With the advent of digital and mobile technologies scientific knowledge production has changed profoundly. As interactive, affordable, networked and ubiquitous technologies they invite people to engage with, alter and probe scientific ‘facts’. Play is essential to think about this new kind of engagement with science. It offers citizens powerful ways to become involved with and knowledgeable about scientific practices and offers subversive and exciting possibilities to actively contribute to and transform them.  During this conference we therefore want to look at current citizen science developments through the lens of play. We will explore how the playful potential of digital media and cultures strengthen citizen’s scientific engagement and knowledge about their environment; and how the relationship between professional and laymen knowledge production is shifting through the ludic use of digital technologies.

About day 1-2: working conference at Utrecht University

De Andrade e Silva, Suen, De Lange, Michiel, Lammes, Sybille, Glas, René, Raessens, Joost (2012) The Citizen Scientist on the Move: Digital Play, Politics and Epistemology. Conference organized by Utrecht  University, Waag Society and 7Scenes, Utrecht & Amsterdam, 25 – 27 June 2012.

Scientific practices are rapidly losing their status as a distinct realm of expertise aloof from the mundane daily life of citizens. Everyday culture is infused with technologies that inspire citizens in overcoming such asymmetries. Cheap embeddable sensors, portable wireless communications and computation technologies, paired with crowdsourcing, networking and co-creation principles from online culture, all leverage citizen’s involvement in gathering, visualizing, disseminating and producing data, information and other forms of knowledge. Play is a key feature in such endeavours. Be it the digital mapping of environments through spatial stories, scientific puzzle solving, simulating environmental hazards, or building DIY applications and games to investigate environmental and political issues: play increasingly challenges citizens to engage with science, both as individuals and as communities,
The event “The Citizen Scientist on the Move: Digital Play, Politics and Epistemology” therefore approaches the role of digital media technologies in knowledge production and sharing through a ludic lens. We want to investigate the contemporary synergetic relationships between developments in citizen science and what we call the ludification of culture. What can the play perspective offer to our understanding of citizen science?
During this conference we will approach this question through three theoretical entry-points that are pivotal when engaging with the notion of citizen science through a ludic perspective:

1. Philosophy How does knowledge sharing and production, as well as the meaning of knowledge itself, shift through the use of digital media technologies? To what extent is play is a useful concept to rethink epistemological meanings in the digital age?
2. Digital play How can games and other playful digital media be designed and used in ways that stimulate learning and citizen engagement? How can ludological theories and concepts shed light on new ways of learning and knowledge engagement? How can principles from game theory and design be translated to non-gaming processes and learning environments?
3. Politics How can new collectives, or ‘networked publics’, be involved in ludic knowledge production? How can individuals and collectives be empowered by these developments? How is knowledge legitimized? How do relations between professionals or institutions, and amateurs or laymen change and become less asymmetrical through play?

First, we examine the ludification of knowledge production from an epistemological angle. The ambiguity of play (Sutton-Smith 1997) foregrounds philosophical questions about the status of scientific knowledge, how it is produced, and which stakeholders are involved in its production. It muddles up the image of scientific practices as producing cold and rational ‘facts’ (Latour 1991). Play underlines the messiness of scientific knowledge production and, most importantly, emphasizes that playfulness is a substantial part of knowledge creation and dissemination from the very beginning.
In this digital era we are witnessing a ludification of culture that offers new ways to make this hidden face of knowledge more discernible outside it traditional bastions of production. Although play has always been a key element of many cultural practices (Huizinga 1938, Callois 1958) it has now imbued with ‘serious’ domains to a far greater extent. Pivotal to the ludic shift is that play is no longer seen as antithetical to serious daily activities but acknowledged as a constitutive and intrinsic part of culture, social relations, work, identity, and indeed science and technology. Finding a major impetus in the artistic and political countercultures of the 1960s, we now live in a networked and digitalized culture where distinctions between play, work, fiction and fact are even harder to maintain. While some see this in terms of an infantilization (Barber 2007, Baumann 2007), others speak about the ludification (Frissen et al, 2011, Raessens 2006) or gamification (McGonical 2008) of post-capitalist culture (Dibbel 2006, Rifkin 2000). This ludic shift also has consequences for how science is ‘done’ and perceived and how it has become more approachable for citizens. The capacity of scientific practices to reveal their risky, playful and messy sides has thus increased considerably (November et al. 2010). Huizinga’s Homo Ludens reworks itself to a next level in the digital age where citizen and science become less separate through the use of play.

