Citizen science, by definition, has a strong connection with citizens participation. Citizens can be engaged in multiple roles, such as sensors, data interpreters or collaborators in the definition of research questions.
However, citizen science projects often struggle to engage people outside a clique of “usual suspects“, who are already interested in science or in a specific issue, or to enroll large groups in their activities. And even if outcomes of citizen science projects are generally considered positive, it’s not easy to clearly define their impact towards the general population, or to say that their activities are beneficial to all sides involved (so, for example, both to the researchers promoting a project and the citizens involved).
These challenges highlight a gap in the communication between projects and society. To close it, it’s useful to look at a project’s capability of being inclusive in recruitment, and at its resonance, in three key moments in the life of a project: its start, its ongoing activity and its conclusion.
An inclusive recruitment strategy may foster engagement and return a higher and more active participation; and the resonance across society through communication can increase the impact, especially when citizen scientists become ambassadors of the research.
These two issues were at the core of the co-creation workshops of the “NEWSERA Citizens and society at large Lab“.
Participants included a small group of: citizen science practitioners from 39 ongoing citizen science initiatives, the NEWSERA “Pilots” (selected during the NEWSERA survey and interviews), citizens with different backgrounds (some of them with previous experience of citizen science and others who don’t have any), 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 during December 2020, with the first common session on Friday 18/12/2020; it was open to external participants (citizen science projects, experts in citizen science, science communicators).
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 citizen scientists and society at large. This blueprint, dedicated to citizen scientists and society at large 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
Planttes is a citizen science project that aims to inform about the presence of allergenic plants in the environment and the level of allergy risk depending on their phenological status. The objective is to help to understand better the relationship between the environment and allergic diseases, contributing to improve the quality of life of the people who suffer them.
The project COMPASS aims to support teachers to develop lessons that connect science and mathematics with each other and, most crucially, with the lives of their students.
Urbamar is a citizen science project that allows citizens to get to know the wonders of the coastline and marine areas of Barcelona, Sant Adrià de Besos and Badalona, strengthening the ties between citizenship and urban natural resources. The project aims to increase the sense of belonging and co-responsibility over the preservation and conservation of these ecosystems.
Mosquito Alert employs citizen science to research and control disease-transmitting mosquitoes. It brings together researchers, public health officials and enviromental managers in order to fight against the tiger mosquito and the yellow fever mosquito, both vectors of viruses such as Zika, Dengue and Chikunguya.
The FRISK project has the aim to discover the invasion routes of invasive fish arriving in Portugal and Spain, and to help improve the management of recreational fisheries and the conservation of aquatic ecosystems. In the project, fishermen’s surveys helped to understand fish behaviours better; outreach activities allowed to build a more comprehensive picture of the new invaders, using voluntary records from the fishermen.
VACALOURA.pt is a citizen science project with the aim of compiling and organizing information sent by citizens on the distribution and status of the lucanid species in Portugal. The project collaborates with the European Stag Beetle Monitoring Network, which aims to determine the conservation status of this species.
“Grande Caça aos Ovos” is the Portuguese version of the Shark Trust UK project “The Great Egg Case Hunt”. It aims to promote the conservation of shark and ray populations that live along the Portuguese coast, while creating and supporting ecological awareness of these species. The project encourages the search for shark and ray eggs and their recording through a mobile application, providing information about the distribution, diversity and spawning potential and nursery areas for these species.
MosquitoWeb is a citizen science project that invites all participants to report the presence of mosquitoes. Mainland Portugal is in the path of invasive mosquitoes, which, besides being very aggressive and annoying, transmit pathogens such as the Dengue and yellow fever viruses. The aim is to characterize the dispersion and activity of these mosquitoes, as well as the movements of native species.
The GERT project involves citizens into surveys for studying and monitoring local biodiversity. Data submitted by the citizens converge into the National Network on Biodiversity (NNB) of the Ministry of Environment. The project aims to educate and train participants on environmental issues through the scientific method, and empower them to influence the decision-making process on environmental issues.
Roma UP aims to increase the communicative and political impact capacity of the groups active in defense of the environment and public spaces in the city of Rome. The citizen scientists involved are the local committees who, through a training course, acquire skills and useful tools for practicing participatory environmental monitoring on the waters, soil and air. Roma UP includes a pilot study of civic environmental monitoring in the Tiber River.
Through a website and an app, participants in the InNat project collect data of different insect species, thus contributing to biodiversity conservation. The data is validated by experts, published on the website and shared with the national database of the National Network for Biodiversity. InNat aims to disseminate knowledge about specific conservation initiatives. Monitoring is a key point of the project as well, with the training of the Carabinieri staff that manages the State Natural Reserves and support the implementation of monitoring protocols for protected species.