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Citizen Science Projects in Greece

The fourth article in our 'CS landscape series' looks at Citizen Science projects in Greece. The analysis is based on a critical review of 20 initiatives that were or are still running in the country. Interested readers can download the dataset developed during the mapping process where all Greek initiatives are presented and analysed in greater detail. For methodology and limitations of the research undertaken, please refer to the foundational article.


The Greek sample includes a small primary cluster (just three air related projects) and a large presence of biodiversity related projects in the secondary one. Air pollution isn’t the only pollution type that was monitored in Greece with the help of Citizen Science (CS). We found several initiatives focusing on waste, odour, and water pollution, most of them EU-funded. As in other country samples, we found several initiatives from fields other than natural sciences (humanities and arts). One initiative is similar, in a way, to Germany’s Burger Schaffen Wissen and Belgium’s Scivil in that it has the hallmarks of a ‘supporter’ i.e. it’s a project that aims to facilitate the spread of CS in Greece, targeting universities as early adopters. Finally, given Greece’s susceptibility to earthquakes, we found one initiative that uniquely addresses this challenge, by working with schools to monitor seismic activity. An overview of the Greek sample is presented below.



General overview

Greece has no portals akin to Belgium's Iedereen Wetenschapper (“Everyone Scientists”) where one can easily find a vast collection of finished or ongoing CS projects under one roof. True, international platforms like EU-Citizen.Science and Cit-Sci-X do list some projects for Greece, however information they provide is often incomplete (e.g. only five projects on EU-Citizen.Science) and, in the case of Cit-Sci-X, some of the listed projects have dubious links to Greece and CS in general, upon closer examination. The fact that no similar reviews were undertaken in the past makes estimating the size of the Greek CS landscape all the more difficult. Using a very conservative estimate, we think this sample represents a 50-60% share of the total, based on the number and quality of results that each new query yielded toward the end of horizon scanning. Basically, we found more projects than are included in the sample, but because it wasn’t immediately clear whether and how these relate to CS, and because there was little time for additional reviews, we decided to cap the Greek sample at 20.


Even with this relatively small number, we believe we managed to capture some interesting characteristics of the Greek CS landscape. We noticed that many Greek CS projects are actually pilots of EU projects. In fact, EU funding is present in all fields covered by the sample, from air quality and biodiversity monitoring, to humanities and art. That said, the Greek landscape is not without domestic initiatives, with some interesting examples observed at both local and national levels. Like other countries, Greece is not impervious to international CS initiatives, whose presence is especially strong in the field of environmental and biodiversity monitoring. Finally, there is one project that resembles German and Belgian ‘supporters’ in that it tries to facilitate CS growth and adoption in Greece. But whereas Burger Schaffen Wissen and Scivil focus on the whole landscape, the INCENTIVE project in Greece focuses on institutions (universities) as a starting point for this transformation. Another difference is that INCENTIVE is funded by the EU. We will present INCENTIVE after describing a couple of projects from other categories. After this, we’ll explore our sample in more detail by examining key themes related to stakeholder engagement, data collection, and impact.


EU-funded projects

Out of three projects in the primary cluster, two are European (H2020): hackAIR and Cos4Cloud. hackAIR had pilots in Berlin, Brussels and Athens where, through the Greek partner DRAXIS, hackAIR cooperated with some schools and communities of citizens that wished to be engaged in CS and use the platform for their own purposes. The Kantas School gave DRAXIS access to their two webcams that were placed in their schoolyard facing the sky. These webcams were integrated in the hackAIR platform to provide estimations of the local air pollution levels. Teachers together with students built a Home v1 hackAIR sensor, placed it in the schoolyard and were constantly checking their readings through the hackAIR platform. In total, 12 sensors were installed in Athens.


Cos4Cloud is an ongoing project with pilot activities in several cities. In Greece, the project developed a training course to help teachers use CS for environmental and sustainability education in schools. As part of the course, participants had to create educational scenarios for integrating CS in specific school-based contexts. These scenarios were essentially concrete plans on the basis of which teachers engaged students in CS, including air monitoring. In one of the schools, air monitoring emerged as a follow-up activity after reading a literary text about urban odours in 19th century Athens. A total of 34 students from two schools[1] measured air quality using the OdourCollect app.


International projects

There are quite a few international projects present in Greece. One of them is GLOBE that brings together 23000 schools worldwide. Students can collect data, exchange experiences and observations, and learn to understand the complex changes on earth in cooperation with peers. In Greece, the GLOBE community includes the Athens University, National Observatory of Athens, Foundation for Technological Research, Technical University of Crete, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Culture, meteo.gr, Corallia incubator, as well as many individual professors, researchers and 33 schools from across the country.


iNaturalist is a social network of naturalists, citizen scientists and biologists with approximately 2.5 million registered users. It acts as a platform for science and conservation efforts, providing valuable open data to research projects, land managers, and public organisations, among others. iNaturalist GR is managed by the Goulandris Museum of Natural History, and iSea, a marine NGO. As part of the initiative, some 7480 observers and 5778 identifiers have submitted and categorised thousands of species from Greece's flora and fauna.