Digital play
A second entry point this conference uses for understanding citizen science concentrates on the digital’ tools’ that can be used for making and understanding citizen science projects, more specifically games and other playful technologies (such as social networks). From a practical perspective play is a well-known design principle used to engage people in collective action (Bogost, 2007, 2011; Flanagan 2009; McGonigal, 2011). This ranges from the uses of (serious) games in actual co-design, game elements that persuade citizens to help solve issues in their environment, games that stimulate playful serendipitous encounters with other people and places, to artistic uses of play as a way to strengthen people’s sense of place and feelings of ownership over specific issues. Many of such digital tools allow players to experiment with strategies and tactics for collective action with uncertain outcomes in a relatively safe setting. Play thus can be a fun way to seriously practice the solving of complex problems. The triadic nature of games as a set of constitutive rules, a material setting and executed action provides an excellent conceptual basis for designing citizen engagement in scientific knowledge production. It highlights that players are active participants rather than end-users and that they are therefore co-producers and co-authors of scientific knowledge. This strand of the conference focuses on how such playful tools can invite citizens to experiment with and contribute to scientific knowledge production.

A third important perspective for understanding the potentials of citizen science is that of politics. In the context of citizen science and play, politics should be conceived as a formative principle of what might be called ‘ludic participatory citizenship’. Here we concentrate on how, in the age of “casual politicking” (Gekker 2012), political and ideological dimensions of knowledge production can be approached from a ludic perspective. What makes a ludic approach of politics so fruitful is that it offers a way out of some very fundamental tensions in today’s political landscape, like engagement and detachment, and belief and skepticism. Play negates two old and stubborn ideals of citizenship. On the one hand there is the traditionalist view of tight-knit communities rooted in geographical localness, proximate social relations and shared mental values. On the other hand there is the control-and-order rationality of modern society with its uneasy embrace of scientific knowledge and power, its hierarchies, institutions, and clear-cut divisions of labor and social roles (like the expert versus the amateur). Play then seems particularly suited to engage people with forming collectives or networks clustered around shared ‘issues of concern’ (Latour 2005), and may indeed contribute to a renewed type of citizenship in today’s post-traditionalist and networked urban society.


About day 3: public event at Waag Society

During the public program of day 3 we will explore an alternative approach to innovation and research with practice as its main basis. This day will be about doing citizen science, both in the sense of showing best practices of citizen science as in the sense of bringing the audience literally in touch with it through hands-on experiments and show cases. Citizen Science in now looked at as a platform with tools and supportive actions that facilitate citizens to connect and have meaningful encounters with science and scientific research.

After a series of short keynote sessions on Citizen Science theory and practice, the participants are invited to a Sensorium. At the sensorium participants will design location-based sensor tools for mapping the natural environment in the city. Participants create physical maps of the city by collecting data with mobile sensor kits. The collected data are interpreted and visualized on paper-based maps. The results, the sensor maps, will be scanned and uploaded with a custom mapping application, developed by 7Scenes. With this application it is then possible to navigate on a digital representation of the created maps on 7Scenes location based platform with smart phones.

This hands-on approach is an example of Citizen Science in practice. By collecting, monitoring, sharing various ‘scientific’ data, citizens make sense of the natural environment in their everyday lives and engage with knowledge production.

Workshop descriptions:

Public Laboratory (Jeffrey Warren)

Remote sensing technology, like satellite and airborne imaging, has traditionally been out of reach for everyday people. Members of Public Laboratory have developed a low cost, open source alternative in which balloons or kites are used to take photographs from hundreds of meters in the air. Notable uses have been during the BP oil spill and in sites of industrial contamination in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York City.
During this workshop the centre of Amsterdam is the subject of this research.

Sensorium (Werner Hofstra en Marise Agema with the cooperation of Michael Setton of Sensaris)

‘Sensorium’ is an open creative session in which various sensor data, which is going to be recorded in Amsterdam, can be visualized in various ways. The data will be captured with SensPods, small sensors created by Sensaris. These sensors are connected to smartphones, which makes them very easy to use.
During this workshop especially carbon monoxide and noise will be monitored in the centre of Amsterdam. Try, for example, to conclude whether there is a relation between both parameters by using the data in a joint visualisation. Because after capturing the data yourself, a session starts in which you find (new) ways to visualise the data in an attractive way.