Monday, 7 April 2014

The Citizen Science Approach to Research: Report from GW4 Workshop, Bath

Source: thinkprogress.org
The idea of harnessing the collective or community input for a project is quite appealing to my African mind. Grassroots involvement fosters group ownership and often leads to better results. Movements such as GhanaThink, BloggingGhana and Enactus ride on the numbers and efforts of its members. When applied to science, public participation aids data collection and organisation, research design, and facilitates greater understanding of scientific phenomena. The active involvement of volunteers or "lay people" in the scientific enterprise, "citizen science", is a fast-growing paradigm in the scientific community and has the same essence as open source, open data and civic participation movements. It has wide applications ranging from social science research, through ecological studies, to unravelling the mysteries of the wider universe. I recently had the fortune to be part of a citizen science workshop organised by the United Kingdom's GW4 Universities at the Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution, (BRLSI).
We were welcomed by Dr Helen Featherstone of University of Exeter who gave a brief intro of the day's activities. Dr Robert Simpson from University of Oxford, in the first presentation, gave an overview for the need and benefits of citizen science, drawing examples from the Zooniverse project.
He made an interesting point on validating crowdsource data- data contributed by the most accurate and least accurate volunteers are equally important because of the consistency. Thus you can tell whether the data coming in is accurate or inaccurate.

Dr Erinma Ochu from the University of Manchester then explored the topic from a social science perspective, with examples from the Sunflower Experiment and other projects. Here's a key point she made:
One of my favourite parts of the day was the structured networking session where the participants interacted about how they use citizen science in their work. In short three minute spells, I learnt briefly about projects such as mathMETicsIfOnly, and BodyTrack.

Next was a panel on citizen science case-studies featuring Lisa Austin (Bath, IfOnly), Alexander Todd (Exeter, CliMathNet), Dr Emma Rich (Bath, Citizen Journalism), Dr Jaap Velthuis (Bristol, HiSparc), and Dr Sarah Perkins (Cardiff, Project Splatter).

Panel discussion on GW4 citizen science projects
After the round-table, we broke for lunch amidst networking, followed by the breakout sessions. The breakouts focused on recruiting citizen scientists, methodological approaches and ethics. I was in the methodological approaches/ethics group and some of the issues raised include data ownership, blurring the line between academic and activist, limitations of institutional review processes, and citizen science governance.

Some useful technological and web resources for citizen science researchers were also shared among the group. Some of the less popular ones include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Storify, University Wiki pages, Open Street Map, Google tools (Maps, Apps, etc), Carto DB (for visualisation), Ushahidi (for crowdmapping) and Github (for open source code). 

I learnt a lot from what researchers are doing in the GW4 universities and other institutions. More than that, I enjoyed the brilliant opportunity to interact with the brains behind some really interesting citizen science projects. Hopefully we can do more with the larger public to piece together the puzzle that is life and derive better solutions for our pressing problems. Meanwhile, the conversation continues on Twitter via #GW4CS.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Afrimakers and OUWA Team up to Train the Next Generation of Ghanaian Makers

Trainees keenly engaged during the Africamakers Uganda session. Source: Afrimakers
Afrimakers project, in partnership with Open University of West Africa (OUWA) and a few others, are making further strides towards nurturing a maker movement in Ghana. Their three step strategy involves:
  1. Training facilitators to lead mentoring workshops and the community
  2. Mentoring 6 to 17 year olds to acquire the necessary problem-solving skills
  3. Showcasing innovations and networking through maker faire type events
Victor Kelechi Ofoegbu, one of the coordinators for the first facilitators workshop coming up at iHub, Accra next Monday, 10th March states:
The project aims to spark interest in young children for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) by exploring a range of hands-on experiments hands. The projects range from building paper-based electronic circuit boards, air quality control sensors, recycling old web cams into microscopes, to programming Raspberry Pi microcomputers.
This is a brilliant opportunity to improve problem-solving through open innovation in Ghana. Everyone should register and be part of it.      

