COBWEB was a research project that succeeded in its goal of developing a generic crowdsourcing infrastructure platform and toolkit that could be used in multiple scenarios generating data of sufficient quality to be used by policymakers. At the end of the project, different components comprising the platform are at different Technology Readiness Levels (TRL); with some high TRL outputs being open sourced, eg, Fieldtrip Open.
Achieving an understanding of how citizen science can be harnessed in the service of societal goals is important. There is a veritable deluge of data being generated by citizens and some of that data is useful (or can be made useful) for environmental decision making. Perhaps more importantly, the technology is creating opportunities for greater citizen involvement in environmental decision making. For example, it has been observed that realising the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals will require massive citizen support. COBWEB made a contribution, most significantly in the following areas: standardisation, quality control, security/privacy and use of the UN’s World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR).
A new Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Citizen Science Working Group has been established and looks set to become a key forum for advancing related global interoperability issues. COBWEB’s Sensor Web Enablement for Citizen Science (SWE4CS) initiative is a first step in the standardisation process and led the way in developing a harmonised information model for exchanging CS data and addressing semantic interoperability issues. The high TRL access management federation approach advocated by COBWEB for managing privacy and security has had impact on GEOSS and is being used by followon projects. Quality control continues to be a major concern for initiatives dealing with crowdsourced data; COBWEB pioneered a web services chaining approach that allows great flexibility in the processes applied in response to the multitude of different circumstances under which such data is collected. This too is being further developed by follow-on projects.
Using a unique co-design approach, COBWEB concentrated on mobilising citizens within Biosphere Reserves. We found the WNBR to be an excellent (and underused) resource for this kind of research project; where access to an already incentivised and organised pool of citizens enthusiastic about the sustainable development agenda is a definite advantage.
Having a government involved as a full partner in the project also proved to be an advantage; COBWEB benefited from direct communication channels with bodies responsible for setting and delivering policy relating to environmental data. This impact continues post project as Welsh Government is sustaining the COBWEB platform for a period in support of environmental decision making and policy.
The toolkit COBWEB created and open sourced (Fieldtrip Open) can publish data in various formats depending upon what is required, eg, INSPIRE specific schema, linked data, GEOJson, or Sensor Web Enablement for Citizen Science. SWE4CS ‘Standardized Information Models to Optimize Exchange, Reusability and Comparability of Citizen Science Data’ is a first step on the standardisation ladder and was originally conceived as a standard for publishing citizen science data into GEOSS.
Standards for crowdsourced data An EU team developed new standards for citizen-provided data in environmental research. The group produced software tools, and concluded that data from the Unesco World Network of Biosphere Reserves (WNBR) provides an excellent management resource. Mobile devices offer opportunities for citizen-sourced scientific data, although often the data are held in silos and lack any usable standards. Thus, a need exists to improve the usefulness of such data for decision-making and for fostering social goals. The EU-funded COBWEB (Citizen observatory web) project developed a generic crowdsourcing infrastructure platform. The platform takes the form of a downloadable software toolkit intended to generate data of quality sufficient to benefit policymakers. The platform also integrates various types of data, including environmental, cyber and social sensors. The team explored the potential for integrating the infrastructure platform into biosphere information systems, and for use of the WNBR. The team worked to deliver pilot case studies in three areas: creation and validation of data products from satellite data, biological monitoring and flooding. Researchers successfully produced several platform components, although at varying levels of technological readiness. Some components at a higher level of readiness have been converted to open-source coding. The study also demonstrated the possibility of utilising citizen-sourced data for interoperable and flexible environmental monitoring. Researchers determined that the WNBR is an excellent and little-used resource for mobilising citizens within biosphere reserves. WNBR provided access to a motivated and organised pool of citizens interested in sustainable development. The team especially demonstrated the benefit of creating a generic solution to the problem of automating quality control. The project’s solution was flexible and adaptable to many different scenarios, plus helped with the reuse of citizen science data. COBWEB’s approach for managing privacy and security impacted GEOSS and is being used by successor projects. The project’s Sensor Web Enablement for Citizen Science (SWE4CS) initiative represents a step towards standardisation. The development pioneered a harmonised information model for exchange of citizen-sourced data and for addressing semantic interoperability issues. The consortium established a new Open Geospatial Consortium Citizen Science Working Group, which will advance global interoperability issues. The project also hosted regular workshops. COBWEB’s new standards for use of citizen-sourced data are being used by other projects. The work provides a new data source that benefits the management of environmental and social problems.
An overarching problem in Citizen Science is that large quantities of data are being created but exist in silos. Useable standards either don’t exist, are neglected, poorly understood or tooling is unavailable. It is still early days and this is reflected in the different Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) of outputs from research projects such as COBWEB. SWE4CS for example, is at an intermediate TRL. Similarly, the standards based web services chaining approach to QA pioneered by COBWEB allows great flexibility in the data brought to bear and processes applied in response to the huge variety of different Use Cases encountered in the Citizen Science space. The access management federation approach advocated by COBWEB for managing privacy and security is high TRL and is likely to have continuing impact. This is because of the continued lack of a widely accepted, robust, practical way of securely sharing valuable data across administrative domains. The requirement to be able to securely share (with a high level of assurance) in a genuinely interoperable way controlled data such as the location of endangered species, and the associated need to maintain individual privacy, is a constant in the volunteered geographic information, crowdsourcing, citizen science context within which COBWEB was executed (source: https://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/201513_en.html)