February 2012, Geneva, Switzerland - Another innovative project involving collaborative mapping and cyberscience will see the light this year thanks to support from the Open Society Foundations. The Foundations, established by George Soros, have the mission “to increase public access to knowledge, facilitate civil society communication, and protect civil liberties and the freedom to communicate in the digital environment.” 

The new project, dubbed ForestWatchers, is one of the Cybermappr applications and a spin off of the renowned Citizen Cyberscience Centre (CCC), created by UNITAR, CERN, and the University of Geneva to serve as incubator of innovative ideas in cyberscience and collaborative distributed thinking.  ForestWatchers was born from an idea floated by UNOSAT experts, that of mapping actual deforestation in Brazil. The project partners include the  Brazilian National Institute for Space Research (INPE), the Federal  University of São Paulo (UNIFESP), and the Federal University of Western Pará (UFOPA).

The aim of the initiative is to use citizen-based collaborative computing to sustain a deforestation monitoring system based on satellite imagery analysis and crowd-sourcing.  ForestWatchers will also integrate the latest UNOSAT methodologies in crowdsourcing and geo-tagging. The project is designed to generate both research results and operational output: in the first year the plan is to evaluate the benefits and limitations of public participation via the Web in this sort of exercise; during the second year, the project will switch to production mode, providing volunteer-assisted deforestation assessments. These may be used for example to supplement local research in countries and regions with limited infrastructure and manpower. 

 UN News Center“Citizen Cyberscience” is relatively new but already in use in a variety of online projects where individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom may have little or no scientific training, perform research-related tasks such as observation, measurement or computation. This approach offers a “low-cost solution for strengthening the scientific infrastructure and engage members of the public in science”, says Francois Grey who coordinates the scientific area of CCC and is involved in some key projects like the successful Cybermappr “Geo-Tag Libya” experiment.

The long-term, bold vision of this project is for ordinary citizens around the globe to play an active role in monitoring a large share of the world’s remaining forests. Francesco Pisano, Manager of UNOSAT, says: “these projects are a way to research our idea of expert crowd-sourcing. We want to create applications that involve citizens in much more than one-way basic crowd sourcing; this is direct participation in global issues that can be solved only through a participatory model at large scale”.

The project will be launched publicly to coincide with the Rio+20 events planned in Brazil in 2012, to emphasize the importance of public participation in climate science.

Image: UN News Center