The week that passed was full of citizen science – on Tuesday and Friday the citizen Science Association held its first Board meeting, and with the Citizen Science 2015 conference on Wednesday and Thursday, and to finish it all, on Friday afternoon a short meeting of a new project, Enhancing Informal Learning Through Citizen Science explored the directions that it will take.
After such an intensive week, it takes some time to digest and think through the lessons from the many conversations, presentations and insights that I’ve been exposed to. Here are my main ‘take away’ lessons. The conference itself ended by members of the Board of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) describing their ‘take away’ in short, tweeter messages. which was then followed by other people joining in such as:
In more details, my main observations are about the citizen science research and practice community, and the commitment to inclusive and ethical practice that came up in different sessions and conversations.
It might be my own enthusiasm to the subject, but as in previous meetings and conferences about citizen science, you can feel the buzz during the event, with participants sharing their knowledge with others and building new connections. While there are already familiar faces and the joy of meeting colleagues in the field of citizen science that you already know, there are also many new people who are either exploring the field of citizen science or are active in it, but new to the community of practice around citizen science. As far as I can tell, the conference was welcoming to new participants and the poster session on the first day and the breakfast on the second day provided opportunities to create new connections. It might be because people in this field are used to talk with strangers (e.g. participants in citizen science activities), but that is an aspect that the CSA need to keep in mind to ensure that it stays an open community and not closed one.
Secondly, citizen science is a young, emerging field. Many of the practitioners and researchers are in early stages of their careers, and within research institutions, the funding for the researchers is through research grants (known in academia as ‘soft money‘) as opposed to budgeted and centrally funded positions. Many practitioners are working within tight and limited government budgets. This have an implications on ensuring the funding limitations don’t stop people from publishing in the new journal ‘Citizen Science: Theory and Practice‘ or if they can’t attend the conference they can find information about it in blogs, see a repository of posters that were displayed in the conference or read curated social media outputs about it. More actively, as the CSA done for this meeting, funding should be provided to allow early career researchers to attend.
Third, there is clearly a global community of researchers and practitioners committed to citizen science. Yet, the support and network that they need must be local. The point above about budget limitations reinforce the need for local networks and need for meeting opportunities that are not to expensive to attend and participate in. For me, the value of face to face meetings and discussions is unquestionable (and I would hope that future conferences will be over 3 days to provide more time), and balancing travel, accommodation and budget constraints with the creation of a community of practice is something to grapple with over the coming years. Having a global community and a local one at the same time is one of the challenges of the Citizen Science Association.
Finally, the conference hosted plenty of conversations and discussions about the ethical and inclusive aspects of citizen science (hence my take away above). From discussions about what sort of citizenship is embedded in citizen science, to the need to think carefully on who is impacted through citizen science activities. A tension that came throughout these discussions is the value of expertise – especially scientific – within an activity where citizen scientists are treated respectfully and their knowledge and contributions appreciated. The tension is emphasised by the hierarchical nature of the academic world, with the ‘flatter’ or ‘self organising’ hierarchies that emerge in citizen science projects. I would guess that it is part of what Heidi Ballard calls ‘Questions that Won’t Go Away’ and will need to be negotiated in different projects. What is clear is that even in contributory projects, where the scientists setting the project question, the protocol, and asking participants to help in data collection of analysis, simple hierarchical thinking of the scientist as expert and the participants as ‘laity’ is going to be challenged.
If you want to see other reflections on Citizen Science 2015 conference, see the conference previews from Holly Menninger and Caren Cooper, and post conference reports from Monica Peters, which provides a newcomer view from a New Zealnad, while Kelsey McCutcheon provide an American one. Sarah West for an experienced citizen science researcher view. Tessa Scassa provides a view on Intellectual Property and citizen science, and the center for advancement of informal science education (CAISE) posted a summary of conference and Q&A with CSA. Finally, from the Schoodic Institute, who are the sponsors and hosts of the CSA.