Digital Agenda for Europe
A Europe 2020 Initiative

Citizen Science and Collective Intelligence: From dots of knowledge to a network of wisdom.

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Fermin Serrano is researcher of BIFI-Unizar. He coordinates the EU-funded Socientize project, and he is also the Executive Director of the Fundation Ibercivis.

It is time to accept that thanks to the maturity and convergence of ICT technologies, collective collaborations are more important for the global performance than any individual contributions, no matter how important it was the person who raised the hand with a new idea. This ground-breaking scenario is leading to auto-organized grass-roots movements with unexpected (and unpredictable) aggregated results especially in the scientific sector.

According to the Green Paper on citizen science for Europe, citizen science refers to the general public engagement in scientific research activities when citizens actively contribute to science either with their intellectual effort or surrounding knowledge or with their tools and resources.

Socientize, the EU funded project which I am enthusiastically coordinating, uses these concepts and applies different models of participation to a number of projectsParticipants provide user-generated experimental data (mind pathsand facilities for researchers (water control or desktop computers), they help with the analysis of scientific images (human stem cells or sun activity) and they co-create a new scientific culture (urban bees) asking for new questions needed of scientific methodologies. While adding value, volunteers acquire new learning and skills, and deeper understanding of the scientific work in an appealing way, leading to a more democratic research based on evidence-informed decision making.

I can already state from my experience that there are two major challenges for this open, networked and trans-disciplinary scenario: the engagement of all the actors should be permanent and constant, and we need to increase the number of agents involved. There are no clear tricks to achieve them, but it is obvious that maintaining the satisfaction of unbroken interactions requires frequent and direct feedback. Also, in order to be appealing we need to bring new creative ideas and take them to unexplored environments, inspiring others to fully embrace creativity and risk.

Having all of the above mentioned in mind, before this project comes to an end, we are trying to understand and to foster one last issue: the collective intelligence, adopting artistic approaches. We decided to focus on collective music composition and we went to the Sónar 2014, the famous advanced music festival held in Barcelona a couple of weeks ago. There we launched the Collective Music Experiment, a public website that allows participants to create a new pattern of music in a kind of virtual jam session, in real time. During the three days of the festival, hundreds of people generated, shared and re-used ideas, having as a result a kind of natural evolution and peer selection of the tunes within the system. Despite the fact we had world-famous professional artists contributing, everything was anonymized so that creativity simply emerges from evaluation and selection of better parts based on feelings and expectations more than reputation. This experiment was conceived with the hip-hop artists RdeRumba and Mercadal, who designed the musical approach of the experiment. They provided the audio samples and they set the music properties to ensure a nice user experience, and when they performed live the results of the experiment in the Sónar+D scenario, they played some of the patterns created by the community. At this moment, this experiment is being analyzed and complemented with other public events (e.g. ESOF2014).

All these experiences, with their outcomes and limitations, will be covered by the White Paper on citizen science for Europe which will be published in September 2014. This strategic document will include policy recommendations to improve the general public engagement in science. The set of cross-cutting concerns and policy actions has been extracted and endorsed from both public debates and online consultations where hundreds of key stakeholders were involved, including those who look for the maintenance for already-established networks and those asking for less professionalisation leaving more space for bottom-up approaches. In any case, the key point is that citizen science tools and open methods are getting closer to the people, and so we all need to swift our minds to a new paradigm of sharing and engaged interactions at multiple scales to answer questions together. 

Now I would challenge the readers to imagine if this kind of digitally-enabled participatory approaches could be used in any other aspect of their daily lives! Eager to listen to your ideas!

Follow us and engage in the discussion! @socientize and @ferminserrano #citizenscience #collectivemusicexperiment

Other related tools and initiatives: @ibercivis, @BIFI_Instituto, @allourideas, @PyBossa, @CitizenCyberlab, @everyAware, @WeSenseIt, @BOINCworkshop, @Citclops, @CAPS2020EU, @MalariaSpot, @Atrapaeltigre, @beelab_open, @FET2020...

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