Notes from the Mutual Learning Exercise (MLE) visit to Germany – 7 Nov 2022 

The visit started with the Falling Walls Engage pitches and experiencing the effort of communicating and engaging with science across the world.

Alan Irwing started the discussion about MLE in general and focused on the topic of this meeting – Scaling up Citizen Science. Anna Overbeck, from the ministry of education and research, pointed out that citizen science is both allowing to share knowledge about the scientific process with people who are not part of the research system and also to engage with such people in the creation of science. The SDG conference from two years ago is an example of how citizen science can be thought about in a way that is relevant to policy. Citizen science is a good demonstration of international cooperation and addressing problems that don’t end in national borders – Tea Bag Index, and Plastic Pirates both are working at the European level. These projects can also demonstrate the data and the data quality that comes out of the ministry is also considering the importance of local networks to maintain the activities in citizen science. Citizen science itself is a mutual learning process. The final report of the MLE will provide opportunities for other countries to learn from the experience within the MLE.

Silke Voigt-Heucke provided an overview of citizen science in Germany. She started with the national platform “Burger schaffen Wissen”. They develop a strategy from 2014 until 2020 and develop a further strategy to 2030. The national citizen science platform translates to “citizen create knowledge”. The strategy was funded through the GEWISS process and the result of it is the Green Book and setting up a platform. Since then they have an aim to mainstream citizen science in Germany – provide info on projects both for scientists and citizens, networking and advocating the development of the field. BsW is online since April 2014, and about 70,000 people visit it. There are 9 thematic and regional groups – from ethical aspects of citizen science to a regional network in Berlin. They do different training, events (online and offline) and other activities. BsF increased with a number of projects – about 160 active projects are running. When there are funding schemes to support citizen science from BMBF led to rising in the number of projects. In 2020 Aletta Bonn encouraged the development of the next stage of the strategy and the working group of citizen science 2030 developed the next stage in the development of a new strategy. Started in April 2020 and was completed in Spring 2022. They reached out to the Swiss and Austrian citizen science communities to understand the community. The 2030 strategy included 219 participants from 136 organisations. They had a big online survey in Sep 2020 with 400 people responding. The survey showed that exchanges with colleagues from other organisations and from their own organisations were important. Next, the experience to participate in a CS project and organising one. NGOs reported that they benefited from creating their own projects. Terms of citizen scientists – they gain new knowledge about project content, and I can make a difference in the field of my CS projects. Self reportedly, participants didn’t report a change in their attitude towards science. They developed a framework for transformative citizen science.

The strategic 2030 paper identified 15 thematic priorities such as networking and exchange, legislation and ethics. These areas developed in new areas that are included in the white paper – for example, legislation and ethics. Issues like the European perspective is a new area and also the need for the science of citizen science – researching citizen science itself. There are 94 actions and recommendations to different actors.

Beyond the White Paper – the first thing is that citizen science has been integrated into the coalition agrees “we will use citizen science to integrate perspectives from the civil society more strongly in research”. The was also a joint project from the MfN and a competition to support cities and municipalities. This is aimed to support local-level CS. The goals: highlighting citizen science as a topic and research approach to motivate residents to participate in research, and initiate the process of integrating citizen science. The three finalists include exploring migration, architectural culture and language use in a city.

The next BMBFfunding period for the platform is negotiated, also provide a prize for excellent research in 2023 and 2024 and develop criteria for it. Considering civil society multipliers to support the mainstreaming. They consider the new branding and the MfN is working to develop a citizen science centre.

