What is the role for citizen science in a Big Data Revolution?

By Katrin Glatzel

One of the recommendations of the new Montpellier Panel report ‘No Ordinary Matter: Conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils’ suggests that a Big Data Revolution is needed to fill the huge gaps in data availability, especially in Africa. Regularly updated data on soil types, locations, qualities and degradation ought to be significantly enhanced and the information made available in a timely manner to allow for the targeted and selective use of inputs. Getting this data, however, is not an easy task and would require scores of researchers and public sector funding – and time. The use of advanced remote-sensing systems, dense networks of local weather information and citizen science can help to provide this information.

Citizen science, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary (2014) as the “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions” is one way to generate scientific data on a much broader spatial and temporal scale. While there are concerns about the quality of data derived through non-experts, monitoring and evaluation processes, targeted training programmes, verification tools, as well as  novel data analysis techniques,  to name but a few, can help to improve the quality and flow of data.

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