gamification stellt das Projekt spacelab girls & exploreAT! vor. Die Produktionsschule spacelab ist ein Angebot für Jugendliche und junge Erwachsene zwischen 15 und 24 Jahren, die einen erhöhten Bedarf an begleitender Unterstützung bei der Bildungs- und Berufsplanung haben.

Die TeilnehmerInnen können erfahren was ein MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) ist und wie eine Citizen Science-Projektfinanzierung aussehen könnte.
Zu guter Letzt sollen im Workshop „Wie mache ich meine Daten FAIR: Findable — Accessible — Interoperable — Reproducible?“ die eigenen Daten genauer unter die Lupe genommen werden und Fragen wie etwa: was sind FAIRe Daten und wie kann ich meine Daten “fair” aufbereiten, besprochen werden.

Sicher ist, dass die TeilnehmerInnen dieser Konferenz unabhängig von ihrem Wissensstand zum Thema Citizen Science inspiriert werden, ihre Forschung der Öffentlichkeit näher zu bringen, dass sie das nötige Know-How dafür bekommen und zum Schluss vielleicht noch eine entspannte Sommerwanderung auf die umliegenden Gipfel machen können. Bis 19. Mai 2019 ist es noch möglich sich für diese Konferenz zu registrieren.

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The Citizen Science Center Zürich at the UN Environment Assembly

Our Managing Director Rosy Mondardini was part of the international Citizen Science delegation that attended the Science-Policy-Business Forum at the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA4), with the aim of promoting Citizen Science at the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment.

A lot of the focus at UN Environment is quantifying the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but statistics are depressing as data are available on only around 30% of the indicators. There is huge potential for citizen science to fill these gaps, and the topic was discussed in most sessions. The delegation issued an official declaration in the closing plenary, and got citizen science referenced and endorsed in the UN resolution and on the statement of the Science and Tech Major Group.

The gathering was also a chance for a governance meetup for the new Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP), including welcoming CitizenScience.Asia and the Ibero-American network (Red Iberoamericana de Ciencia Participativa) in the Citizen Science networks, together with the well established USEuropean and Australian Citizen Science Associations.

The CSGP is currently running a SDG and Citizen Science Maximization group specifically with the SDGs issue in mind.

Members of the delegation drafting the final declaration for the UNEA 4 conference

Citizen Science for Global Health

Interview with Andrew Durso from the Snake ID Challenge

Crotalus horridus, a Timber Rattlesnake from the USA (Illinois), foto by Andrew Durso.

“Do you know this snake?” That was the question we asked a vivid community of snake lovers out there in our Snake ID Challenge in late February. We were overwhelmed by the level of participation from all over the world.

Venomous snakebite is responsible for over 100,000 deaths and many permanent disabilities every year, mostly affecting poor and rural communities in the parts of the world where snake diversity is the highest. Communities and healthcare providers working in these areas are often limited in their herpetological expertise.

The ultimate goal of the snake ID challenge was to create digital tools that anyone can use to identify snakes in order to help clinicians better treat snakebite cases, and improve snake conservation through educating people and communities. Read more about the background of the challenge here.

Andrew is a herpetologist and postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva and a member of the team behind the Snake ID challenge. He was born in New York and grew up catching snakes in North Carolina. He also writes a blog about snakes called ‘Life is Short, but Snakes are Long‘.

Hi Andrew, how many people took part in the challenge and where were they from?

Just over 1,000 people took part in the challenge, from 48 countries. In total they contributed over 115,000 image identifications.

The goal of that first challenge was to measure the performance of the crowd. So how well did they perform?

Overall, 42% of the answers were correct at the species level, a further 11% at the genus level, and yet a further 19% at the family level. About 13% of the answers were incorrect at the family level. Finally, 14% answered “I don’t know”.

What feedback did you get?

We got very positive feedback! Most users found the challenge fun. Many users were proud of how well they did, especially at identifying snakes from regions with which they were unfamiliar, and many people said that participating in this challenge was a great learning opportunity for them.

What happens with the results now?

We’ll analyze the results in greater detail soon, including a breakdown by species, geographic region, and higher taxonomic group (e.g. vipers, elapids). Preliminary analysis suggests that the most important factor influencing how correct people were was the species of snake—some groups are simply more diverse and difficult to identify than others. This seemed to have a far greater effect than global region or the quality of the image.

What are the next steps?