Domestic projects

By domestic projects we mean projects that were initiated, managed and funded, in whole or in part, by the Greek organisations. One such example is URwatair. A consortium of two research teams and an NGO, URwatair involved citizens in the monitoring of air pollution and rainwater flooding incidents in Thessaloniki (hence the duality in the title). As regards air, the aim was to measure PM10 levels related to indoor and outdoor activities e.g. cooking, building. Measurements took place in summer, late autumn/early winter, and spring. Thanks to this, the project was able to get a fairly representative picture of the city’s pollution profile. In total, over 80 measurement sessions were conducted, each lasting two weeks.


A domestic project operating on a national scale is Alientoma. The project appears to be managed by Greek researchers and has no formal structure. It aims to create a dynamic database of invasive alien species (IAS) by involving citizen scientists who can participate by submitting IAS records through the website. By sharing data on IAS with scientists and policy makers, the project helps mitigate adverse impacts of their presence e.g. economic burden, biodiversity loss, disturbance to ecosystem functioning.


Supporting initiatives

In this category we just have one project INCENTIVE. We placed it here because of its potential to nurture, grow and expand CS in Greece, evolving its relatively modest current landscape into a buoyant ecosystem with hundreds of projects and opportunities for experienced CS professionals as well as those new to the field. For INCENTIVE, the catalyst of this change is institutional transformation at the level of scientific institutions. In Greece, INCENTIVE is piloted by the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (AUTh) within the H2020 framework.[2] The goal is to turn AUTh into a fully-fledged CS hub that can mobilise communities to co-produce new knowledge with high scientific and societal relevance. INCENTIVE’s timeline is 2021-2024, so it’s too early for any substantial results. AUTh’s planned activities for this period include partnerships, education and equal participation in the areas of climate action, inequality, growth and sustainable development. Once CS activities start, citizens may participate as sensors, data collectors and data analysts. Eventually, the benefits of CS activities will transcend the boundaries of institutions involved, delivering substantial gains to all stakeholders in the quadruple helix model. INCENTIVE can be thought of as a supporter-cum-enabler, a kind of project that can help countries increase their CS maturity, acting as a first step on a transition course to a more advanced CS landscape. So, INCENTIVE’s results are definitely worth following, not least to see if this hypothesis has any merit.


Primary cluster

Stakeholder engagement

Two out of three projects in this cluster worked with school children on CS experiments. The hackAIR’s pilot in Athens cooperated with Kantas School, which provided access to their webcams located in the schoolyard. Footage from these devices was sent to the hackAIR platform to estimate local air pollution levels. In addition, teachers and students built 12 SDS011 based sensors that were then placed in and around schools and continuously uploaded data to the platform.


In Cos4Cloud, the framework for working with schools was guided by a CS course titled ‘Citizen Science and Environmental Education for Sustainability’. The course took the form of a webinar organised by the Environmental Education Lab of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, with the goal of introducing CS into the Greek school curriculum. As part of the course, participants, which included 11 teachers, developed educational scenarios that then had to be implemented during the school year. Some of these scenarios were related to air quality and subsequently implemented in two schools in Athens. Interestingly, air quality was understood in terms of odour pollution, so measurements were taken using the OdourCollect app developed by the DNOSES project. Eventually, 34 students took part in CS activities.


In the URwatair project, the focus was mainly on indoor air pollution. Concentrations of PM2.5 and PM10 were measured in different flats of the building using three low-cost sensors: Sensebox home, Dylos Logger, and AirVisual Pro. It’s not entirely clear who the participants were and how they were recruited, but volunteers had to keep a diary of measurements and everyday activities like cooking and ventilation. Measurements were made in summer, late autumn/early winter. In total, 80 measurement sessions took place during the project, each lasting two weeks. At the end, participants provided feedback via questionnaire and received research findings in the form of a best-practices booklet. Basically, the document was a collection of recommendations for improving indoor air quality.


Since hackAIR and Cos4Cloud worked with school children, assuming that some of them were from a migrant background and/or low-income households, it’s possible that these projects managed to engage people from hard-to-reach groups during CS experiments. This information wasn’t acknowledged by projects themselves though. As regards other members of the urban value chain, based on the type of partners involved, all three projects appear to have achieved the triple helix model (as represented by government, education sector and civil society), with industry usually missing from the mix. It appears that no project in this small cluster used ECSA’s 10 principles to guide their activities, even though some of them may have been followed in practice e.g. principle one: involve citizens as contributors, collaborators or a project leader in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge.