Anna Overbeck covered the funding for citizen science. The process started with strategic dialogue, then specific funding and finally diversification of funding. The early funding focused on the strategic dialogue that led to the development of the 2020 Green Paper. Ten years ago, the community of practice was not around, and the process of including them in the dialogue created the network. The White Paper demonstrated how the national network solidified. The White Paper was a bottom-up approach. This also led to the BsW platform. The next stage was funding calls in 2018-2020 with 13 projects of about 5m EUR budget. There is an interesting and complex relationship with science communication. One of the pitfalls of these funding guidelines – citizen science takes time and needs more time for the project (so four years) and also empowers civil society. In 2021-2024 they had 15 projects with 9 mil Eur. They allowed civil society organisations to be the leads, which is a big step for them. It is an area that is oversubscribed and a lot of expectations are given to it. They didn’t put a specific topic and it showed a variety of interests – in the 600 applications there were many things that don’t show proper commitment to using citizen science: showing that people think that they can get funding without serious engagement with the method. Now they are seeing a diversification of funding – from work about working with municipalities, Joint German/French project, and Plastic Pirates.

They are aiming to consider a nationwide citizen science project. Challenges include integrating citizen science and policy, activating local networks, and increasing the scientific reputation of CS. The local projects that were promoted at local levels, they had 50 applications, of which 50% were from civil society, but in the shortlist, 17 out of 20 came from RPOs. They also need to show scientific excellence in citizen science projects. Need to emphasise and enable young researchers to use citizen science.

Questions: types of projects – they have ecology, and seeing some humanities and social science. The BsW platform is becoming diverse – beyond biology, and even ecological projects are becoming diverse.

Recommendations for scaling up citizen science – the issue is that although citizen science is popular, it is still not accepted in the academic process of promotion and securing positions. The issue is also localised – funding is not available for the municipalities, and that makes it difficult. One way to address it is through school, but not all projects are suitable for that. Scaling is frequently starts locally, but then it’s difficult to develop things on their own – apps, or unwillingness to share resources, The incentives for sharing data are not there.

Plans for scientific excellence – just starting to explore that and develop criteria for what it means to have excellence in citizen science. There are lots of discussions about how to have experts understand the notion of excellence which is suitable for citizen science.

Following these presentations, Antonella Radicchi covered the scaling citizen science discussion paper (which is available on the MLE website). The state of the art of citizen science is that it is progressively becoming more mainstream. We have limited information about the success factors that support the increasing scaling up of citizen science. So the aim of the discussion is the challenges and success factors for scaling CS and the means and approaches to achieve that. There is relatively little literature that is specific to citizen science. The information was collected through mixed methods research from literature reviews, interviews with seven experts and a survey from MLE participants. The first issue is about scalability – the term has multiple meanings. An important report from Maccani and colleagues from 2020 looks at scaling up, and they suggest that it can be associated with growth – participants, geographic coverage etc. Then scaling means this type of growth. However, the interviews identified different notions of scaling – from applicability to adaptability (in a new context) while others expect projects not to change. There is also the issue of the metrics that we used to assess scaling – e.g. economic analysis is not suitable if we’re looking at values aspects and there are also quant and qual aspects. The survey identifies geographic spread, temporal spread, research scope, communities engaged, the amount of data collected etc. The value in defining scalability is necessary to identify the methodological and theoretical ways to suggest policy recommendations.

Drivers, success factors, challenges – there is the 9 drivers framework to scale up citizen science by design. 3 intrinsic values, 3 elements that are supporting and 3 extrinsic.

The survey demonstrated that proof of value, communication and dissemination, champions, knowledge sharing and transfer of resources, and social alignment are important. But there are no linear connections. Other factors include participants’ capabilities and commitment, robust and flexible project plans, and availability of resources for the participants. Challenges include research resistance from non-CS research to engage etc.

Another specific challenge is funding – specific funding lines, programs and policies – may need new assessment criteria. The assessment criteria need to consider calling aspects. Success stories. Some of the success factors – a matter of concern for people is important, infrastructure, communication and engagement, social and legal alignment, expertise and personal motivations, resources, and sustainability plans.

The open questions are:

What does scalability /spreadability in CS mean for research and innovation actors?

What are the dimensions that should define scalability in CS?

What criteria should be used to scale up?

What kind of funding mechanisms can and should be developed?

The participants work in small groups on developing the questions and the reflections are shared.

Some of the notes from the discussion around scaling include.

The second discussion considered the lessons from the field – success factors, challenges and mitigations, strategies and action plans

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