OSDG and SciStarter: advancing research and sustainability through citizen science

April 23, 2021

If you’ve ever set out to find a citizen science project, it’s likely you have found yourself at SciStarter, a project directory and community of those eager to leave a mark in the world of science. SciStarter citizen scientists contribute to a variety of initiatives, ranging from sustainable consumption and production, oceans, ecosystems, to climate change and more.

We couldn’t help but notice the parallels between some of the underlying project themes and the 17 Global Goals. With over 3,000 current and historical projects, the platform was a perfect candidate for testing our open-source classification tool and paved the way for an exciting collaboration.

In this blog post we detail the real-life application of the OSDG tool that we feel contributes to the globally renowned online science hub, and directly assists millions of sustainability-driven citizen scientists worldwide.

“Assigning SDG labels to SciStarter projects was a great way to mark International Citizen Science Month. By including SDGs into project metadata, we are increasing overall awareness and understanding of the SDGs among citizen scientists and society at large” says Darlene Cavalier, founder of SciStarter.

Mapping project descriptions to Global Goals

Since the SciStarter project portfolio is ever expanding, our team set out to create a custom API that enables the SciStarter team to instantly assess if project contents relate to UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“The API analyses the project description submitted by a project team. Some of the texts are relatively short and detail the task in just a few sentences, whereas others can expand into each specific stage of the project. Nevertheless, if the text contains two or more keywords that correspond to a specific SDG, the OSDG API displays the label in the project metadata” says Lukas Pukelis, lead data scientist behind the OSDG project.

How does that actually work? Let‘s say, you head to the profile of Stall Catchers, SciStarter‘s most joined project of 2021. You should see an assigned label of SDG 3 (Health and Well-Being)under Relevant Sustainable DevelopmentGoals.

Based on the project description, the Stall Catchers team together with researchers at Cornell University aim to understand how clogged blood vessels in the brain contribute to Alzheimer’s.

If you like to volunteer your time and effort to advance global well-being and solve associated challenges, the SDG 3 label is a good indication that Stall Catchers is right up your alley!

Discover citizen science projects that correspond to SDGs

Aside from adding SDG metadata, we also helped to create an SDG filter for the platform’s Project Finder.

This way, citizen scientists can locate their next big task not only based on location, age-level, or keywords, but also by selecting the Global Goal they care the most about.

For example, filter projects by SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation), and you’ll return a selection of activities that relate to tracking streams and rivers, monitoring arsenic levels in groundwater or water clarity in the lakes, and other areas related to sustainable management of water and sanitation.

OSDG’s experience with citizen science

The collaboration with SciStarter in the form of a custom API has given us a glimpse into the global landscape of citizen science. From interactive digital activities to wildlife spotting and observing, one thing is clear – anyone can make a direct contribution to science.

Our team had a chance to witness this firsthand when we launched our citizen science initiative, the OSDG Community platform.

In less than a year, we had attracted over 1,800 highly motivated volunteers from over 120 countries, who collectively assigned over 250,000 SDG labels to tens of thousands of text snippets. This impressive global effort will directly feed into the next generation of artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms, to be used in many different contexts.

Adhering to the principles of citizen science, our project outputs are publicly available in open access format. We invite you to discover the OSDG Community Dataset (OSDG-CD), periodically updated at the Zenodo repository. Be sure to explore the resource and use it freely to gain insights into the nature of SDGs through ontology-based or machine-learning approaches.

You can learn more about our contribution and the citizen science project on SciStarter by listening to the podcast on “Climate Change and the Environment”, and reading our blog post on “How Citizen Scientists Can Work Toward Achieving Sustainable Development Goals”.