Data collection and analysis

hackAIR and URwatair measured particulate matter (PM2.5, PM10). But whereas hackAIR used a DIY sensor based on SDS011 components, URwatair used three different sensors, one of which was DIY, while two others were low-cost commercial solutions: Dylos Logger and AirVisualPro. Cos4Cloud measured a different kind of air pollution: odour nuisance. This was done using the OdourCollect app where participants can report smells based on where and how they perceive them (e.g. pleasant, unpleasant), as well as the source e.g. waste, industrial activity. We couldn’t find the results of Cos4Cloud experiments on their website. URwatair had a website which is now inaccessible, but fortunately the project’s overall approach and findings are available on Researchgate as a slide deck. Finally, hackAIR’s data is available on the main platform, though it’s not easy to separate CS data submitted by schools from CS submitted by other citizens.


Impact

While trying to assess technical impact, we found little evidence that the three projects really advanced state-of-the-art in some way. The projects used sensors by commercial providers (Dylos Logger, AirVisualPro) and, when a DIY sensor was used, the kit was too similar to an already existing solution e.g. Sensor.Community. In the case of Cos4Cloud, odour nuisance was used as a proxy for bad air quality, which was measured by an app from another EU project.


Impact-wise, projects had more success in trying to influence behavioural change, at least one of them. hackAIR, for example, motivated young people to initiate a follow-up action as a result of CS experience. Specifically, students at the Kantas School applied for funding under the Young Entrepreneurship Contest in Greece with an idea based on the hackAIR platform and its social benefits. The impact of Cos4Cloud was less significant, resulting in more interaction but not necessarily behavioural change. (The project reports that CS experiments using OdourCollect app promoted a lively discussion among students about odours in Athens and how they fit into the overall air pollution profile of the city.) The impact of URwatair was less evident still. The project had clear plans to induce behavioural change by using CS results to stress which activities have significant impact on indoor pollution (e.g. smoking indoors, ventilation during traffic congestion) and should therefore be avoided. But because now impact assessment was carried out after the exercise, we don’t know how participants were affected by CS and its results, if at all.


Finally, two projects that had an impact, however weak, on policy are hackAIR and Cos4Cloud. In both cases, the impact concerns education policy and is limited to an expression of interest. In the case of hackAIR, it was an interest expressed by a school’s director to include the assembly of hackAIR sensing devices in the school’s curriculum. In the case of Cos4Cloud, an interest expressed by course participants (teachers, education officials) to implement developed educational scenarios as part of the school curriculum.


Secondary cluster

Highlights from other projects

What immediately stands out in this cluster is the high volume of volunteers working on biodiversity projects. Some of these are Greek chapters of international initiatives e.g. iNaturalist GR (13.258 volunteers), eBird GR (2750). Some are national initiatives that create their own space within an international platform to publish observations. For instance, Hellenic Fauna CS Project (10.124), Biodiversity GR (8977) and "Is it Alien to you...Share it!" (1403) all have a sub-platform on iNaturalist where they share results.


Given their sheer scale, it’s possible that some of these projects involved people from LSE groups. In addition, projects that worked with schools e.g. Hackquake (100 schools), GLOBE (33 schools) might also have engaged students from this category. But it’s only INCENTIVE that openly acknowledged targeting hard-to-reach groups as a matter of priority. In one of its reports, the project explains who exactly it aims to target: minorities, elderly, disabled and LGBTQ.


INCENTIVE and Waste4Think are two projects with a clear focus on engaging stakeholders under the quadruple helix framework. Other projects achieved double or triple helix at best. A triple helix achiever that actually impressed us is Scent, a finished project about land use. Out of 511 participants that took part in its CS activities, 62.6% were private, 16.4% public, 16.4% students, and 4.6% from the ‘other’ category. Even if it’s just triple helix, such breakdown really helps to visualise the scale of contribution of different social groups, and this presentation style is way more convincing than a simple reference to the triple/quadruple helix concept or its different constituent parts.


This cluster is no different than the primary when it comes to ECSA’s 10 principles. None of the projects acknowledged following the guidelines though some clearly did so if not in name. DNOSES said that in addition to monitoring, participants were able to define the problem, co-design methodologies and tools that enabled them to own, share and act on the results. INCENTIVE, with its strong focus on RRI, probably falls in this category too.


All projects provide some kind of guidance to aid data collection in the form of online courses, protocols, FAQs, group forums, and workshops, including physical workshops, though the latter appear to be used more frequently by projects that rely heavily on an in-person demonstration e.g. Hackquake (assembly of seismographs), Wreck History (diving).


