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Zoom in on the status of citizen science in Lithuania

March 31, 2020, 12:01 p.m.

As project partners are getting ready for their next meeting (this time in Vilnius), we decided to put the light on the field of citizen science in Lithuania by interviewing our local hosts, Eglė Ramanauskaitė (Human Computation Institute) and Monika Mačiulienė (Mykolas Romeris University, MRU).

Eglė and Monika, how did you get involved in citizen science in the first place?

Eglė: I was always interested in science communication and open science, and I discovered citizen science by accident in an online MOOC. For my internship, I worked on the European project Citizen Cyberlab and became professionally involved in citizen science with the Human Computation Institute right after. Now, I am the Citizen Science Coordinator there and Co-PI for a project called Stall Catchers, which is an online game that enables us to crowdsource analyses of Alzheimer’s research data.

Apart from this big project, I am also involved in smaller ones with Technarium, the Vilnius hackerspace community, and with Vytautas Magnus University, where we are encouraging teachers to use citizen science in their science classes.

Monika: As for me, I work at the Social Technologies LAB of MRU, which conducts research on the impact of information and communication technologies in solving various social problems. EU-Citizen.Science is my first citizen science project but I worked on several projects related to the field. I am mostly interested in the collective actions of citizens, communities, governmental organisations and other stakeholders in the co-creation of value, for example how collective intelligence emerges in online communities. What I really enjoy in citizen science is this potential to bring so many different stakeholders together and seek common answers to scientific problems. 

EU-Citizen.Science just began, but we have a lot of interesting things planned in Lithuania, starting with the Perspectives of Citizen Science event. This year we would also like to launch a national online platform, publish several research articles and gather the community of citizen science enthusiasts both online and offline – clearly, this project gave an impetus for us to get organised!

Can you tell us a bit more about this event? What do you hope it will bring for citizen science in Lithuania?

Eglė: By introducing citizen science to local stakeholders, we hope to give them a clearer understanding of what it is. Given that citizen science is not really known here – especially by policy-makers – when there are citizen science proposals they disregard them. As a result, there is not a lot of funding available to develop projects. Through this event, we hope to enable them and local stakeholders to understand citizen science better and to recognise its potential. 

Monika: In addition, this event will help researchers and practitioners interested in citizen science to meet in person and set an agenda. I believe that coordinated efforts and common goals would make it easier to spread the news on citizen science in Lithuania. The concept itself is really interesting, but because citizens do not know they can contribute to science via mobile phones, they are not participating in projects. A little push through local research institutions might change that.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges this field is facing today?

Eglė: Two of its biggest challenges are funding and sustainability, which are interrelated. To take a concrete example, it took us 3 years to develop the Stall Catchers platform. Usually, a lot of effort is put in projects like this one, but as soon as the funding ends it is not sustainable anymore and what was created gets lost.

What is exciting about Stall Catchers is that we can keep the same working platform and adapt it to other diseases. We are currently developing a new game to analyse data on Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and we have several other diseases lined up already. This is a great means of keeping and reusing a working platform for other projects. It enables us to save a lot of time and not to reinvent the wheel multiple times.

Another major challenge is the language barrier. Many projects are in English and cannot always be translated and adapted locally, or people simply do not know they exist as they are in a foreign language. This is why contacting local hubs to increase dialogue within the citizen science community is essential. But this needs to be coordinated with a bigger awareness of the field, especially from policy-makers.

Monika: Citizen engagement platforms online face multiple challenges – funding, institutional support, limited citizen engagement, etc. From my perspective, one of the biggest obstacles is the lack of intermediaries, civic leaders, influencers who would be able to translate the importance of citizen science to broader audiences. We simply lack people who would make it cool to count birds, measure the levels of sound or take pictures of wildlife.

Do you think the EU-Citizen.Science platform can address some of these issues?

Eglė:  EU-Citizen.Science can help in gathering citizen science practitioners (and future ones) on a European scale. By bringing the community together, the platform will enable peers to talk to each other more and share knowledge. It will help them be aware of and use each other’s work more instead of replicating it. The EU-Citizen.Science platform, like local informative websites, can therefore help achieve that as it will present systematically the different resources that are out there. In addition, national informative spaces like the one we are working on with MRU will overcome the language barrier.

To even go one step further, I think it would be great to interrelate the EU-Citizen.Science platform to what we are currently doing with Stall Catchers: create a framework of plug and play parts that people can reuse to create their own citizen science projects. This way people are not just accessing the knowledge but can benefit from the platforms and elements already created by other project owners, which would make both the initial establishment of projects and their sustainability much easier.

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