Blog Post

Clean Air Survey

Clean Air Survey

We chose to adapt the OPAL Air Survey in a few ways that improve upon the delivery of the survey. The OPAL Air Survey is an ambitious project that uses Lichen growing on trees to measure the relative health of the local air. Lichen are highly sensitive to air quality and have been used to detect sources of pollution. In areas heavily polluted by sulphur dioxide, few lichen could grow, creating lichen deserts around industrial and urban areas. Lichen are now returning to these areas, and can provide a wealth of information about improvement in air quality. The ingenuousness of the air survey stems from the low cost of identification through printed media and the ease of access each participant enjoys.

OPAL’s survey has significant drawbacks in the limitation of media and publication of results. Providing downloadable and easy to access photos on a mobile friendly format allows data gathering on the go that is much easier to view and compare. Reformatting the lichen identification guide to be accessible via cell phone allows the user to identify and note lichen when in the field, and then record and upload their findings when they return to an area with internet access. The publication of data is the most exciting adaptation away from OPAL. Once the results are entered through a google survey they are uploaded through automated excel documents to a worldwide map. This innovative feature allows for participants to immediately gain access to all results that have been entered, and view the data in various visual representations. In the spirit of expanding citizen science projects to the greater public in more accessible formats, we have set up an Instagram and Twitter account and created the hashtag #cleanairsurvey. On Instagram, individuals who complete the survey can upload a picture of the lichen they’ve found and geo tag it, allowing others to see what lichens are located in other regions. The twitter account encourages conversations about air quality by providing a format where users can upload images of lichen and discuss where they were found. The Instagram and twitter are social media formats that encourage participants of citizen science to visualize and discuss their results.

This project as a whole is one of the simplest ways to adapt civic science to a large audience. Everyone is concerned about air quality, and this is an easy way for people to engage with and measure the quality of the air in their communities. Though the project was relatively inexpensive to begin with, we believe that we have made it more widely accessible by eliminating the need to order and ship a lichen guide. Anyone with internet access can download our guide via Imgur and begin recording their results. On our end it was slightly more complicated to set up the survey and map, but ultimately it is easier for the citizen scientist to enter their data and see a visual representation of other results in their area. A link to our imgur album showing social media.

Adapting this project from an exclusive data set to a more inclusive format proved to be a rewarding task. The hardest part was setting up the survey to accurately publish data through google maps and the project would be greatly aided by a coding expert. The ideal version of this project would be a single mobile application that can directly compare various lichen, and then upload the information with established GPS coordinates. Overall, the adaption of the project was successful and went mostly as expected.

OPAL’s survey required some participants to order a lichen guide online, and delivered the minimum amount of recorded results to its participants. Instead of offering results publicly, they publish information that relates to overall air quality, glossing over other important data sets such as time, location, and results their users obtained. Our adaption gives instant access to a lichen guide once the imgur album is downloaded, and has a focus on participants interacting with the data. The results of our online survey are visible to anyone who participates, and the map feature shows areas that have already been visited. The addition of social media platforms provides participants with a means to view where specific lichen have been tagged, and opens a conversation for those interested in air quality on a global platform.

Future participants would be able to ask questions about design, as our results are readily available to anyone who participates. If a future participant has interest in different aspects of the survey (such as presence of a particular lichen in a particular area) they would be able to access the results of our online survey and see what specific lichen have been tagged in their local area. The overall nature of the project remains much the same, the key difference between the OPAL survey and our design being delivery of information. We’re collecting the same data as OPAL, along with a handful of other data points that may be useful to participants who approach our results from different scientific background. Where our similarities split is the way we chose to represent and publish our data in a user friendly way. This is ideal for citizen science in allowing participants to see the direct consequence of their aide. Overall we have broadened the scope of the data this project collects while improving accessibility and delivery methods.

Without a doubt, one of the best ways to facilitate cooperation in civic science is to make it more accessible to people. Google maps and survey, imgur, instagram, twitter, and applications open up the results from citizen science projects to a larger audience. An important take-away for our group is examining not only methods of data collection, but the ways in which citizen science can facilitate conversations among community members. As evidenced by our group, communities are made up of people with diverse background and varying expertise. While some may be intimately familiar with the inner workings of social media, others may be talented biologists, laborers, physcologists, etc. We think it should be the goal of citizen science to critically examine the ways in which lab science reinforces existing power structures, and use the data collected by its projects to inform and inspire the public.




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