Earth Challenge 2020: EthicalGEO through Citizen Science

April 22, 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. In recognition of this milestone the Wilson Center, Earth Day Network, and U.S. Department of State are launching Earth Challenge 2020 as the world’s largest coordinated citizen science campaign to date.

The first goal of Earth Challenge 2020 is to increase the amount of open and interoperable citizen science data to help answer more complex, global questions than any dataset could address alone. Through a public call to action, volunteers will use the Earth Challenge 2020 mobile application and low-cost sensors to collect new geospatial data. We will also create a data catalogue and API-enabled data integration platform to facilitate the discovery and access of citizen science information from the app and other data sources.

Our second goal is to equip and empower people around the world to understand and act on geospatial data to build safer, healthier communities. The Earth Challenge 2020 platform will offer open data access, educational resources, and a “What You Can Do” toolkit to share information on individual behavior changes and policy-based interventions. Users will also be able to share geospatial data through visualizations and on social media.

Through geospatial technology, Earth Challenge 2020 will empower global citizens to understand and help solve the problems that matter to them. In a sense, it is an attempt at using GIS for good through the democratization of scientific research. The project also raises a number of important ethical considerations. How can volunteers participate not just as sensors, but through deeper engagement in defining problems, creating technologies, mobilizing communities, and analyzing data? How can we ensure that informed consent is implemented in a way that helps people understand how geospatial data will be collected, shared, and used, and the potential implications of different data sharing arrangements, including privacy concerns? Can the project be leveraged as an entry point to discussing bigger picture questions on, for example, geospatial data literacy and blending open source and proprietary GIS solutions?