I’m excited to announce that the latest Citizen Science book has been published this week. Including some contributions from yours truly (see Chapter 2).
Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy is a 580 page volume, compiled by 121 co-authors, from across the world.. The book discusses the role that citizen science plays in the wider agenda for a culture of open science and open society and pushes us to think about how we are contributing to the realisation of responsible research and innovation.
The book explores these issues across five parts, addressing:
Innovation in Citizen Science
Innovation in Science with and for Society
Innovation at the Science-Policy Interface
Innovation in Technology and Environmental Monitoring
Innovation in Science Communication and Education
And also includes a section dedicated to case studies.
The book is rightly open access. You can download a pdf for free here.
I’m looking forward to receiving my own copy in the post, so I can dive into it with a cup of tea and a piece of cake to celebrate.
I hope you enjoy it!
Let us know what you think on Twitter using the handle @UCLpress and the hashtag #citizenscience.
This blog summarises some of the key thoughts and themes that emerged from a two-day workshop organised and hosted by Alberta Environment and Parks and the Miistakis Institute, called ‘Advancing Citizen Science in Alberta’. The workshop took place in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada from Wednesday 26th September to Thursday 27th September.
With a growing network of citizen science activity taking place across Alberta, Alberta Environment and Parks and the Miistakis Institute decided to help further incubate and foster this participatory research activity, by bringing together practitioners, researchers and citizens to share knowledge and best practice in order to identify priority actions for advancing practice in the province.
I was privileged to be invited to speak on the opening panel session ‘Origins, Evolution and Where We Are Today’ alongside Jennifer Shirk (Citizen Science Association and Cornell Lab of Ornithology) and Lea Shanley (US South Big Data Innovation Hub). The rest of the programme explored data standards and credibility, place-based practice, the link between citizen science and environmental decision-making, and showcased a wide range of active projects. The two days culminated in three workshop sessions. The first looked to further develop principles and a memorandum on Citizen Science that would guide and encourage the adoption of citizen science in Alberta Environment and Parks. The second workshop looked to identify priority outcomes for developing data credibility in citizen science, within the province. And the third workshop drew on the expertise within the room to support the development of new and emerging citizen science projects.
Over the two days I found myself having some of the most enlightening conversations about citizen science that I have ever had in my five years of working in the field and attending international citizen science conferences. Three key themes emerged from the conference that strike me as having a critical influence on how citizen science moves forward in the future.
Citizen Science, Science and Environmental Decision-making are all social processes as much as they are technical processes.
Citizen science has approached a crux; its holds significant promise, but high standards of practice must be maintained.
Citizen science is just one part of the process of making change. It is not a silver bullet.
Citizen Science, Science and Environmental Decision-making are all social processes as much as they are technical processes.
A key idea I tried to instil through my presentation was that ‘Citizen science is as much a social process as it is a scientific process’. This was echoed and then expanded upon by Gwendolyn Blue (University of Calgary) in her keynote speech, who added that not only was citizen science a social process, but so too was science and environmental decision-making. What’s key about this argument is that often when we examine and approach citizen science, science and environmental decision-making processes we focus on the technical aspects of these processes. We concern ourselves with the structure and shape of the scientific and decision-making process. What we forget to pay attention to is that all of these processes involve significant social interaction and negotiation that play a huge role in shaping the outcomes. Citizen Science is not just about the design of methods and tools that enable citizens to participate, but it is also about the dynamics of the relationship and the engagement between citizens and scientists. Creating an open, trusting, respectful environment that acknowledges and works with the values and assumptions of everyone involved and works to build genuine and mutual understanding is as important to realising citizen science outcomes as developing a data collection method suitable for the audience. As scientists and citizen science practitioners we need to be more reflexive about how our values and assumptions play out when we are developing and managing citizen science projects. We also need to be honest about the extent to which we are actually willing to open up the scientific process to different ‘publics’.
Citizen science has approached a crux: it holds significant promise, but high standards of practice must be maintained.
