DITOs final event (2): Doing It Together beyond DITOs

This is the second part of the plenary element of the DITOs final event and again, I’m reblogging Alice Sheppard’s notes (and editing them lightly):

The second part of the This is a continuation after the morning’s sessions. The session is based on a panel of other projects that have done work in Europe separately from DITOs, but where there has been some collaboration at least in ideas and potential of taking the lessons from DITOs forward. The session was chaired by Colombe Warin, who is the project officer of DITOs. The projects include:

D-NOSES – Rosa Arias (Ibercivis)
D-NOSES is a project creating the “International Odour Observatory”, which will be co-created. Mapping for Change is in their consortium. It takes an “extreme citizen science” approach – any literacy level, socio-economic status and gender of participants should be able to take part without barriers. You can follow them on dnoses.eu and @Dnoses_EU on Twitter.

Sparks – Maria Zolotonosa (Ecsite)
The project itself finished in June last year; was a project to bring RRI closer to citizens. Citizen science was understood in its broadest sense – data collection but also citizen input into policy making and research. It was officially public engagement, but citizen participation was crucial. They came up with a travelling exhibition into every member state of Europe; it was called “Beyond the Lab”. The exhibition is ongoing in Spain, Poland and the Netherlands. They took stories of citizen scientists, for example, a woman with Parkinson’s who uses self-tracking to monitor and take control over her disease, or a clean air activist in London who collaborated with parents to put air sensors on prams. These personal stories are very relatable to people, and they show how citizens can participate in science. Sparks introduced the “reversed science cafe”, in which people are asked to come up with questions to put to participants which can be investigated. Experts listen, change tables regularly, and bring back new things they learn to their countries. It takes inspiration from a regular science cafe in which an expert gives a talk and is asked questions – in this case, the roles are reversed and the scientist comes up with questions for the public! The citizens then discuss the questions, and the expert is often very surprised by the answers and gets new ideas for research. Lessons learned in exhibitions: personal stories are very important, exhibitions can be a catalyst for local mobilisation as long as a local partnership is established.

EU-Citizen.Science – Marzia Mazzonetto (ECSA)
A new project and website, a CSA or coordinated and support action. It has only just launched and is coordinated by the Natural History Museum in Berlin. ECSA has a large role. The main focus is to address what had been identified by the EC as a big need: to have a gateway, an entry point, into citizen science in Europe. There was an effort to involve as many European countries as possible. The platform should be a place for discussion to bring people together and ask about each other’s citizen science, or where citizens can find out what is in their area, or policy makers and science journalists to find out more. There are multiple stakeholders and there will be specific community needs.

WeObserve, Ground Truth 2.0 and other projects – Uta Wehn (IHE Delft)
In WeObserve, the project contains four communities of practice – academics, industries, communities of practice (such as DITOs partners!), citizens. Ground Truth 2.0 co-designs citizen observatories, which has a closer link with policy. Policy makers are invited into the room from the start. There are now six observatories, which each has a unique identity and has chosen its theme of research. They are liaising with policy makers. Many aspects are being re-used from other citizen science projects including DITOs; this has been made possible by sharing best practices. There is one more non-EU funded project called CSEOL, or Citizen Science Earth Observation Lab. DITOs has created a community of engaged citizens, Uta Wehn tells us – there is a huge base of people who now know what citizen science is and can participate.

Environmental Social Science Research Group – Balint Balazs, (ESSRG)
DITOs legacy – “rending invisible citizen sciences visible” – there is now a network of citizen science, including science shops. ESSRG is working as a science shop independently from universities, based in Hungary. The concept of invisible citizen science is connected to location and place. Many of us are not coming from the environmental perspective. Much of it has to do with cultural and institutional issues: what is each country’s science communication practice? Some examples of invisibility: Some citizen science projects are global; the academic papers’ titles often don’t reflect the fact that non-scientists took part. Environmental projects are often co-created and have social aspects. Do they lead to a transformative social innovation? Citizen science itself is often regarded as very niche and new, even by environmental aspects, and it is often feared that it would take a very long time for citizens to understand and develop coordinated scientific methods. There is also an apparent divide between east and west, the speaker, Balazs Balint, says – in his experience, the east has fewer established methods and celebration and also fewer academic papers. However, is invisibility an manifestation of something? How can we record the methods that are taking place, and what is the replacement for citizen science in these contexts? Are we seeing projects only funded through the EC? Are we drawing on a number of auxiliary terms? What kind of knowledge is provided, and created? Environmental citizen science can result from a state’s lack of action. Sometimes, there is knowledge that is not created by the state or academia. It is found that citizens would like to download and share data, and curate it. A culture change is taking place in several countries where democracy is a new (or “short, questionable”) experience. Many social sciences apps can be transferred or utilised to create citizen science projects, and create interesting opportunities for professionals, for example the collection and sharing of old private photos, a common digital heritage. Citizen activism is also going on, but never considered citizen science. FixMyStreet is an example of this – it has been running for 7 years in Hungary. There is a learning curve beyond these applications; people are reporting problems but would also like to take part in governance.

