Sunday, February 22, 2015

Why We Need For-Profit Business Models to Support, and Benefit From, the Work of Citizen Scientsts

I've written extensively about citizen scientists working more closely with the for-profit world, and have talked frequently about ways citizen scientists can potentially monetize their work.  Though it's all good information there is a lot of it and not everyone has time to go through it all.  So I put the following video together for you all.  Learn why it is important for citizen scientists are rewarded for their efforts, how their work can benefit for-profit businesses, how that then helps the citizen scientists themselves, and ideas for ways to monetize citizen science research.

This is the first in an ongoing series that will tackle each of these issues much more closely.  So what are you waiting for...let's get started!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

CitSci2015 -- Another Great Success

What a week it's been!  Between the 2015 Citizen Science Conference and the following AAAS conference my days have been completely full.  So many things to see and interesting people to talk to.  There's no way I can sum it all up in just this post.   Instead it's a great opportunity to take the things I've learned and weave them into my posts over the next year.  That will also let me send you directly to copies of the actual talks themselves once they are posted.  But I can still give you some of the most interesting highlights.

For the society and conference itself it's obvious everything is on the right track.  With over 3000 members worldwide joining since last year it's clear people are lining up with support.  And with the marked increase in quality, and quantity, of sessions since the 2012 PPSR conference it's clear how much the field has grown. All very reassuring signs.

From my own perspective the opportunity to continue my own research on partnering citizen science with for-profit businesses was incredible.  I discovered people already attempting some types of the partnerships I've been proposing, others engaged in great conversations on their positive and negative experiences with for-profit businesses, and many looking for my help in applying those principles to their own projects.  That leaves me with ton of great material to sort through as we identify more opportunities for citizen science and for-profit businesses to help each other.

Finally, during CitSci2015 and the ensuing AAAS conference I re-learned one of the most important lessons of citizen science...that an everyday person can participate and be welcomed at this highest levels of science.  From seminars on broadcasting to ET by the top names in astronomy, and updates from leaders of the CERN Large Hadron Collider, I never felt that I couldn't understand or have a reasonable opinion on the topics discussed.  And that's a lesson I hope everyone reading this blog takes away from it.

So let's carry forward the conference charge until the next one in 2017.  Hopefully I'll see you there, but there's a lot of great work to do beforehand!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Poster on Citizen Science Business Models

On Wednesday afternoon I will be presenting a poster on "Business Models that Support, and Benefit from, the Work of Citizen Scientists.  I've been working on this for months now and documented much of that journey on this web site.  But I've not pulled everything together publicly until now.  Of course, while this proposes some overall models there is still a LOT of work to build this out and a lot of advice on making these ideas work.  You'll see much more of that in the months to come.

Below is an abstract of the poster though you can see the whole thing online here.  You can also find all poster descriptions on the conference web site.

Title: For Love and Money: Business Models that Support, and Benefit From, the Work of Citizen Scientists

Description: As citizen science continues to grow as a field, and as open innovation concepts gain traction in the business world, researchers have begun demonstrating  the economic value citizen scientists can offer.  This includes helping companies innovate new products and helping both non-profit and for-profit organizations reduce the cost of research.  But there are many opportunities still untapped for citizen scientists to be financially rewarded for their work.  This poster attempts to identify these opportunities in ways that 1) increase opportunities for citizen scientists to profit from their work, 2) encourage companies to develop products that support (and can be sold to) citizen scientists, and 3) help companies benefit from the work performed by citizen scientists.  To meet this goal I have reviewed 1) citizen science projects fully or partially supported through crowdfunding campaigns, and 2) citizen science activities that previously have been or reasonably could be supported by private firms on projects in high-technology industries.  From those I have developed a series of proposed business models citizen scientists can use that provide value to others, and can be used to support future citizen science work. All to support future research on how to best implement each proposed model.

Finally, on Thursday there will be a series of "Open Format" sessions for people to discuss topics informally and of their own choosing.  I've proposed one titled "What Opportunities Exist for Citizen Scientists to work with for-profit businesses".  If you have thoughts on this proposal, want to vote for it as a topic, or have your own topic to propose, check out the Padlet site at

See you soon!

Friday, February 6, 2015

Let's Talk Business at the 2015 Citizen Science Conference

It's almost here.  Next week the 2015 Citizen Science Conference begins in San Jose, California.  It will be a busy couple of days discovering the wide variety of citizen science available and learning directly from one another. All to help each other grow in the field we love.

Will I see you there?

One of my main goals is talking about how citizen science and the for-profit sector can meet, helping citizen scientists get rewarded for their work and how that can help the whole field expand.  That's the main theme of my poster "For Love and Money: Business Models that Support, and Benefit from, the Work of Citizen Scientists" which I will be showcasing at the conference and posting here as well.  I want to get this conversation started so people can let their ideas,and talents, flourish.

