Blog Post

Why the many minds in citizen science are better than one

Ants by Susanne Nilsson
Monthly Letter from Greg Newman (CSA board chair) to all CSA members
January 26, 2016 • Fort Collins, Colorado

Greetings to all who are the heart and soul of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) – both new and ongoing members! Thank you for joining us on this adventure. The field of citizen science would not be what it is today if not for your hard work and dedication.
The CSA is thriving in its efforts to advance work in this field, thanks in a large part to diverse teams arising to tackle core topics. These committees and working groups are flourishing, as evidenced by teams addressing Web/Communications; Education; Conference; Data and Metadata; Integrity, Diversity, and Equity; and Professional Development (and, to be introduced just this week, also Research and Evaluation). We also continue to see diversity emerge in the peoples, cultures, ideas, skills, and approaches of each of these groups. As our Education Working Group writes:

“One of the most powerful attributes of the CSA community is its great diversity of projects…. This diversity is visible in the broad… topics pursued, in the questions [being] addressed, the communities of people engaged, and the protocols used…, and serves the community well, leading to [much] innovation and invention…” [read more]

It is this diversity alluded to by our Education Working Group that underpins the benefit of “Collective Intelligence.” Collective intelligence can be seen as shared or group intelligence emerging from the collaboration, collective efforts, and competition of many individuals; it can play a significant role in consensus decision making, sociobiology, political science, mass peer review, crowdsourcing, and even citizen science. It is understood as an emergent property that continually learns from feedback to produce just-in-time knowledge for better decisions (Glenn, 2009) – a notion referred to as Symbiotic intelligence by Norman Lee Johnson ( Pierre Lévy defines collective intelligence as, “…a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills, the basis… of which … is mutual recognition and enrichment of individuals…” (Lévy 1994). Collective intelligence contributes strongly to the shift of knowledge and power from the individual to the collective.
In doing so, collective intelligence in the context of citizen science offers opportunities for improved decision making related to the science and goals of our collaborative projects. It diversifies our ability to do great science together. When we bring in the minds of many together towards a common purpose – to enact a successful citizen science project – we benefit from the experiences and histories and cultures of those involved. Just this week, as an example, members of our Metadata and Data Working Group will be in Italy meeting with global thought leaders in the world of data sharing and data exchange standards. Such standards do not come easy – take for example our continued divergent use of both English and metric units of measure that affect the bolts we use to build our vehicles – but by bringing together many experts from many countries this emergent team will be trying to devise standards we all can gain consensus on for the ways in which we share the data being generated by our projects.
Thank you (አመሰግናለሁ (amäsäggänallähw), Hohóu, Grazie, Danke schön, Muchas gracias, ありがとう (arigatō), Miigwech, Asante, Tack, etc.) to all of you for embracing diversity in the work we do and for capitalizing on collective intelligence across the field of citizen science.
Glenn, Jerome C. Collective Intelligence – One of the Next Big Things, Futura 4/2009, Finnish Society for Futures Studies, Helsinki, Finland
Norman Lee Johnson, Collective Science site.
Pierre Lévy, Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace, 1994, p. 13.

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