Notes from the Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) visit to Hungary – 13 Sep 2022

Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE university) was the site of the second day of the visit, at the natural science faculty. The university has about 4000 students and 400 PhD students in their science faculty. This is one of the main universities in Hungary. The post from day one is available here.

The Science building of the ELTE university

The first talk of the day, after the summary of the development in the MLE, was “Funding Open Science and Citizen Science in Hungary” dr. István Szabó, Vice President of NRDIO (the Hungarian research funding organisation). Providing a perspective from the policy/funding – a macro approach, and seeing it in the wider national strategy. The “European paradox” is that countries outside Europe are strong in innovation, while European countries are doing well in research. The output of the central and eastern European countries needs to do better. The Hungarian approach is aiming for 3% of GDP spending in 2030, going from 1.61%. Hungary is lagging in the European innovation scoreboard – a sixth position from the bottom. There is a need for information sharing and strengthening to improve performances. There is a mismatch in the R&I capacity in the Eastern part (only 8.6% of Horizon funding). Hungary is doing well within the group of smaller countries, but it must improve its position. They developed a specialisation strategy, which is included in digitalisation, RDI. Priorities include agriculture, health, digital economy, and also public sector and university innovation – the softer components of RDI. They build their funding system in line with Horizon Europe – excellence, thematic programmes, and business innovation. Their budget is about HUF 105.762 billion, and the business innovation is 76.53 billion. Their thematic areas include specific challenges: national security, health, and challenges such as environment, digitalisation, culture, family etc.

Dr Istvan Szabo

There is a system of programmes that are aimed to support the RDI strategy. The aim is to develop international collaboration to ensure have an impact on the broader society. The mix between bottom-up and top-down is the creation of national laboratories. These laboratories are a one-stop shop – they provide links to the university system and experts across the country. There are also science parks that are being built in different regions with a specific theme (for example, motorsport or AI).

In their Open Science goals, NRDIO is setting a national OS advisory board and is putting an effort on the culture change. They are aiming to create a white paper on OS – what Hungary understand in this area. Seeing OS as an evolutionary process that will help the university system to develop its response. The statement about OS also recognises what will be the interpretation of each concept. A range of actors – from the government IT agency, to Rectros’ conference and other actors signed up to the declaration. The national RDI strategy of Hungary highlights the importance of a two-way process – not only the citizens joining the scientific process but also the scientists opening up to the public. They created a call on citizen science and this showed awareness – 270 grants from 650 applications. They want to develop a monitoring system for citizen science and a network of citizen science projects in Hungary linked to the international network. These initiatives are working better if they are working at the international level.

Some of the relevant slides are:

The next set of talks focused on one of the leading groups in ELTE which carries out participatory research and citizen science. The group was presented by ELTE family dog project leader Ádám Miklósi – a one-hour programme to demonstrate the dogs’ citizen science projects.

The introduction to the project is given by Eniko Kubini. The story of the project started with a stray dog that was adopted by Vilmos Csany who was a professor of Ethology. Looking at the behaviour of fish, the professor had a diary of the actions of the dog and an understanding of the behaviour of dogs. The group was reluctant to look at family dogs and not the human environment. The projects started in 1994 and they have published many papers on family dog cognition and behaviour. The contribution of the group is now recognised as a world-leading. They looked as personality aspects of dogs, they are looking at brain are and model. The senior family dog, they study cognitive aging in dogs to understand aspects – they worked with 20,000 surveys and 300 detailed studies, such as a memory test. They have a long tradition of public communication, working with the media, videos, social media, etc – about 40k followers. They also do a public aimed annual conference. This dissemination work, recognised that the presence of the university is due to ethology. European have more dogs than children below 15YO…

There are some exceptions in the project, in which people are not just filling in surveys but also contributing to scientific research. An example of that is a dog-brain biobank. Sara Sandor talked about biobanking. Participation in scientific research makes the participants more involved. More traditional areas – such as molecular research was using “model animals”. In medical research, we involved participants – so for example, concern over dementia and the dog can be used for a model on cognitive deterioration. They initiated a brain and tissue bank at ELTE. They contributed to dog dementia in a range of papers. They are in regular contact with owners and they feel better by donating to a greater cause by such a donation. They also provide feedback to people who donate.