So please stop by during the poster session Wednesday afternoon to share your thoughts.  Or, if you'd like to chat more in depth, let me know beforehand ( and we can set up a time to meet.  I'll even be staying afterwards for the AAAS conference that follows.  We can always find time.

This is the start of a great conversation but it's certainly not the last.  I'm hoping to gather as much information as possible next week to continue exploring the topic.  There are so many different ways citizen scientists can be rewarded financially for their work, and so many lessons learned from other industries, that it can't possibly be contained in just one poster.  Just talking about entrepreneurship can fill up a book (or books), much less the many other models.  Thus the need to continue talking well after the conference.

That's my commitment to you.  Come by and lend me your ideas at the conference next week, and I'll keep sending you mine throughout the rest of the year.  Sound fair?

See you there!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Vaccines, Climate Change, and the Role of Citizen Science

The role of science in politics and the popular culture is often messy. From Galileo claiming the Earth revolves around the sun to Darwin proposing evolutionary theory, the public is not always quick to accept scientific advances.  This continues today.  In a recent poll the Pew Research Center noted that only 50% of the public believes humanity is causing climate change as compared to 87% of scientists.  The same is true for vaccines,  where 68% of the public believes they should be required compared to 87% of scientists.   This plays out in my own life when debating friends on social media about the importance of stopping measles and encouraging childhood vaccination.  During these conversations I often wish people would just accept the word of scientists and believe what we tell them.  But how do I say that as a citizen scientist?

The problem is that whenever I talk about citizen science, in this blog or elsewhere, I talk about how everyday people can become researchers themselves and stand as equals with full-time, professional scientists.  There is too much data available in the public domain, too many powerful tools available, and too many unanswered questions to discourage the public's participation in scientific research.  This includes global climate data and numerous articles on the relative safety/efficacy of vaccines that are free and publicly available. These are open to interpretation and debate, as are all scientific data and papers. Why can't citizen scientists join that debate too?

To me it all comes down to a simple rule for citizen scientists -- research with a humble confidence.  I touted this idea last year after the Boston Marathon manhunt (which publicly fingered the wrong people) and think it still applies.  Citizen scientists should boldly address and tackle the big issues of the day and let the world know about it.  But they should also realize they may be wrong.

There is a concept that "Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" which fully applies here.  If you have evidence that the earth is actually cooling, that vaccines cause autism, or that the moon landing was faked, as scientists we are obliged to hear you out.  But you must back it up.  If you try to upend the work of thousands of independent researchers who have studied over the same question you are, but over a much longer period of time, you better have your facts straight.  And you can't just come up with one or two minor points to justify throwing out an entire scientific paradigm.  You need proof.

Citizen scientists also need to understand that there is a difference between research and advocacy.  It is one thing to perform one's own investigations and debate the merits of various pieces of evidence.  This is how science works.  But we should not then go straight into telling people to stop listening to doctors or ignore medical consensus based just on your own opinion.  Instead publish your thoughts (either formally or informally) and open it up for comments.  Let people review your evidence and let them challenge it.  You may quickly find you were very wrong, or missed some very important points.  Or the evidence may not be as clear-cut as you initially sensed.

Just like the regular scientific world you must put your opinions up for "peer review".  I've done that here on my own blog.  As a silly but relevant example, I've had a long-standing hypothesis that the longest film nominated for the Best Editing Oscar each year is much more likely to win than the others, and that the longer (and less edited) a film is the more likely it is to win.  I made my predictions and published them.  Then the next two Oscar telecasts came through and my forecasts were incorrect.  I was wrong.  But I researched with a humble confidence, and accepted when my hypothesis didn't hold up.

Finally, always recognize the ramifications of your actions.  It is one thing for me to argue about the Best Editing Oscar and make predictions.  If I am wrong nobody is hurt.  Or even to write about bird migrations or asteroid sightings.  Put your opinion out there and let it be judged.  But if you are making medical claims or recommendations, you can cause very real harm to the people who hear you.  That doesn't mean you are wrong or that you should not speak up.  It just means you need a highly compelling case before you do.  Even then, are you really the best person to make that recommendation?  Instead, try using your evidence to convince the medical establishment and if your case is strong enough, they can make the recommendation for you.  Mind your ethics and don't play around with people's lives.

In all of these cases citizen scientists are still doing research and should remain confident in their findings.  But they must also remain humble, letting other people review the work and not taking lightly the impact of their thoughts on people's lives or property.

Citizen scientists have so much to offer in assisting research, and can have an important role in challenging existing theories. We just need to be careful.

P.S.  As always, the thoughts above are my own and do not reflect the views of any other organization or government agency.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Industry Niches for Citizen Science - Part 2

Our analysis continues of industry niches ripe for citizen science involvement.  Now that we've identified a series of high technology industries (here) and the types of activities they are involved in (here), we can look at how citizen scientists can support them and get rewarded for their efforts.  All to everyone's mutual benefit.