Jennifer Shirk, during the opening panel of the workshop, drew our attention to the possibility that we have arrived at a crux in the evolution of citizen science. Citizen science risks becoming a buzz word. As the concept is becoming increasingly popular the risk is that it will be adopted as lip service without true fulfilment of the core principles of delivering high quality scientific research with genuine citizen participation. However, as this community and practice grows, we need to be careful that any steps to define principles or standards in order to maintain high standards, don’t unintentionally stifle the field by discouraging experimentation. We need to reflect carefully on the nature of the principles and standards that we are developing, and on the way they are being utilised, to ensure that they allow for the evolution and innovation of new practices.
Citizen science is just one part of the process of making change. It is not a silver bullet.
Increasing interest has grown around the role that citizen science can play in influencing policy and creating change and action in the world. Indeed, it is the potential of co-created participatory research approaches to empower communities and support them in realising change that inspired me to take on my PhD research. A prominent line of discussion and exploration in the workshop was around how we can use citizen science to influence environmental decision-making. And whilst there are a number of fabulous examples of how citizen science can create positive change (eg. Flint Michigan), we have to recognise that citizen science is simply one tool among many for achieving change, and is in many cases not enough on its own. Like policy, citizen science is not always capable of creating the necessary transformation on its own, often a significant cultural shift is required. Reasons why citizen science can be limited in its ability to create change include the issue raised by Liz Hendriks (WWF- Canada) that decisions are often not evidence based but are made on a social, cultural and political basis. In addition, citizen science still faces significant challenges to being respected as a valid and credible method of knowledge generation. Where we accept that citizen science can only be one part of the process of change making Tracy Lee (Miistakis Institute) then made the valuable point that we need to understand what role citizen science does play in that process so that we can enhance the impact and influence we have through our projects.
These three themes, raised at the ‘Advancing Citizen Science in Alberta’ workshop, hit on some really fundamental challenges and considerations that the citizen science community need to address in order to support progression of the field. And all three themes call on us as a community, and as individuals, to be more reflective and reflexive about our practice, our assumptions, our attitudes and our values. The more that we take the opportunity to invest in our community of practice and to engage opening in dialogue around these issues, that more that the practice of citizen science will thrive and have a positive influence in the world. Why not invest some time in your institution to start a citizen science discussion group, to start teasing out some of these issues, to ensure that your organisation is heading in a positive direction with citizen science.
The views expressed above include my own but cannot be solely attributed to me. The content above is my reflection of two days of dialogue with the whole delegation of the ‘Advancing Citizen Science in Alberta’ workshop programme. I thank them all for their challenging and stimulating discussions.
Much of the conversation and focus of research in the field of citizen science is about:
How do we engage more citizens in science research?
How do we motivate them to participate?
How do we retain their engagement throughout the whole lifecycle of a project and beyond?
These are really critical questions of central importance to the development of the field and for which much attention must to be continuously paid, particularly as the concept increases in popularity and the types of participants diversify in their character. But after attending the Australian Citizen Science Conference in Adelaide, in February of this year (2018), I found myself asking whether, in focusing on the how to engage citizens we had neglected to pay attention to how we engage scientists?
Understanding what motivates, engages and retains citizens in citizen science projects is utterly essential to the practice of citizen science. You can’t have citizen science, without citizens. And the conference revealed and shared some effective and sometimes overlooked ideas such as:
Rather than asking potential participants to come to you, go to where they are already engaged and active. K Mills & Simon Branigan (The Nature Conservancy, Australia) working with shell fish reefs, found that approaching dive clubs was the highly effective for them, as divers are already engaged and enthusiastic about the marine environment.
Operate at the time scale of your participants. Emilie Ens (Macquarie University) who works with indigenous communities in the Northern Territories of Australia, found that operating on indigenous time scales led to successful engagement with this group.
Make it a social opportunity. Erin Roger, Geetha Ortac (New South Wales Office of Environment & Heritage) & Ingrid Garland (EnviroComm Connections) , both highlighted the power and importance of offering social opportunities, either by having BBQs and parties to reward, celebrate and bond as a group, or simply by holding meetings and engaging in social media communications.
