As a Neuroscientist and ETH Library Lab Innovator Fellow, I had the chance to combine two worlds: citizen science and information ecosystems. Bringing both together, I developed a digital toolkit and interdisciplinary collaborative framework for mental health and well-being. As a part of this project I also explored how to transform libraries into hubs for the meeting of knowledge, digital resources, and first-hand experiences. Concretely, I imagine scientists, mental health communities, and students coming together in libraries for open collaborative science. Let me explain why and how this could work.

My dream is to create, sustain and scale an open inclusive ecosystem that unites researchers and the mental health community. Mental health disorders will affect one in four people worldwide at some point in their life. There is thus a pressing need to build an equitable and sustainable ecosystem for collective creation, sharing, and evaluation of data, insights, and solutions. This is especially important, because many of the current initiatives so far are often scattered, siloed, and lack the interoperability that would allow research and action at scale.

Mental Health Stakeholders as Researchers

If we are to progress in science collectively, good ideas and valuable data should be able to flow freely. Moreover, mental health stakeholders should also feel empowered to use digital tools to engage in research projects. Imagine parents, for instance, who are constantly observing, analysing and responding to find solutions for their children, working with their smartphones to collect and share data as well as their insights and experiences in real time from home. From a research perspective, collecting data from larger, more diverse sample sizes offers greater statistical power. What’s more, digital tools enable scientists to link the incoming data from the parents to results from already published studies which can then be replicated, optimised and built upon. Ultimately, this could help scientific advances to occur faster.

Libraries as a Connector of Research, Students and Communities

The role of libraries continues to evolve in these digital and pandemic times. Every city is a hot pot of places of learning, communities at large, and local societal challenges that need to be addressed.
In my view, scientific libraries are ideally positioned to unite researchers, students and communities for open collaborative projects. With their wealth of information and intellectual ambience, libraries have all that it takes to promote new ways of scientific practice in user-friendly and well-founded ways, provide according digital toolkits as well as credible data services. They can serve as the hubs for overall coordination.

Fig.1: Libraries reframed: Inspired by the Japanese concept of ikigai that unites one’s vocation, mission and passion, scientific libraries could unite and foster valuable collaborations between researchers and communities for scientific and societal good.

 

From the Three Musketeers of Mental Health to Citizen Science Logger

My PhD research at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinarity (CRI) in Paris focused on ways to foster open collaborative science for mental health. One result is a digital toolkit based on three pillars, which I also refer to as the Three Musketeers of Mental Health. These pillars are:

  1. MindLogger: a questionnaire makerspace and data collection app, jointly developed in collaboration with the Child Mind Institute (CMI) in New York. With MindLogger, everyone can build adaptive assessments and collect varied data (e.g., text, images, audio, video) in real-time and natural environments.

    Fig.2: A birds-eye view of MindLogger survey features, where anyone can build adaptive questionnaires and answer them with single and multiple-choice options, slider bars, tables and free-text responses.

  2. A Linked Mental Health Database (MHDB) that maps challenges to assessments, community initiatives, resources, and practical guides.
  3. A community peer-learning framework coordinated by libraries – an example workflow that combines research aided by the MHDB, peer-learning sessions to discuss research results, hands-on sessions with MindLogger for collecting data and finally options to analyse the overall results.

During my project at the ETH Library Lab, I collaborated with the Citizen Science Center Zurich, CRI and the CMI to transform MindLogger into a user-centric Citizen Science Logger that can be used across disciplines. On the one hand, we focused on enhancing the tool’s capabilities to cater it to the user’s needs in Citizen Science projects. On the other hand, we identified potential avenues towards combining the expertise at Citizen Science Center Zurich and the infrastructural know-how of scientific libraries. Concretely, the following aspects were important in developing the Citizen Science Logger:

  • For researchers as project creators, we wanted it to be customizable in order to allow for more distinguishable and suitable project environments (using colours, backgrounds, images or logos etc.). Additionally, we wanted to give more flexibility to researchers and end-users to be able to collect different types of media-related data (images, audio and video).
  • For Citizen Scientists, we wanted it to be more accessible and usable. Therefore, we aimed at reducing friction with regard to contributing data or giving feedback.
  • For the Citizen Science Center Zurich, we wanted to create synergies and increase scalability through integrating the Logger with their crowdsourcing analysis platform.
  • For scientific libraries we wanted to demonstrate their potential role as facilitators of Citizen Science initiatives in terms of infrastructural support, data curation and stewardship.

Currently, our toolkit is being tested through a small number of use-cases (see footnote) with stakeholders from different scientific disciplines. During this testing period, we are placing the emphasis on identifying (i) project strengths, competitive edges and features that need improvement for further iteration, (ii) collaborative opportunities and partnerships to scale efforts and (iii) potential factors regarding data security, privacy and licenses.

Overall, I am proud that my fellowship project has become a catalyst for combining interdisciplinary efforts by researchers, clinicians, librarians, students, technology developers and communities.

Fig. 3: Project contributors from the following institutions: Child Mind Institute and MatterLab New York, CRI and iféa Paris, Citizen Science Center and ETH Library Lab Zurich

The resulting “Citizen Science Logger” is a tangible contribution to the open-source development efforts and a vital showcase for how to reframe scientific libraries as facilitators of participatory research. If you are interested to learn how the Citizen Science Logger works and how to apply it, check back soon for my upcoming blog article this autumn or reach out to me directly.

Footnotes

Use-cases/demos in progress

[0] Gender equality in scientific conferences. Demo at the ETH-UZH Scientifica conference.

[1] Mapping Human-Animal-Environment interactions with the CS Center Zurich.

[2] ‘Booster Library’ project to track mood and promote positive behaviours in adolescents with the Robin Z project at Psychiatrische Universitätsklinik (PUK) Zürich.

[3] ‘LISA’ project to help teachers identify the strengths and needs for students in school with iféa Paris and the CRI, University of Paris.

[4] Ecological Momentary Assessments for Cannabis Withdrawal (under discussion) with Pr. Yasser Khazaal, University of Lausanne.

[5] Ariel Lindner, Kseniia Konischeva and Lionel Deveaux from CRI Paris; Arno Klein, Bennett Leventhal and Wil van Auken from CMI, New York; Elie Rotenberg from iféa, Paris; Andres Dorado, Jan Stoffregen and Rosy Mondardini from the CS Center Zurich; Barry Sunderland, Maximiliane Okonnek, Anirudh Krishnakumar and David dal Busco from ETH Library Lab, Zurich.

Author

Anirudh Krishnakumar

Ph.D. Neuroscience, Université de Paris

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