During the last decade, citizen science has grown in popularity and effectiveness as a tool for scientific research. However, many scientists still see it as an activity for science communication or outreach, instead of a way to co-produce scientific knowledge and to increase science literacy.
Even when it’s seen as a science communication tool, the potential of citizen science is often overlooked by academic scientists. There is a general lack of information and interest in its methods as well as in its results, making it more difficult for them to consider participating in or starting a citizen science project.
For citizen science to become mainstream among academic scientists, we need to build trust between these two environments. If citizen science practitioners work together with scientists, they can learn how to reach them better as an audience, also enlarging their network. On the other hand, scientists can experience citizen science practices and see how the data gathered during citizen science projects could be transformed into science results.
Engaging both groups in a two-way learning process leads to synergies in research, teaching, public engagement, and may help in obtaining funding as well.
In the “NEWSERA Academic scientists Lab”, scientists and citizen science practitioners worked together towards these goals, during a series of co-creation workshops.
Participants included a small group of: citizen science practitioners from 38 ongoing citizen science initiatives, the NEWSERA “Pilots” (selected during the NEWSERA survey and interviews), scientists working in academic institutions (some of which already worked with citizen science, and others who did not), a science communication expert acting as moderator, and members from the NEWSERA Team.
The Lab was held online and in person, with three different groups of participants in Spain, Portugal and Italy. While the co-creation workshops were held within each group, all groups came together to share their work and findings during common sessions.
The 1st round of the Lab was conducted between January 11 and January 21, 2021.
The 2nd round of Labs focused on cross-cutting issues in citizen science, such as co-designing indicators, demostrating impact and dealing with ethical issues and misinformation. It was carried out between February and April 2022.
The 3rd and final round of Labs was dedicated to showcasing best practises, outputs and outcomes from the NEWSERA Pilots, and to drafting the Communication Blueprints, a series of guidelines for more effective science communication strategies in citizen science. The third round was carried out in person with national meetings on October 20th (Portugal), 21st (Italy), and November 3rd (Spain), 2022.
The selection process to enroll as a NEWSERA pilot is closed.
The learnings of this co-created process were used to develop the Blueprint for #CitSciComm with and for Career Scientists. This blueprint, dedicated to career scientists as target stakeholder, addresses the importance of this stakeholder, good practices on the co-design of targeted communication plans, elements of co-design, mutual benefits of CS project-stakeholder, and indicators. Furthermore, a description and details of messages, innovative tools, channels and specific case-studies from the NEWSERA Pilots are included. Finally, we shared a series of recommendations to efficiently engage with quadruple helix stakeholders and science and data journalists for wider impact and ensure replicability of the NEWSERA findings and science communication strategies in citizen science projects and beyond.
The projects that took part in this Lab
Biodiversidad Virtual is a scientific and information platform based on cooperative work and the participation of citizens who collect photos of flora and fauna. The project is managed by the non-profit association Fotografia & Biodiversity. Hundreds of citizens and specialists from various sectors participate.
Genigma is a smartphone app based on real data obtained in the lab. During a game, volunteers analyze fragments of cancer cell DNA, for which there is no better identifier than the human eye. The objective is to build a genome map of cancer cells, that would allow to understand which parts of the genome of these cells play a fundamental role in the development of cancer.
DENIS has been created to help researchers to compute very large groups of cardiac electrophysiological model variations. It connects volunteers with researchers to help them in their projects. All the results obtained using DENIS must be published, and all the models used in DENIS must be shared once the project has ended.
The MammalNet project aims to gain insight on the benefits and limitations of using Citizen Science to monitor mammals across Europe, and to learn how we can collect better data and encourage participation.
BioDiversity4All, the largest biodiversity platform in Portugal, is linked to iNaturalist and aims to increase knowledge about Portuguese biodiversity and involve the largest number of people in registering biodiversity. Through the platform, anyone interested can develop projects that allow them to collect information on certain taxonomic groups. The platform aims to collect data that can be used to increase scientific knowledge.
Memória para Todos is a collaborative research and citizen science project that promotes the study, organization and dissemination of Portugal’s historical, cultural and technological heritage. It is developed in close relationship with archives, institutions, municipalities, schools and local associations. The gathered contents (e.g., photographs, audio and video testimonies, sounds and other records), with the participation and involvement of citizens and institutions, are made available online in open access.
Rios Potáveis is part of the international citizen science project Drinkable Rivers. It aims to understand the impact of tourism on the water quality of the Douro River, involving the local community in monitoring actions to investigate several parameters (e.g. nitrate and phosphate content, water hardness, amount of minerals, number of bacteria, surrounding landscape). The project aims to inform and influence public policies in order to improve the conservation status of the region’s water bodies.
EASIN tries to guarantee an open and easy access to data and information on Alien Species occurring in Europe. One of its main goals is to offer assistance to policymakers in their efforts to tackle biological invasions. Its web tools and services can be used freely and independently by policy makers, researchers, stakeholders and users from the public, while ownership of the data remains within its source, which is properly cited and linked. It’s an initiative of the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission.
The School of Ants is an urban study on the evolution of ants that aims to evaluate the effects of the anthropogenic impact on biodiversity, implementing the citizen science approach by involving students and teachers on the data collection. The involved citizen scientists collect ants, filling out a specific form evaluated by the University of Parma researchers.