But at the beginning of Day 1 of the Conference in a workshop entitled ‘New Visions for Citizen Science and Public Policy in Australia’ a couple of little snapshots of conversations suddenly highlighted to me how little of my attention had considered the need to engage, motivate and retain scientists as much as the need to do so with citizens.
Whilst of course scientists are already engaged in citizen science (the majority of citizen science projects are run and/or developed by scientists), the extensive literature directly addressing the validity of citizen science as an approach shows there is still much work to be done to convince the wider scientific community of the legitimacy of such an approach. Through my few years as a citizen science practitioner and researcher I have certainly met many scientists (and some citizens for that matter) who are sceptical about the idea that citizens should and can be involved in the scientific process, without undermining scientific rigour.
It was a statement from Lea Shanley (Co-Executive Director, US South Big Data Innovation Hub) that really brought to my mind the idea that we need to pay more attention to engaging scientists, when she explained that when her and her colleagues are trying to advocate the concept of citizen science to the scientists in their institution they often start by saying:
“’If you could have a 100,000 people to help you with your science what would you do?”
What it made me realise was that in the same way that we look to generate ideas about new and powerful ways of advocating the concept to citizens and convincing them that citizen science might be something they’d like to participate in, we also need to think of new and powerful ways of advocating citizen science to scientists.
We often talk about the need to make citizen science relevant to citizens so that they are motivated to participate. And what the statement that Lea offered us in Adelaide, cleverly does, is pose that relevance back to the scientists. Instead of saying to them, citizen science will help you to collect more data distributed across a bigger area, which can often raise a number of questions around validity and quality from the scientists. The statement presents the resource potential to the scientist and asks them to consider the relevance of that potential to them, on their terms – “What would you do?” What is also very clever about the statement is that by being hypothetical it frames the concept of citizen science as an opportunity without limits. It invites the scientist to dream and explore the potential for their research of having access to a huge human resource that their funding streams could never support.
It seems to me that by piquing the interest of scientists by framing citizen science as a human resource opportunity that they can approach within their own boundaries, you can then open up a conversation about a variety of different success stories already evidenced in the literature and practice, presenting scientists with a suite of tools and methods to use to suit their needs. And from here open up a conversation about best practice, and what we so far know works and not. Having framed the conversation around “what would you do?” dialogue may even draw out some new suggestions and innovations for practice, having brought a new perspective to the approach. But what Lea also mentioned which seems highly important, is that these conversations were most effective when taking place between two scientists, particularly if the citizen science advocate in the conversation is a high-profile scientist.
So far, this is the first step for me in considering and exploring how we approach and discuss citizen science with other scientists, and in considering them as much an audience, as we consider citizens. My work as a researcher and practitioner, so far, has been very much focused on citizens as an audience, and how we meet their needs. And in my PhD research I am focused on collecting and expressing the voice of the citizens involved in projects, to address to what extent we are serving their needs as communities, when we practice citizen science. On the flip side, we also need to consider these questions with regards to the scientists involved, to understand their motivations and barriers to adopting and participating in citizen science. At the end of the day, which ever approach to citizen science that you take it is a partnership and collaboration between both citizens and scientists, and so we need to understand the experiences of both.
For anyone interested in reading a bit more on this topic, I’d recommend: RIESCH, H. & POTTER, C. 2014. Citizen science as seen by scientists: methodological, epistemological and ethical dimensions. Public Understanding of Science, 23, 107-120. (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0963662513497324)Having interviewed scientists who participated in the OPAL citizen science programme, in the UK, the authors present the scientist’s perspectives on the methodological and ethical issues of such an approach.
