Dec 12, 2022
Citizen science (CS) is not any more a new concept, in fact it is more and more supported by research funding agencies and taken up by research performing organisations as a means to engage with the public – also in the Western Balkans.
The WBC-RRI.NET promoted the concept intensively in April 2022 (see https://wbc-rri.net/a-month-dedicated-to-awareness-about-citizen-science/ also for a short introduction into the concept and inspiring examples) and our Albanian partners CO-PLAN, Institute for Habitat Development are developing a true “good practice case” for public engagement using CS as a method.
Now for 2023 we are looking forward to even more opportunities for CS to play a broad societal and scientific role particularly in critical fields of research relevant in times of multiple crisis, such as energy poverty, health and environmental monitoring.
Actors increasingly acknowledge that CS can and should play a pivotal role by making science more socially robust, inclusive and democratic, while strengthening the capacity of scientific investigation over emerging phenomena that cannot be easily addressed within narrow disciplinary boundaries. These processes are highly dynamic and require specific expertise which is not always available in the research teams and research institutions. For instance, an effective and engaging communication and dissemination strategy has been proved to be a crucial element for the success of any Citizen Science initiative and the achievement of its expected impact.
On November 24-25, WBC-RRI.NET had the chance to meet with several stakeholders at the “Open Science Communication” conference in Belgrade, organised by the Center for the Promotion of Science (Serbia).
One of the upcoming possibilities are calls by the IMPETUS project, which aim to open the door for new stakeholders wanting to try out developing citizen science projects. IMPETUS is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon Europe programme. Its goal is to support, enable, and increase the recognition of citizen science across Europe. The project will do this in two ways: 1) it will provide funding and support to citizen science projects, and 2) award the European Union Prize for Citizen Science.
Gefion Thuermer was excited to promote these opportunities to the audience in Belgrade. She is a research fellow at Kings College London and the technical and scientific coordinator of IMPETUS, with responsibility for overall project delivery, and the open calls to recruit citizen science projects.
IMPETUS funding will be available for 100 kickstarting projects, at 20,000€ each, and 25 sustaining projects, at 10,000€ each. All successful applicants will join an accelerator, with a dedicated mentor and a tailored training programme that fits their needs. There will be an open call for both the support programme and prize each year until 2025. The first open call will launch on 10th January 2023, and is open to applicants from all EU member states and associated countries (i.e. all the Western Balkans!) It will focus on the topics of Citizen Science for a Healthy Planet and Cities for Life.
More information and the call itself will soon be available on the project website (see https://impetus4cs.eu/).
WBC-RRI.NET’s role was bringing together the panel which was moderated by Elke Dall, Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) from Austria. She formulated the overall mission of the session as “raising awareness about the opportunities provided through EU support”. The variety of toolkits and training materials as well as funding opportunities are not yet widely known. The hope is that researchers from the region see the potential of this method for almost any research area, in particular those addressing societal challenges.
Kejt Dhrami, another partner of the WBC-RRI.NET project, presented the pilot citizen science conducted in the anchor territory of the Kune Vaini lagoon in Albania. Co-PLAN, Institute for Habitat Development has collaborated with Ministry of Tourism and Environment in developing the first process of ‘assessing ecosystem services’ in Albania, with the support of WBC-RRI.NET. This initiative aims to address the lagoon of Kune-Vaini, Lezhe’s vulnerability challenges, which stem from both anthropocentric and climate change causes. These challenges include: coastal erosion; a reduction in fishery production; eutrophication and contamination of lagoon waters; disturbance of fauna biodiversity; increased risk from flooding; etc. The focus of the citizen science initiative, as explained in the session was to increase understanding of the “tangible” value of the ecosystem for both RAPA (administration) and residents by developing a comprehensive economic value assessment and evaluating each ecosystem service separately. Several challenges were encountered during the process, including the lack of technical data on flooding, bathymetric features, water quality data, and so on; the lack of mapped territorial information for biodiversity, ecosystem typologies, and recreational activities; and RAPA’s relatively limited capacity to manage and monitor changes in the protected area in a systemic manner. These challenges were addressed by implementing a comprehensive survey with all local households, and business operators/fishermen in the area (around 120 stakeholders) in collaboration with RAPA. What the team didn’t expect was for the community pillar to become the focal point of the entire project, both in terms of energy and time, as well as feedback. Local households and specific stakeholders, such as fishermen, were initially hesitant to engage due to disinterest in the topic and, in certain cases, a desire to safeguard their property or livelihood. Nevertheless, the assessment procedure proved to be an interactive exercise in creating trust while also learning about components of the ecosystem that were previously unknown to the inhabitants. The team of researchers will evaluate the survey findings and assess the outcomes of citizens’ perceptions of the value of fisheries, flood control, wastewater purification, and carbon sequestration for the lagoon in the coming months. Most significantly, the initiative’s success will now be judged by the quantity of new information developed and implanted in the area’s inhabitants and business operators.
