From the 22nd to the 25th of May 2014, elections to the European Parliament were held in the European Union (EU) marked by much debate both pre- and post- elections. Asking EU citizens for their views is considered a way to address demands for discussions concerning the direction of the European Union. Similarly, the Dutch political party ‘Partij van de Arbeid’ [PvdA] created an online platform called ‘Wat wil jij met Europa?’ [What do you want with Europe?] to collect ideas from Dutch citizens concerning Europe. New ideas could be sent in and existing ones could be voted on. The best ideas were ultimately featured in PvdA’s program for the European Parliament 2014 election. Additionally, the PvdA organized debates with citizens throughout different cities in the Netherlands under the ‘Wat wil jij met Europa?’ theme. On the 8th of June 2014, during the Europe Festival organized by the PvdA, the initiative was brought to closure with the presentation of top ideas to Hannes Swoboda (Chairman of the social democrat faction in the European Parliament) and Diederik Samsom (Chairman of the program commission for the European Parliament elections in May 2014). We interviewed Mr. Sander Schaap, Policy Advisor of the PvdA, about this initiative.

The reasons for creating such a platform, says Mr. Schaap, lie mostly in the value of speaking with citizens and asking their opinion. The party had previous experience with the collection of ideas from citizens. In 2011, the PvdA incorporated 90 ideas by participants in a manifesto. Through the introduction of an online platform where people can post their ideas about Europe, the PvdA fights the preconceived notion that only ‘old grey guys’ participate in politics. Many good ideas come from the people, emphasized Mr. Schaap during the interview.

To this we asked whether only individuals interested in politics, and specifically those that wanted to be involved, would participate in submitting their ideas to the ‘Wat wil jij in Europa’ platform. Mr. Schaap answered that indeed this is a legitimate concern, people not wishing to be in touch with politics will not be interested in such tools. Yet it is not a reason not to develop and offer such platforms, as more needs to be done in order to create connections between the people and political parties. It is necessary to try to bring them back on board, and to show, that as a party, one is open to opinions and is willing to listen to these voiced opinions, he added. Hence one of the goals of the initiative was to communicate clearly the outcome of the ideas. This was a lesson learned from previous experiences for in prior projects, participants were curious and inquired about the outcome of their ideas.

The ‘Wat wil jij met Europa’ initiative could be seen as an example of an enterprise that facilitated the articulation of citizen’s voices and valued these ideas by implementing the ideas most voted on in the party program. As stated by Mr. Schaap, citizens wish to know that their voiced opinions matter. It motivates people to participate once again if they see the result of their participation, he said.

What do you think? Are these tools helpful or useful? Or have you participated in a similar initiative? Leave us a comment!

In light of the Brain Awareness Week – a global campaign to increase public awareness of brain research – earlier this year in March, scientists from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Neuroimaging launched a free mobile app as part of Wonder: Art and science on the brain. The game, called The Great Brain Experiment, enables people to participate in research experiments that previously could only be conducted in the lab.

The researchers from this London based research center study the functions of the brain. The four games that people can play explore a different facet of the brain: “How good is your memory?”, “How impulsive are you?”, “What makes you happy?” and “How much can you see?” Currently, around 150.000 people have participated and the app is still being downloaded.

Next to offering a nice and entertaining player experience, the app also reports data on the players’ performance back to the scientists who will be able to use it to learn about how brain function varies in the population and also how it changes as we age. Participants can see how they performed in the different games compared to other players.

We caught up with the principal investigator and one of the developers Dr. Rick Adams to talk about the reasons for developing the app and its success.

Dr. Adams told us the main aim was to ‘gamify’ the experience for a participant, and so making it attractive for the general public to join in. The format of an app was considered ideal since many people now have a smart phone and would probably not mind playing a game in their spare time. Additionally, the user can play the game from anywhere at their own convenience.

Concerning the challenges of translating a scientific experiment into an app, Dr. Adams explained the most important factor for them was to balance the requirements of the experiment with the game’s entertainment value. This is why the look and feel of the game as well as the gameplay were very important in the development of the app. This makes the choice for a suitable game designer even more important, Dr. Adams says. The designer has to understand the workings of the experiment and be able to translate this to a game environment in an appropriate way.

The collaboration with White Bat Games in this respect was very fruitful. During the different design stages they for example experimented with the art style trying to figure out what would work for the target audience. Additionally, they decided to keep the length of each experiment within the game to 5 minutes in order to stay within the threshold of attention and time players would be willing to invest.

Scientists who are interested in developing their own app should not be afraid to take inspiration from other successful apps and games, says Dr. Adams. Most people are more than willing to share their experiences. Another thing to keep in mind is to ensure there is sufficient funding throughout the app development process. Especially in later stages when the app might need updates. Finally, and this might seem like an open door, says Dr. Adams, finding a suitable game and app developer makes or breaks the final product. The quality of your collaboration on this end is for a large part reflected in the quality of the end product: your app. So investing in a good working relationship pays off.

The Great Brain Experiment is a great example where citizen science participates and contributes to scientific research powered by smart phones. The app enabled asking questions on a large scale and allowed for unique insights into how our brains work and compare against other people. Other projects involve geo-tagging, photographing, classifying for example. Multiple opportunities are available to bring science closer to the public demonstrating that it is not all about scientists in white lab coats.

Have you participated in citizen science projects before? Tell us your thoughts!


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