Surrounding the Food Growing Hub, at Dundee Botanic Garden, there is a small orchard of apple, plum, pear and cherry trees donated by and planted by the Dundee Urban Orchard. Last year the Hub members enjoyed watching the fruits appear and swell through the summer, and were keen to learn how to care for orchards, so offered to take responsibility for its care. To help us on our way to becoming master orchard keepers we decided to invite Andrew Lear (also known as AppleTreeMan) to come to the gardens to teach us what on earth we should be doing to make the best, and most, of the fruit trees. And we decided to offer the opportunity to other members of the public and members of the Botanic Gardens staff too.
The Food Growing Hub is a small food growing space at Dundee Botanic Gardens, providing local residents with an opportunity to grow their own food.
So on a cold, snowy and rainy Monday morning, (the Monday after we’d been hit by the Beast from the East), sixteen of us gathered together in the warmth of the Education Centre, to soak up the knowledge Andrew has built over 30 years as a horticulturalist, working with fruit trees and orchards.
Folk travelled to garner Andrew’s wisdom from Aberdeen, West Lothian, Perth and Montrose, and whilst some people were starting out with orchards in their gardens or community projects, and wanted to know how best to care for them and train them. Others had very mature and large trees that they were finding unmanageable and wanted to know how to bring them back under control.
Andrew started by talking us through how an apple tree grows, as understanding this is critical for being able to make the right decisions about where and how to prune the tree. He impressed upon us that cultivated apple trees are artificial plants, engineered by humans (a variety of apple is grafted onto an apple root stock that will control how much the tree grows), and so for the best fruit crop apple trees need to be managed and controlled, rather than allowed to grow wild and natural. Andrew then talked us through how the choices about which branches and stems you cut, and how and where you cut them, affects the continued growth and shape of the plant and the amount of fruit you yield. A couple of key principles included; wanting to encourage horizontal stems and branching, as here the tree puts more energy into producing fruit, than vertical stems and branches which put energy into making the tree grow tall; And LIGHT, LIGHT, LIGHT, as an all-important factor, trying to maximise the amount of light reaching each part of the tree, by making careful decisions about which branches to keep and which to remove.
Andrew took us out to the orchard to demonstrate the principles and talk us through the decisions he would make to prune the trees there, before getting us to have a go at practicing reading the trees and making those decisions ourselves. Being a member of the Food Growing Hub, Andrew asked me to dive in and have a go, and as I started to put the ideas into practice, with some support from the rest of the group, I started to be able to see more clearly which branches were good to keep and which to remove.
Apples trees need to be pruned yearly, to maintain and manage the first, second and third year growth that is taking place, and this pruning needs to be done in the winter, when the energy of the tree has been drawn down to the roots and branch growth isn’t taking place. Having received the ‘Beast from the East’ last week, spring will be delayed for a few weeks longer, which gives us at the Food Growing Hub more chance to prune a couple of remaining trees at the orchard. I certainly can’t wait to see how our pruning decisions influence the trees through the spring and summer of this year.
Andrew Lear runs a nursery growing fruit and nut trees, as well as working as a consultant and offering workshops on a variety of orchard topics. For more information please visit: https://plantsandapples.com/
“We all have a passion for growing our own food, whether this is to save money, have a healthier diet, because we love being outside and caring for plants, or because we want to ‘save the world’. As a Food Growing Hub, we are a community food growing space based at the University of Dundee Botanic Garden, in Dundee, Scotland.”
“This food growing space is comprised of raised beds and ground level food growing spaces – comprising 14 plots in total! There is also a seating area, a shed, and an orchard of apples, plums, pears and cherries planted by the Dundee Urban Orchard project.”
“We, the individuals at The Food Growing Hub, are a wide mix of local residents. We are aged from the 20s to the 70s; some of us are retired, and some working or studying. The Hub is also enjoyed by garden visitors who come to explore, enjoy, and be inspired by the food that is being grown. Garden staff also take an interest in what is being grown, offering us some of their spare plants and knowledge, as well as sharing in some of the produce.”
“In the Spring of 2017, Jade Cawthray-Syms approached the garden with the offer of co-ordinating some community activities, including starting to run some food growing experiments in the Hub as part of the GROW Observatory. Very soon Jade was joined by a GROW staff member Alice Ambler and the two forged forward in a bid to bring us all together to share knowledge, skills, experiences, resources, and fun.”
