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ARS Home » Plains Area » Fort Collins, Colorado » Center for Agricultural Resources Research » Rangeland Resources & Systems Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #360935

Research Project: Improved Management to Balance Production and Conservation in Great Plains Rangelands

Location: Rangeland Resources & Systems Research

Title: Designing a platform for ethical citizen science: A case study of CitSci.org

Author
item Lynn, Stacy - Colorado State University
item Newman, Gregory - Colorado State University
item Kaplan, Nicole
item Newman, Sarah - Colorado State University
item Scarpino, Russell - Colorado State University

Submitted to: Citizen Science: Theory and Pratice
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/8/2019
Publication Date: 3/8/2019
Citation: Lynn, S., Newman, G., Kaplan, N.E., Newman, S., Scarpino, R. 2019. Designing a platform for ethical citizen science: A case study of CitSci.org. Citizen Science: Theory and Pratice. 4(1):1-15. https://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.227.
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.227

Interpretive Summary: Involving the public in scientific discovery via ‘citizen science’ offers opportunities for engagement, learning, participation and action. CitSci.org is an online platform that supports the collection, use, and sharing of data for citizen science projects. Professional scientists are trained to make ethical determinations related to the collection of, access to, and use of information, but citizen science project coordinators need to carefully consider the intended and unintended consequences of sharing data and information openly among project members and the public. The story of development of customization features within CitSci.org and a decision-making framework for providing openness to data and information is presented as a case study and one approach to designing a platform for ethical citizen science.

Technical Abstract: Involving the public in scientific discovery offers opportunities for engagement, learning, participation and action. Since its launch in 2007, the CitSci.org platform has supported hundreds of community-driven citizen science projects involving thousands of participants who have generated close to a million scientific measurements around the world. Members using CitSci.org follow their curiosities and concerns to develop, lead, or simply participate in research projects. While professional scientists are trained to make ethical determinations related to the collection of, access to, and use of information, citizen scientists and practitioners may be less aware of such issues and more likely to become involved in ethical dilemmas. In this era of big and open data, where data sharing is encouraged and open science is promoted privacy and openness considerations can often be overlooked. Platforms that support the collection, use, and sharing of data and personal information need to consider their responsibility to protect the rights to and ownership of data, the provision of protection options for data and members, and at the same time provide options for openness. This requires critically considering both intended and unintended consequences of the use of platforms, data, and volunteer information. Here, we use our journey developing CitSci.org to argue that incorporating customization into platforms through flexible design options for project managers shifts the decision-making from top-down to bottom-up and allows project design to be more responsive to goals. To protect both people and data, we developed - and continue to improve - options which support various levels of ‘open’ and ‘closed’ access permissions for information and participation. These options support diverse governance styles that are responsive to data uses, traditional and indigenous knowledge sensitivities, intellectual property rights, personally-identifiable information concerns, volunteer preferences, and sensitive data protections. We present a typology for citizen science openness choices, their ethical considerations, and strategies we are actively putting into practice to expand privacy options and governance models based on the unique needs of individual projects using our platform.