Obviously there are countless ways high-tech firms could potentially benefit from the work of citizen scientists, most of which have been neither identified or explored.  But the few examples that exist can be highlighted and grouped into a few distinct activities.  This is especially for the large number of manufacturing and IT firms in the list of high technology industries.

In putting this together an interesting phenomenon surfaced. For most categories I found at least one non-profit or for-profit firm already working to organize citizen scientists in these areas.  So where applicable those are described as well.

For now I can't/won't say too much about their relative merits or success.  Some may just be startups, they may not be profitable yet, and they may not be the best way to do things. Or they may be hitting home runs. It's too early to tell. The most important thing is they offer potential case studies to learn from.  Though they also help show businesses can be formed around citizen science, and that banks or venture capital firms can see its not a complete risk.  There is a lot more that can be said about this but that is much better held until later in the Spring or even Summer.  In the meantime we still have lots of work to do.

Below is a list of some opportunities I see for citizen scientists wishing to interact with for-profit firms and share in the rewards.  I've pulled as much of these ideas possible from real-world examples, and from opportunities that don't require any large leaps.   These are (presumably) straightforward groupings based on the type of activity the citizen scientist is performing.  Because that is our ultimate goal, providing a reward model that is based around a citizen scientist's activities so they can be applied to for-profit and non-profit firms.
  • Software Coding -  Nine of the top twelve high technology industries involve direct software development as their primary product/service, or they are computer-based industries that strongly rely on software coding for their success.  This can be either a group or team effort, and if the work is divided up through proper project management techniques, coding can be handled by citizen scientists outside an actual firm.  The Open-Source computing community has shown the ability of diverse, unconnected individuals to team up and create powerful products (such as the Firefox browser).  Individuals can create their own projects or join projects created and sponsored by private firms who need the public assistance.  Various firms and platforms have sprouted to promote this type of work with GitHub as one of the most famous.
  • Product Creation - Eleven of the top twenty high technology industries involve manufacturing and ultimately the creation of physical products. But just because you may need a large firm to manufacture a product does not mean you need the same infrastructure to invent or design it.  This could be handled by citizen scientists that provide the initial idea for a company, and that firm takes ownership, markets, and mass produces it.  Proceeds are then split between the firm and the product creators.  We already see this model forming through the Innocentive Challenge web site, where companies post product design problems or market needs they can't fulfill, ask the public to offer solutions, and then financially reward the "Solver" that submitted the best idea.
  • Consulting Typically the term "consulting" implies firms bringing in outside experts to offer advice and direction in a specialized area.  This can include advice on an area outside of the companies focus (e.g., a chemist advising on a specific reaction of interest to a pharmaceutical firm) or to perform a project for a defined length of time (e.g., an IT consultant upgrading computer systems of a chemical firm).  In some ways we already see examples of both types in existing platforms such as IdeaConnection.  Differing from Innocentive which opens projects to the public, IdeaConnection develops a list of "experts" in each field and can bring them together to work on a specific project for a specific client.  In essence creating ad-hoc consulting teams from their roster of traditional experts and (conceivably) citizen scientists.
  • Writing/Publishing - For every high technology field there are groups of people interested in following that field or learning more about the science behind it. Or just writing about it.  This writing can describe new products under development, promote scientific or occupational opportunities, or explore emerging trends.  It can also be sponsored directly by a company (for advertising or marketing purposes), written independently by a citizen scientist and sold to the public, or written for citizen scientists wanting to stay abreast of their field.  The Citizen Science Quarterly was one example of this though others continue to be formed.
  • Environmental Monitoring and Remediation: Only one of the high technology fields we've been discussing is directly involved with environmental issues (Forestry).  But twelve of the top 26 high-technology industries, especially those with a manufacturing focus, must seriously deal with environmental issues and can incur significant costs if those issues are ignored.  This includes citizen scientists performing environmental impact studies, or firms organizing citizen scientists for those studies. It also includes people analyzing waste streams from firms to help them reduce pollution or turn the waste into useful products. Or, in certain circumstances, citizen scientists can help law firms investigating and litigating polluters. Citizen scientists are already well-established in researching environmental concerns and are well-positioned to take on a larger role.  This is one area where I have not yet seen a for-profit example, but either I'm just missing them or they will soon be appearing.  The potential value (monetary and non-monetary) just seems to great to be ignored.
One important assumption I make in these proposals is that it is not just one person acting as a citizen scientist, but a team of citizen scientists acting together.  Not everyone needs to be a solo entrepreneur. There is also a large need for people to organize or manage these citizen scientists, or set up systems that let those people manage themselves. So we don't just have first-order, direct interaction of citizen science firms with the high tech industries, but also second-order,  indirect connections of firms that support the citizen science work regardless of industry.

We will talk more about those opportunities in the next post. But in the meantime lets talk in the comments about you'r thoughts to these ideas.