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Tullow Group Scholarships for Prospective African and South American Masters Students

Take a bold step and apply to be a Tullow scholar
The British Council is accepting applications for the 2014 cohort of the Tullow Group Scholarship Scheme (TGSS). TGSS, funded by Tullow Oil plc, and managed by the British Council, has been put in place to support development in countries where Tullow operates. High potential scholars from selected countries in Africa and South America are sponsored for masters programmes in top universities in UK, Ireland and France. British council runs a rigorous assessment process to select the most suitable candidates for the programme. The scheme is in its third year of full operation, and application is opened up to 28th February. More details and instructions can be found at the TGSS website.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

BloggingGhana and the Building of a Social Media Hub in Ghana

BloggingGhana facilitates positive use of social media through BlogCamp
The use of social media in Ghana has grown in leaps and bounds over the last few years. Young people in particular are attracted to digital media because they are able to network, explore opportunities and express themselves without much hindrance. In response to the demand of Ghana's growing digital population, various Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are enabling increasingly cheaper and faster connections to the world wide web.

The organic expansion of the local virtual ecosystem has been propelled in no small part by BloggingGhana (BloGH) through projectsworkshopsevents and thought leadership. This has added some concreteness and tangibility to the possibilities of social media as a tool for social change. Now BloGH aims to give Ghanaian social media users a home, a space where all things social media would converge. To this end, BloggingGhana is pooling resources from among members, the larger online community and all who find their work useful through the #MoreStories fundraising drive. BloGH executives Edward and Kajsa explain what #MoreStories is all about:

Success of this project will empower social media users in Ghana to hone their skills, build new businesses, forge ahead and share authentic stories of their experiences. You can contribute to this great dream by:
  1. Donating money through the special #MoreStories indiegogo funding page
  2. Transferring money to Guaranty Trust Bank A/C: 204 109 117 11
  3. Donating office equipment and other resources (Contact number: 233 026.146.9710 )
  4. Spreading the word to your networks (tag @BloggingGhana in your posts)
BloGH has already acquired the office space and needs about $10,000 to get it running. An Ewe proverb translates loosely as "if you manage to lift a load up to your knee level, you must be assisted to place it on the head." Clearly, BloGH has done a lot to get this project started. Let's all help to make it real. Yedaase!

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Remembering Komla Dumor, a Great Ambassador for Ghana

BBC World Service/Flickr
We lost Nelson Mandela and Prof Ewurama Addy recently, and now we've lost iconic BBC world service presenter Komla Dumor, aged 41. His death was received with shock in Ghana, Africa and other parts of the world. He discharged his journalistic duties with enthusiasm, style and excellence to the admiration of all. Komla was an inspirational figure and ultimate role model for many young Ghanaians, so his death was painful indeed.

I've never met or interacted with Mr Dumor. Everything I know about him was derived from his work on radio, TV and online. Back in our university dorms at Legon, where Joy FM super morning show was a staple, we relied on the incisive questions and analyses of Komla and his colleagues to gain understanding of the everyday issues of Ghana and beyond. The kind of broadcasting practised by the likes of Komla Dumor, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, and Stan Dogbe at the time was hard to come by in Ghana. Watching Komla Dumor play leading roles at BBC through Focus on Africa, World News, FIFA World Cup and Nelson Mandela funeral coverage was a source of pride for me as a Ghanaian. He eruditely discharged his duties to wide acclaim, again demonstrating that Africans can excel in any endeavour when given the opportunity. It is therefore not surprising that Komla is widely celebrated by all who know him and his work, amidst the grief of his passing. Ghana's online community has been forthcoming with fitting tributes, which Jemila Abdulai and I compiled together for BloggingGhana. Read our compilation on bloggingghana.org.

 Komla Dumor's success was achieved through hard work and perseverance. This is an important lesson for all ambitious young people: experiencing failures and trials on the journey of life is akin to the refinement process gold goes through in fire. You can only get better! Komla gave similar insights through his talk on "going global" during Springboard 2013 road show (Koforidua).

Did you ever meet Komla Dumor or follow his work? What is the most important lesson that you picked up from his life? Komla, dzudzɔ le nutifafa me!