Kejt Dhrami, who is a lecturer and researcher at POLIS University as well as Head of Territorial Governance and Spatial Planning Unit at Co-PLAN, Institute for Habitat Development in Tirana, shared some key messages for CS activities in similar contexts:
- Building trust is the key to any successful citizen science action
- The production of knowledge must be incremental in these circumstances
- The process may become more time-consuming than anticipated
- The scientific language used should be adapted to the local context
- To ensure that the citizen science method is effective, collaboration with reliable community representatives or CSOs is essential.
- It is advised that participants in co-design activities include members of the quadruple helix, but the process is more successful if the level of representation is the same, i.e., local businesses, municipal staff who are sensitive to the needs of the public, academics with experience working on community projects, etc.
As Elke from Centre for Social Innovation is also involved in the project StepChange, it was possible to invite two researchers and communicators active in this project, coming from different important organisations in the field of Citizen Science.
Carla Perucca Iannitelli is Policy Officer at Science for Change (SfC) based in Barcelona, Spain. She is the Project Manager of Step Change and European Citizen Science (ECS). Apart of StepChange, she is also in charge of the policy part of NEWSERA, TRANSFORM and other EU-H2020 projects where SfC takes part. She highlighted among other aspects, a brand new project which has just received funding: COALECE. It will provide capacity building possibilities from 2023 onwards.
Chris Styles, Project Officer at the European Science Engagement Association (EUSEA), also joined as a panellist. He leads communication and dissemination efforts for a number of EU-funded projects, including projects related to STEM education, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), and Citizen Science. StepChange, similar to several other EU funded projects, demonstrates that citizen science is possible in almost any scientific field and that mutual learning among different groups is a great way to deepen our understanding on the method. The consortium implements pilot cases with energy communities in Germany, farmers in Uganda, patients in Great Britain, hunters and naturalists on environmental in Slovenia and citizens focusing on disease outbreaks in Italy. The projects make an effort to share their lessons learnt and materials, so the respective websites, social media channels etc. are offering sources of inspiration for citizen science initiatives.
The panel encouraged the participants to try new methods, to engage stakeholders “No one likes to be talked at, and others may be hesitant to contribute in more formal settings, but by thinking outside of the box, you may gain insights you might not have gained using traditional methods” as Chris pointed out.
The ACTION toolkit, for example, was recommended by the panel as an excellent place to start when developing a citizen science project idea or application . It provides guidance on how to set up and run a successful citizen science project. In addition, the EU Citizen Science Platform is incredibly inspirational,
Elke, a sociologist by training working at the Centre for Social Innovation (ZSI) in Vienna, Austria encouraged in particular participants from Serbia and the Western Balkans to make use of the opportunities offered by the EU-funded projects. The open and engaging methods have a potential to support change in the research and innovation ecosystem, creating new links. Already ongoing initiatives on Responsible Research and Innovation are invited to participate in the competition for best practices offered by the WBC-RRI.NET project.
Impetus Project: https://impetus4cs.eu/
NEWSERA Project: https://newsera2020.eu/
EUSEA Science Engagement Platform- A collection of public engagement activities: https://eusea.info/platform/
Step Change project: https://stepchangeproject.eu/
eu-citizen.science Platform: https://eu-citizen.science/
ACTION toolkit, which provides guidance on how to set up and run a successful citizen science project: https://actionproject.eu/toolkit/
WBC-RRI.NET call for good practices: https://wbc-rri.net/call-for-submission-of-good-practices-in-rri/