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Citizen Science as the new paradigm for Science Communication

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Smells like team spirit: how citizen science can succeed

By engaging citizens as co-researchers, they can participate in the production of scientific knowledge. The EU-funded NEWSERA has rolled out co-creation Labs for shared solutions.

Society

Both science and society can benefit from citizen science (CS), which brings the two closer together. Opening up science to industry, commerce and policymakers sparks funding and collaboration opportunities, and the prospect of gathering large data sets through citizen participation. At the same time, developing greater scientific literacy increases citizens’ ability to counter misinformation, increasing their trust in science. “CS also lends credibility to awareness-raising campaigns, with an informed public contributing to decision-making, policies and behavioural change,” says Rosa Arias, coordinator of the EU-funded NEWSERA (Citizen Science as the new paradigm for Science Communication) project and founder of Science for Change (website in Spanish). “But CS initiatives operate within complex stakeholder ecosystems, facing multiple challenges, summarised as a lack of trust, of knowledge and of resources.” To help overcome these barriers, NEWSERA is developing the CitSciComm Labs, to co-design, implement and validate CS communication strategies, targeted at clearly defined stakeholders. The five ‘Labs’ currently being piloted, operate through communities of practice composed of CS practitioners, including members from 38 projects in Italy, Portugal and Spain. So far, NEWSERA has undertaken over 50 activities – including workshops, mutual learning and training – with more than 100 stakeholders. A programme matching projects with journalists is currently under way. NEWSERA has also produced a series of policy briefs on improving science communication.

Labs to cater for the quintuple helix

The NEWSERA Labs were developed to address the needs of the so-called ‘quintuple helix’ group of stakeholders: citizens; academic scientists; industry and SMEs; the public sector and policymakers; and journalists. Each Lab identified barriers to effective CS, providing a forum to explore, co-create, test and share the results of solutions. Contributors included the 38 project members, scientists working in academic institutions (some familiar with CS), science communication and journalism experts, and NEWSERA team members as facilitators. To take one example: the ‘Citizens and society at large Lab’ acknowledges that while citizens can play multiple CS roles – such as human sensors – projects often struggle to recruit beyond those already interested in science or specific issues, especially amongst hard-to-reach groups. So one participant, the UrbamarBio project, offers snorkelling tours guided by an environmental authority around Barcelona. To monitor beach biodiversity, participants upload photos to an online platform for data validation. This has resulted in over 600 species recorded, with more than 9 000 biodiversity observations, and publication of the first Participatory Guide of Marine Biodiversity in the Barcelona Metropolitan Area. When it comes to engaging multiple stakeholders, Arias, previously D-NOSES project coordinator which monitors odour pollution, notes: “First, we mapped the affected communities with the OdourCollect app, before running local pilots. Next, engaging policymakers led to national policy briefs, then revision of EU directives, development of a policy agenda as well as a green paper presented at the European Parliament, and ultimately a national Award (website in Spanish). I’d say to any new CS project, it’s not easy, you need to plan ahead, especially for policy impacts. But we’ve shown it can be done!”

Labs without borders

While each Lab runs co-creation and participatory workshops online for each of the three countries, connecting across the Labs is also a key aim. An example of cross-fertilisation is the Iberian interest group on citizen science of freshwater ecosystems, involving the participation of 23 people from 17 projects. The group meets to discuss issues of common concern, sharing practical knowledge and resources. “The real strength of the CitSciComm Labs lies in these exchanges. Alone, many participants lack the resources or knowledge, such as considering gender dimensions, but together can overcome these limitations in a supportive environment,” concludes Arias. This approach extends to the other SwafS-19 funded projects, with whom the NEWSERA team is working to establish science communication practices capable of responding effectively to fast-moving social issues where citizen involvement is critical, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Towards this end, NEWSERA has partnered with ENJOI to hold a Data Journalism and Misinformation event in Barcelona at the end of 2022.

Keywords

NEWSERA, citizen science, participatory, misinformation, scientific literacy, policy, stakeholders, science communication

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