“Looking back on 2017 we have been amazed and delighted to see how much we have achieved together in just a 6 month period. Here are our highlights:”
We Got New Members
“Interest in the Food Growing Hub and the demand for spaces has been consistent throughout the year, leading to two new members joining the Hub and growing our community to 11 individuals.”
Food, Glorious Food
“We have grown sooo much wonderful, fresh, and incredibly tasty food this year: Potatoes, carrots, parsnips, squash, peas, beans, courgettes, beetroot, cabbages, broccoli, pak choi, spinach, salads, radishes, onions, herbs, strawberries, and raspberries! It’s been an absolute delight.”
Lots of Support from the Botanic Gardens staff
“We’re getting to know the Botanic Garden staff really well! They have been consistently open and generous, leading to a number of improvements at the Hub.”
New Composting Area
“Prior to this year, we used the Garden’s composting area, which was a fair walk from the Hub. We did have a composting container, but it was not fit for purpose. We now, thanks to Alasdair (the Garden curator) have our very own composting area, built by the garden staff. The composting area has three spaces: one for compostable material; one for compost brought from the gardens supply for our usage, and one for stony and woody rubbish that needs disposing of. Because we do not produce enough garden waste for composting, the garden staff remove our composting material, and add it to their composting piles. Dan, one of the garden staff members, took the time to talk us through the composting system and what types of materials we should and shouldn’t be composting.”
“The shed at the Hub was well overdue a coat of paint and starting to look at bit shabby. Alasdair agreed to buy us some wood stain and equipment. Ray, Mhairi and Jade spent a September afternoon painting the shed. The colour is quite different and the coating not as thick as we’d hoped, but it looks a lot brighter than before and will keep the wood in good condition through the winter. The next job is to get the inside of the shed tidied up.”
“Before Jade and Alice arrived the Hub members didn’t really know each other, but since then we’ve started to have regular meetings and friendships have started to blossom. We’ve had three group meetings across the Summer and Autumn where we’ve got to know each other and discussed how we might work together. Now when we bump into each other at the plots we stop to chat and share our stories of food growing experimental successes and failures. Ann even started a Facebook page so that we can share photos from the allotments, and relevant events.”
Developing our knowledge
“During this summer at the Hub many of us were challenged by Potato Blight. With the guidance of Dave B we took measures to protect our potato crop and prevent the spread of the disease. We then realised that, beyond it being bad, we didn’t really know what potato blight was, or if we had managed it correctly. With the James Hutton Institute on our doorstep, we decided to invite a Potato Blight expert to come and talk to us about what they know of the problem. David Cooke joined us and gave an absolutely fascinating presentation on what potato blight was, and how it is managed at the industrial farming scale. He was fantastic at answering our persistent and eager questions. We discussed how the knowledge developed for large-scale farms could be applied to our own practices in the Hub. Cutting off the infected shaws as early as possible and keeping the leaves of our potatoes dry during warm humid summer weather was the best option.”
Late Night Opening
“Throughout July, August and September we had late night opening. This meant that we could stay at the garden late on Wednesday evenings approximately every fortnight. This provided the group with a well needed opportunity to visit the Hub after work hours through the week. It was certainly a lovely way to spend the end of a Wednesday, especially with the long, sunny, Dundee evenings.”
Applying for Funding
“There are a few things the Hub would like to buy, to make life that little bit easier. We would like to have a greenhouse so that members can start plants off earlier than the Dundee growing season allows. We’d also like to get some equipment to support our members with physical challenges, to help them with gardening tasks. We need new tools to replace old ones and books to help us improve our gardening practices. The Hub discussed funding applications to raise a little bit of money for these ambitions. After a sadly unsuccessful application to a community fund, we’re keen to try again this year.”