Another project in the group looks for dogs that learn the name of objects – you must involve the dog owners in the experiment. Andrea Sommese talked about gifted dogs, those that are able to know the name of objects. They started to wonder how this works – only 3 or 4 dogs were recorded. They found 6 dogs and regular dogs. They asked the owners to teach the name of two toys to their dogs. The toys were in another room – gifted dogs learn and know how to bring the toys with new names. Most dogs can’t deal with 2 objects, but gifted dogs have a rare ability and it’s a model to learn about talent. They launched a genius dog challenge and they run it on Youtube – learning 12 names of objects in one week. They now have 30 dogs and they are all over the world. They are working through zoon and reaching out.

Fanni Lechoczki and Paula Perez Fraga presented a comparative study between dogs and pigs. They explained the development of citizen science experiments. The reason – they needed to collect data during the pandemic, and they can’t use the room in the lab and they had to do the experiments at home. Secondly, they have an outbreak of swine-fever, which impact family pigs. More owners can be reached this way, compared to departmental testing – the participatns are not only from Budapest. Also opportunity to test the animal in their natural environment. They advertised the call for participation. They’ve done experiment with human sound.

The process includes writing a protocol for owners, in a clear way, and also providing demo videos on how to do the experiment. Then created an application form and video acceptance form. Also needed a data storage system, and set a certificate/gift. Only when that was in place advertising the test. The participants were asked to set up the room and the experiment. There was online support for the participants during the experiment. Then they share the video file.

Several frequent issues: not appropriate room setup (put things in the right position). Problems with technical devices – or not having technical skills or wanting to deal with the technical challenges. Some participants did not follow the protocol, or the owner’s behaviour interfered with the subject. and can be disturbances during the test – someone coming home. There are also pig-specific issues – there were complexities of adjusting to a new species that the scientists haven’t worked with. There are fewer companion pigs and the community of owners is not as used to joining (they are less motivated). Pigs are hard to control – e.g. just living in the room. There are species-specific issues. There are some examples from Spain. The motivated owners are engaging with them beyond the test and continued. They had 30 out of 52 dogs that were tested, with dogs they reached 22 out of 34 were tested. There are results showing that it is possible to run such a project. They summarised the pros and cons of their experience.

During a discussion with the participants in the experiment, participants shared their experiences. The biggest motivation is to put the dog into a situation and learn about new perspectives of their dogs behaviour. It’s a way to learn about the pig and learn more about managing the pig. The biggest challenge – the protocol was clear while for the pig owner, the protocol was challenging because of their unexpected behaviour of the dog.

The next part of the day focused on developing ambition and the roadmap for national plans to support the development of citizen science in the participating countries in the MLE. Margaret shared the Dutch plan for 2030 (NPOS). The original plan in 2016, and it only got into the picture through the effort of UNESCO and local efforts. The effort to create a national programme for citizen science in 2020 is now including citizen science and recognising the need to include multiple stakeholders, across civil society. The strategic goals are coming into the Dutch system in rolling lines of action, with “societal engagement and participation” as a part of it. The conversation needs to start early, with a long-time given to having a conversation with lots of people for a while before starting with the details. There is a significant effort of explaining what is included in citizen science and the need to even explain what it is for a big part of the scientific community itself. There is some misunderstanding about citizen science as open science – which seems to be that parts of open science are mandatory, while citizen science has its place within a wider range of activities. Inside open science policies, there can be confusion – “community engagement” is sometimes understood as the research community engagement instead of the wider groups in society.

The group discussion focused on the development of the ambitious goals. The event ended with a discussion about the final report.

During the day, a set of posters representing a wide range of citizen science projects in Hungary was presented. They are provided in the gallery below

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