Citizen science is scientific research carried out wholly or partly by volunteers, such as the annual bird or butterfly counts. Citizen science is on the rise and thanks to the smartphone with built-in GPS and other technological possibilities, there is a lot of room for growth and more data can be collected and processed. The ICT tools that support data collection - so-called citizen observatories - should normally be developed from scratch. This is too difficult for citizens with limited ICT knowledge and hampers more citizen science projects.
Zaman explains: "For example, we had built an app that gave citizens the opportunity to measure the noise level of their environment via the microphone of their mobile phone. Easy and cheap. But of course you always have to adapt such an app to the different needs, such as time and place where the measurements have to be made, processing data to be able to analyse them, etc. For this you need variations on the computer programme over and over again.
But that is now a thing of the past. With his doctorate, Zaman developed the DISCOPAR programme with which citizens can create their own citizen observatory on the FLAMENCO website. DISCOPAR (Distributed Components for Participatory Campaigning) is one simple, visual language with which not only an app for data collection can be created, but also data processing and results can now be set up. "One of the biggest challenges was to ensure accessibility for individuals and communities involved," says Zaman. "DISCOPAR hides the unwanted complexity from the end user and only presents concepts relevant to their domain.
To demonstrate the capabilities of the platform, Zaman has created three very different apps: one for measuring noise pollution, another that maps the experiences of users of slow roads and one that measures atmospheric factors.
More about DISCOPAR and FLAMENCO
The language DISCOPAR was invented in the project of the same name financed by the Brussels-Capital Region. Meanwhile, in a Flemish cooperation - VUB, Ugent, VITO, and fifteen or so civil society organisations such as e.g. DISCOPAR - are working together to create a new language. Fietserbond and TreinTramBus - at least one year more work on the FLAMENCO platform (https://flamenco.vlaanderen). For example, the application of Artificial Intelligence techniques is on the research agenda.
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Jesse Zaman obtained his Master's degree in Computer Science at the VUB in 2013. He obtained his PhD at the Software Languages Lab, where the emphasis was on developing a generic approach to reusable and reconfigurable citizen observatories.
The results of his research have been published in five international peer-reviewed conferences. He presented at several international conferences and workshops, and was also invited to a collaboration with Zayed University in Abu Dhabi to demonstrate and test his research.
Supervisor: Prof. Wolfgang De Meuter