We’ll do a second challenge where we ask people to suggest IDs with and without geographic information, to test more explicitly how much knowing the location of a snake influences someone’s ability to correctly identify it. We also want to move forward soon with asking participants to help us tag images that we don’t already have IDs for, to grow the overall size of our dataset & formalize a process for identifying snakes from images

Were there some funny or special interactions happening?

Several people told me that they worked on this challenge while they were at work or while they were supposed to be doing other things, suggesting that we did a good job making it fun! Some found it quite addictive, staying up late or neglecting other important tasks to complete it (we did not explicitly encourage this behavior)! A few people recognized their own images in the challenge & one person said that if they had not identified that images correctly, his privileges as a group admin for a prominent snake ID group on Facebook should be revoked!

The challenge was developed and implemented with the Citizen Science Center Zürich. How did you find the collaboration with the Center and what was the most useful support in your opinion?

Working with the Center was fantastic! Everyone at the Center was very helpful & enthusiastic about the challenge. In my experience most people don’t get particularly excited about snakes, at least not in a positive way, but the Citizen Science Center Zürich fully took on this challenge. Their technical support was rapid & accommodating and their help with community management was invaluable.

Thank you very much for your positive feedback and the interview! We also enjoyed collaborating with you a lot and are very much looking forward to the next steps together in this unique and important Citizen Science project.

Visit for more information.

Why a Citizen Science Center in Zurich?

Since the Citizen Science Center Zurich is quite young (the team started working about a year ago) we would like to open this blog by introducing ourselves and explain why we are here:
The Citizen Science Center Zurich is a joint initiative of the University of Zurich and the ETH Zurich. It aims at engaging academic scientists and the public in next-generation citizen science projects. That means projects that are scientifically excellent and also have a high degree of participation of citizens in ideally all phases of the research process. Why is that necessary? As with all things, people have different opinions whether something is useful or not. But here are three reasons why we think Zurich needs a Citizen Science Center

1. Zurich has a local history of participatory research

Researchers at both UZH and ETHZ have a strong track record in citizen science, participatory research, and citizen science-related fields such as artificial intelligence, social science and the law. Combining these researchers’ expertise represents a unique opportunity for synergy. Check out some projects of the past here.
But also Citizen Scientists have been around in Zurich since quite a while, just think of the long tradition of the so called naturalists. We will explore that a bit further in one of the upcoming blog posts.

2. Fuel for Innovation and Education

Citizen Science bears the opportunity to promote creativity, scientific literacy, and innovation. On the cover of the newly published book Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy it says:
Citizen science […] is a rapidly expanding field in open science and open innovation. It provides an integrated model of public knowledge production and engagement with science. As a growing worldwide phenomenon, it is invigorated by evolving new technologies that connect people easily and effectively with the scientific community. Catalysed by citizens’ wishes to be actively involved in scientific processes, as a result of recent societal trends, it also offers contributions to the rise in tertiary education.”

3. Data and Action for Sustainability

Citizen science provides a valuable tool for citizens to play a more active role in sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of global goals developed in 2015 by the 193 UN member states and representatives of civil society. They are part of the UN Agenda 2030, a comprehensive call for action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.
High quality, timely and accessible data are required to monitor progress towards the goals, and there is a strong consensus that citizen engagement is critical.
Through citizen science, people can directly engage with and monitor issues that affect them, bring new perspectives and knowledge into science and decision-making, and ultimately demand or drive change.

This is why we, funded by the two biggest universities of the country, think it is a good idea to promote, support and further develop Citizen Science here in Zurich, with national and international collaborations. Join us in that journey if you have a great idea for a Citizen Science project. Reach out and tell us.

The journey begins …

What to expect from this blog?

Thanks for joining us!

The best two things about Citizen Science in my view are: First, it is super diverse (just like science in general), and second, everyone can do it (unlike in academic/professional science, where you need a university degree to be acknowledged as researcher) – because science should be accessible to everyone, not only as a profession but also as a hobby. All this makes Citizen Science a perfect topic for a blog.

We will cover a wide range of topics and formats from the world of Citizen Science, asking questions like: What are the benefits and challenges of Citizen Science? What kinds of projects are out there? Who are the people behind these projects and what are their stories and motivations? What Citizen Science activities happen here in Zurich and Switzerland?
To read on all that, stay tuned and do not hesitate to comment and tell me what you would like to read about here in future.

Spark ideas