Data collection tools vary depending on the project and field of investigation. Those that monitor biodiversity tend to use apps to capture and document species. An exception is Alientoma that provides only a website form to users. Some projects use special equipment to capture data on earthquakes (seismographs) and underwater wreck sites (diving equipment). In the case of Scent, their discovery app awards points to users whenever they find a small water creature. A gamification element is also observed in many biodiversity related projects, many of which have leaderboards that rank people according to the number of observations they submit, the number of species they find, et cetera. Gamification can be a great way to promote competitive spirit among citizen scientists. One of the risks, however, is that people may be inclined to cheat to get to the top. So, some means of verification and anti-cheating measures should be put in place to ensure a level playing field.


When it comes to results presentation, we noticed the popularity of international platforms, in particular iNaturalist, among several biodiversity related projects. It seems that iNaturalst has become to biodiversity projects what Sensor.Community has become to many air related ones i.e. a go-to dissemination platform. That said, many projects avoided third-party apps, preferring to use their own tools (websites) instead. Examples are DNOSES, Wreck History, Alientoma.


In terms of technical impact, projects that drew our attention are those that:

  • Adapted international standards to suit their needs: In developing its OdourCollect app, DNOSES built on the European standard CEN 16841. Although the standard defines a strict methodology for measuring odours (e.g. only during certain times, in specific areas, by certified people), DNOSES adapted the methodology to gather real-time data on odour perception anywhere, anytime, by any citizen.

  • Published their observations as open datasets: Biodiversity GR published raw datasets for the period 1992-2021 as open data for personal use, publication in the media, use in scientific studies etc.

  • Improved existing services and databases: Scent extended GEOSS and Copernicus repositories through frequent updates of local monitoring of land-use changes using the Scent Toolbox.


When examining projects for behavioural change, we found many statements that appeared more as ambitions and project objectives, rather than actual impact established through some form of impact assessment e.g. people will think positively about oceans and will become sustainable ocean advocates (CrabWatch), people will obtain the mentality of waste sorting at source (Waste4Think), people will be more inclined to preserve biodiversity and wildlife (Biodiversity GR). Whether these impacts actually materialised is hard to tell. We couldn’t find any evidence in the form of surveys or interviews to substantiate these claims, except for GROW. An evaluation revealed that GROW has helped some people to learn about and test regenerative food growing techniques. In support of this, two testimonials were provided: "Through GROW I am able to combine soil moisture and soil temperature data in order to better control pests in my family’s organic olive grove, for better adaptation to climate change.” And the second one: “Taking part in the Changing Climate mission has allowed me to understand the levels of humidity across my vineyard. I was hence able to adapt the irrigation regime and closely monitor the use of water in the vineyard. Growing can be lonely, but GROW Place Greece has enabled me to connect with other GROWers, exchange know-how and take collective action at local-level."

Claims about policy impact could not be substantiated for most of the projects. Still, we will provide some examples to give an idea of what policies may be influenced, how, and by whom in the secondary cluster.

  • Emergency planning: by creating a network of 100 seismographs that can help improve preparedness for and response to earthquakes (Hackquake)

  • Marine policy: by establishing a scheme to record and report crab distribution, including new crab arrivals (CrabWatch)

  • United Nations Environment Programme: by monitoring the occurrence and distribution of the world’s reptiles and amphibian species (iNaturalist GR)

  • Education policy: by introducing new technologies and integrating urban science into school curriculum (GLOBE)

  • Conservation policy: by providing bird data for habitat management, species management and habitat protection (eBird GR)


Conclusion

The 20-strong Greek sample includes many EU projects. In fact, EU funding is present in all fields covered by the sample, from air quality and biodiversity monitoring, to humanities and art. That said, the Greek landscape is not without domestic initiatives, with some interesting examples observed at both local and national levels. Like other countries, Greece is not impervious to international CS initiatives, whose presence is especially strong in the field of environmental and biodiversity monitoring. We found one project with the hallmarks of a ‘supporter.’ But whereas German and Belgian counterparts focus on the whole landscape, this one targets universities as a starting point for CS transformation. Engagement tactics used by air projects involved some close-knit cooperation between CS projects and stakeholders. The latter benefited from training, sometimes in the form of an online course, designed to improve their capacity not just to build sensors but also develop CS scenarios for integration into institutional structures (e.g. education curriculum) to achieve a more lasting impact. Although many CS projects worked with schools, only hackAIR provides a glimpse of behavioural change stimulated by CS, as one participating school reported increased motivation among students to use CS experience as a springboard for new activities e.g. entrepreneurship.


References

[1] Junior High School of Krestena, Senior High School of Metamorfosi [2] The other three pilot institutions are Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, University of Twente, and Vilnius Tech

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