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Where you ask the questions – BBC and OU launch new ‘citizen inquiry’ website

The Open University has partnered with the BBC for Tomorrow’s World to develop a new ‘citizen inquiry’ website – nQuire – where members of the public can take part in surveys and experiments about their everyday life and the world around them.

Mike sharples

Professor Mike Sharples

The first survey focuses on the use of personal data, linking into the new GDPR regulation, asking people how they feel about how companies use their information.

Emeritus Professor Mike Sharples is leading on the project and says: “How open are people willing to be? When is it good for all to share personal data? These are the big questions that nQuire will attempt to answer.”

What is citizen inquiry?

Citizen inquiry goes a step further than research led by academics in which people have relatively passive involvement. It helps members of the public in learning to be scientists – by proposing, running and sharing their own science investigations.

Technology has allowed researchers to develop web-based tools to get large volumes of people participating in investigations.  They can then analyse this data and use it, anonymised, in their own research projects. Citizen inquiry is a way of doing research where members of the public can join in with scientific investigations in large numbers – they can also conduct surveys and experiments themselves, and learn from the process.

The Open University has a good track record in this concept, having launched the iSpot nature identification website and the Treezilla monster map of trees. The OU also developed a website where young people could develop their own research surveys – is being used by schools and colleges from around the world. All of these projects ask members of the public to submit observations which researchers are then able to analyse.

What is the nQuire website?

nquireThe Open University has launched, with the BBC, a new nQuire website which hosts a number of surveys and investigations to explore attitudes to yourself and your world.

There’s a ‘big question’ that each survey – or mission – asks of you. The initial ‘missions’ on there are asking:

At the end of the survey you’re given additional information and guidance on the issue you’ve been asked about, and you also get a summary of the findings emailed to you.

But shouldn’t I be protecting my data?

All of the information you supply is anonymised. The survey project team will get detailed data from the survey for their research purposes.

Professor Mike Sharples explains: “Our nQuire platform is designed to explore the boundaries of openness. We can run mass surveys where all personal data are tightly controlled and anonymised.”

How are the results shared?

All participants get emailed a summary of the findings, which will also be hosted on nQuire. Anonymised aggregate data will be available for anybody to use, not just participants.

How do I get involved?

During 2018 the website will be developed further and members of the public will be able to create their own surveys, as well as participate.

Mike continues, “nQuire can set up citizen inquiries where people share and discuss ideas and experiments. We can also support fully open science experiments designed and run by members of the public.”

Take a look at the nQuire website and get involved with the missions there.

Find out more

Why should you care about your data? The BBC explains.


About Author

Kath works in the Media Relations team within the Communications Unit at The Open University. She is a skilled communicator with more than 15 years’ experience working in both the public and private sectors. She has a BA (Hons) English and American Literature from University of Warwick and specialises in stories from the Faculty of Social Science, Faculty of Education and Language Studies, BBC programmes, and student stories. In her spare time Kath enjoys touring the country in her hand-painted camper van, Trevor.

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