Reflections on inclusion in citizen science from some of the ongoing EU-funded projects
We take inclusivity to encompass different aspects of the general problem we address in the CitieS_Health project, i.e. how residents’ health is affected by the pollution in their living environments. First inclusivity refers to the different disciplinary fields involved: environmental epidemiology, sociology, history, and ethics, among others. Second, it refers to the attention to information and data other than the strictly scientific one in the framing of the problem and in devising the most suitable practices of investigation. Third, it refers to the collaboration of professional researchers and citizen scientists in all research stages, from the very definition of the problem to the selection of methods, the collection and analysis of data, their diffusion and possible use for policy decisions. Fourth it refers to a commitment to reaching out to people that normally are not given the opportunity to have their say in choices and decisions which touch upon their health and wellbeing.
We judge all such aspects to be interrelated and of equal importance. In our understanding, the overall meaning and significance of inclusivity are derived precisely by the integration of all of them, so that the problem at hand can be looked at through different lenses which, combined together, provide a more general and possibly more accurate picture of people’s problems and concerns. No need to say that this kind of novel approach is very challenging. It requires the development of a shared language with which to discuss constructively a problem that different actors may not perceive in the same way.
Citizen Science is not just about using crowds to gather data. The engagement of the population and democratisation of scientific tools and methods, together with smart stakeholder engagement can put citizen science in the unique opportunity to have an influence on issues that otherwise have fallen through governance cracks in the system. The D-NOSES project proposes an extension to the Principle 10 Right to Access Data, one even more basic to sustainable development – the Citizen’s Right to Create Data. One could say that this right is basic and sufficient. With data, a concerned group of citizens can present a rational and persuasive argument without being easily dismissed as biased or hysterical, accusations which are often used to invalidate their concerns – particularly in the field of odours. But access to rights must also be equal and universal. Otherwise marginalised or ignored groups must be empowered to be part of the system. This is why D-NOSES uses a highly inclusive model that carefully considers at each step if the diversity of the affected population is being addressed. Only through the careful integration of ALL stakeholders and their interests can we hope to achieve balanced and common sense solutions.
Co-design places citizens at the centre and aims to empower citizens to work with scientists and other stakeholders to develop meaningful citizen-science activities from the beginning of a project. This allows the creation of activities within communities with common interests as a co-operative process, helping to sustain longer-term citizen science involvement and impact. From the identification of the challenge, to the design, testing and use of tools, the citizens lead the way. Co-design requires active engagement of all stakeholders, including community members, scientists, and local policy members in a series of workshops to understand their views and interests. Having seen the value of involving citizens throughout the design of the project, MICS has adopted the Ground Truth 2.0 co-design methodology and is encouraging local citizens to lead their own citizen-science projects in case-study sites across Europe.
REINFORCE has a very ambitious goal: to
explore the potential of frontier citizen science for inclusion and diversity.
Indeed, the project aims to extend the senses used in scientific inference
beyond the visual, including sense-impaired people (especially visually
impaired) and senior citizens, by providing them with tools (sonification of
data for visually impaired people, virtual training workshops for people from
rural areas, specialized ICT training workshops for senior citizens) and
training to overcome specific barriers. Hopefully these groups will enrich the
project by bringing new ideas to it.
The main actor working to achieve this objective will be the Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas (CONICET), which is developing software that aims to achieve better and multisensory access to astronomical data; it is called SonoUno and, given some tables of astronomical data, it creates a graphic response and also sound that allows blind people to explore the data.