Hosting other food growers
“At the end of the summer, the Food Growing Hub, along with the Garden, hosted a group of families from Discoverin’ Families – a Dundee based charitable project which helps families to improve their quality of life and be involved in the community. The group had decided to start food growing to provide their families with fresh, healthy, and low cost food. They were visiting different food growing projects to see how they had set themselves up, and to try and learn some tips and tricks. Clare, from the Garden staff, showed the group the edible foods in the greenhouse. Jade and Ray showed them the Food Growing Hub, helping them to identify the vegetables, and even taste a few. Lastly, the children planted radish, spring onion, and spinach seeds in pots to grow at home.”
“The Food Growing Hub is supporting the GROW Observatory – a European Commission funded citizen science project. This observatory spreads across the whole of Europe, working with food growers like us to conduct experiments that will help us to learn about and develop regenerative practices – practices that protect and enhance the soil, rather than degrade it. The Hub has been supporting the GROW Observatory in the development of informational materials that go to the project participants. As well as providing a space for filming and photography, we have been testing out their scientific protocols.”
An even bigger, better 2018
“After a really successful 2017 for the Hub, we have now built some strong relationships and lots of enthusiasm and momentum to do more in 2018. Watch this space for regular updates on all our veg and fruit growing antics.”
This year Esther Carmen and myself, as part of the Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), were asked to organise the annual Facing the Future conference, in partnership with AdaptationCONNECTS from the University of Oslo and the International Futures Forum.
Facing the Future is an annual two-day postgraduate conference for Masters, PhD and early career researchers from the sciences, social sciences, and humanities, organised through the Centre for Environmental Change and Human Resilience (CECHR), at the University of Dundee, and James Hutton Institute. It’s purpose is to promote interdisciplinary discussions and collaborations around the WICKED problems of the 21st Century.
The conference took place on 28th & 29th August 2017, at the James Hutton Institute, Invergowrie, and brought together 55 delegates, speakers and facilitators from across more than 15 disciplines including, natural science, anthropology, social science, arts, finance, psychology, law, and planning arts, and representing 15 different countries from all continents except Antarctica!!
On day one Professor Karen O’Brien of University of Oslo kicked the conference off with a collaborative ice breaker, that asked groups of delegates to lower a helium stick to the ground, without anyone taking their fingers off. Turns out this takes a LONG time, and the key to success is communication and shared decision-taking. She then provided a keynote speech that impressed on us the importance of being able to wear other people’s perspectives of the world, like putting on different pairs of glasses.
We then broke out into three groups and ran a Turbo Talks session, which gave all delegates the opportunity to introduce themselves and their work, and then have a chance to network with each other on shared topics and visions.
On the evening of the first night the whole conference party gathered for dinner at the HMS Frigate Unicorn, a historic warship of nearly 200 years of age. After drinks and an utterly delicious vegetarian and home grown dinner from Falkland Kitchen Farm of the Falkland Estate, delegates threw themselves, quite literally, into a traditional Scottish Ceilidh, led by the brilliant Canongate Cadjers Ceilidh Band. Hot, sweaty and out of breadth, this certainly made sure we all knew each other really well and meant that when we kicked off Day Two, we were like old friends.
Professor Bruce Goldstein led day two with a keynote exploring the unexpected turns and failures in our careers and how his career led him to exploring learning networks and the way in which small scale learning and innovation can feed its way up to mainstream practice. He then introduced us to the Netweavers Network, a network to support those who run networks.
Tony and Ian then picked the Three Horizons work back up and delegates worked their way through identifying the core features of Horizon 3 and Horizon 2, for transforming collaboration for a more sustainable future.
We finished the conference with a reflection circle, that unexpectedly led to a group discussion and exploration of the personal dimension of the transformative work that we are all striving to do. And we celebrated the need to take care of ourselves, in order to achieve these goals.
On behalf of Esther and myself, I’d like to thank Karen, Bruce, Tony, Ian, Adrienne, Stephan and all the delegates, for a wonderful two day conference. It was such a privilege to spend two days with such an international and discipline rich group of people, who brought much laughter and fun into the discussions and debates of the conference.