Marisa Ponti
Marisa Ponti is Senior Lecturer at the Department of Applied IT, with a specific interest in the effects of digitalization of the European society.

Research field: citizen science


Marisa Ponti will spend a year of absence at the EU Commission's Joint Research Centre located in Ispra, Italy, working in the research programme "Digitranscope: Digital Transformation and Governance of Human Society".

We need to ask ourselves in what ways digitalization will change the European society over the next 30 years

Did not plan to be a researcher

Marisa Ponti has been employed at the Department of Applied IT since 2003, but she has also spent a couple of years at the University of Borås as a Ph.D. student.

'Originally I am from the province of Reggio Emilia in the Emilia Romagna Region in Italy', Marisa says. 'I moved to Sweden a long time ago for personal reasons and started to work with Professor Berner Lindström at the Department of Education, University of Gothenburg. This is how I started my academic path. I worked together with Professor Lindström on European projects related to e-learning. I began to work in academia by chance. I did not plan to be a researcher by the way. This also happened by chance.'

"Research should have an impact on policy"

'Research is not always driven by curiosity, we know that', Marisa says. 'It can have other purposes – and providing scientific advice to strengthen evidence-based policy making is one example. I think that research should have an impact on policy.'

'I have been a bit frustrated for a while because I was unsure about the impact of my research work. I felt useless at times. I was looking for something with a higher impact on society. When we write research applications we always have to describe what we expect the "impact" our work would have and that made me think. During my time at the JRC (see below!), I hope I will gain knowledge and expertise that can be beneficial for the Department of Applied IT. In fact, the Digitranscope programme is in line with one of the main research areas at the department, the digitalization of society.'

'I am attached to this department – it is "my" department in Sweden. Lindholmen is also very nice, the settings, the buildings… you realize that you are spoiled when you go elsewhere. I am very grateful for this opportunity and it is very generous of the Department of Applied IT to grant me this leave of absence. The programme at the JRC is going to last for three years, but my initial contract is for one year and I might come back after that.'

Using games to involve people in citizen science

'Over the past four years my main research topic has been citizen science', Marisa says. 'Citizen science can be defined in several ways, but, for the sake of simplicity, let’s define it as a collaboration between professional scientists and volunteering members of the public in scientific research. More broadly, I am interested in public participation in science and social innovation with the support of technology.'

In her last research project she focused on the use of games to involve people in citizen science. The applications are called games with a purpose – they are a type of human computation applications and target online gamers who play an enjoyable game and at the same time generate useful data by performing a task which cannot be performed by computers alone.

'Games are used in citizen science also for trying to attract and retain participants. In fact, one of the main challenges in citizen science is to retain participants and sustain their engagement in citizen science projects. Of course, citizen science faces other challenges, such as sustaining the participation by a broader cross-section of the public, improving the quality of processes and scientific results, and establishing better mechanisms to facilitate participant learning. These are some of the main problems right now.'

Peer-to-peer and crowdsourcing

In the past, Marisa Ponti studied the peer-to-peer approach and the opportunities and challenges of open models in non-formal education. She says she has always been interested in examining these concepts as part of a larger picture, including volunteers and rewards, co-production and sharing, distributed management and control.

'For example, emergent digital technologies have been claimed to disrupt the notion that learning should be controlled by traditional gatekeepers, as information and knowledgeable others are available on online networks', Marisa says. 'This shift in information provision suggests circumstances under which also uncredentialled sources may provide valuable information.'

'The use of crowdsourcing tools can be seen as harnessing the ability of those providing useful information, even though they lack special training, credentials, or an established offline reputation. From here to studying citizen science it was a short step. Citizen science projects share characteristics with peer production and are another realm where we observe spontaneous and ad-hoc forms of participation of the public in contributing to building knowledge.'

On her way to the Joint Research Centre in Ispra

Marisa Ponti has now taken a leave of absence for a year to work at the Joint Research Centre (JRC) located in Ispra, Italy. The JRC is the EU Commission's in-house science service and its activities are targeted to fulfill its mission "to provide EU policies with independent, evidence-based scientific and technical support throughout the whole policy cycle".

Marisa will work as a scientific project officer in the project Digitranscope: Digital Transformation and Governance of Human Society. The overall objective of the three-year programme in Ispra is to understand how the processes of digital transformation are affecting human society and are challenging policymakers and the governance of society. Together with the other members of the Digitranscope’s team, Marisa will conduct empirical research and help to organize high-profile workshops involving key stakeholders from academia, industry, governmental organizations and civil society, to explore themes connected to the digitalization of society.

Important area for the European policy-makers

'Research in this area is very important for the European policy-makers’, Marisa says. 'We need to ask ourselves in what ways digitalization will change the European society over the next 30 years.'

'I have always been interested in the work of the JRC, generally, I am more interested in doing things at the European level than the national level. Personally, I feel concerned about what happens at the European level right now. There are many things that can be improved of course, but I think the European collaboration is very critical for the political cohesion and social and economic prosperity of this area of the world. By working at the JRC, I hope I can make a little contribution to the European project.'


Text: Catharina Jerkbrant


Marisa Ponti

Senior Lecturer at the Department of Applied IT
Division of Learning, Communication and IT