Questions:
Q1) Language: regarding invisibility of citizen science – is this about language? eg black people’s contributions to science are often invisible and not put in the curriculum, which doesn’t mean they aren’t creating knowledge, they might simply call it something else? Is it about language, or is it about action, or some combination? (To a Black person, “invisible” has a very specific meaning and counter-narratives and counter-perspectives are very important.)
A1) a) There is colonial thinking! There is much going on that is invisible but is not called citizen science, partly because of the language but partly because of different knowledge. It is probably much to do with language, but not entirely. b) Language is only what we can articulate; what is in our heads is much broader. How can we tap into that knowledge base? Language isn’t the only method we have. (Answer b is from Uta, who has done work in Africa with water supply issues; she will be told by very knowledgeable local people: “You are the fifth person who wants to co-create a project with me on this, and I haven’t got time – I need to spend time in the field or my family will be hungry!”)

Q2) What is the potential for citizen science to open up the anarchy of science beyond the academic facade? What is it like to be a scientist?
A2) a) It is very mixed, and we get mixed up in the terminology. There are things we call citizen science, public engagement, etc – these terms have something in common. But to look from a more traditional point of view of data collection, it does play a role in science communication. It gives people the opportunity to feel like scientists. The people who participate in citizen science projects are often white middle-class men, which means we aren’t reaching a diverse audience (although DITOs reached 51% women, 49% men). b) Sometimes amazing experiences aren’t communicated to the outside world. The Journal of Science Communication is open access; it would be good to use lessons learned in here to reach more communities. c) We use many techniques to utilise communications. There are times when we simply collect data from citizens, but we can also use bottom-up work – and these two disciplines can enrich each other. There is also data journalism.

Q3) Do any of the panelists have a single particular action they would like to implement, or problem to solve, or policy change to make? For example, to insist that academic papers’ titles reflect the citizen participation? (There are papers who credit every single citizen who takes part.) Should not all participants be credited when there is funding?
A3) Co-design is brilliant, but we can be restricted by having to report all methods to funders – for example, needing to say who will be coders in advance, which then means citizens can’t co-design platforms. So one future change would be more flexibility!

Advertisements

Doing It Together Science (DITOs) final event talks (part 1)

This is a reblogging of the reporting from DITOs final event, which was blogged by Alice Sheppard (which I’ve edited, lightly):

Introduction to the day

Camille Pisani, the Director of RBINS praises numerous volunteers and collaborators who have worked together, and the way different activities have been aimed at reaching many different audiences. There have been many localised events, such as waste management or coastal environmental issues. What makes DITOs different in her views is the integrative approach to the multiple meanings of “citizen science”. Citizen science goes back a long way, but for some people it’s still a new thing, and we’re still in the process of reaching out, even with simple things like communication. At the other end of the scale are people who have been volunteering or experimenting in science outside the professional environment for a very long time. When Camille met Muki four or five years ago, she was extremely interested in the idea of the escalator model.

 

 

Muki Haklay is next on “The DITOs journey”. He starts with “the world needs more citizen science” and the DITOs video. The DITOs story started in the middle of 2013 with the launch of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). As a fledgeling organisation, the question was how to get it going. In 2014, DITOs was set with a process in which UCL asked partners what they’d be interested in doing during the next few years, and design a project around these plans. They not only thought up the escalator, but also the thought of aiming at more bottom-up citizen science. UCL would lead, because ECSA was still building capacity and was not ready to lead a project. The initial bid was lost to Sparks, which was a wonderful project, but in 2015, a second call came out and in May 2016 DITOs began just after the 2016 ECSA conference. DITOs is very diverse, with a museum, NGOs, SMEs, universities, labs – a very diverse team with an original promise to run 500 events and engage 290,000 participants plus 1.3 million online. It was quite an ambitious target! Muki next mentions the “onion diagram”, which put UCL and ECSA at the centre with many activities and areas going on around them. The objectives included “deep public engagement”, a broad range of public activities, to strengthen ECSA, to do cross-European fertilisation and knowledge-sharing by way of a lot of interaction between the partners, and to reach out to excluded groups. Muki has rewritten the escalator model a few times to develop the ideas and have some exact numbers, such as precisely how many people in the UK are active in DIYBio, and how many watch Blue Planet or visit the science museum. Many more people “passively consume” science (such as the above activities) versus taking a more active role, such as recording birds in their garden. In many cases, people run out of time to do science, for example, while trying to support a family; the escalator allows people to move up and down according to their preference and ability. All the knowledge-sharing leads to project partners spending a great deal of time together, including in local citizen science such as visiting lakes or rivers, and all becoming friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Linden Farrer from the European Commission DG RTD (the department that is responsible for research and innovation) is next – DG RTD chooses which projects to fund, or not fund through open calls. DITOs was funded out of a part of H2020 which is dedicated to bringing people and science together (Science with and for Society – SWAFS). The objectives are, of course, bringing science and society together, but also fostering more talent for science and pairing scientific excellence with social responsibility. This can involve co-creation of agendas and policies by several stakeholders – which is quite broad, with a wide range of activities, and maybe discussing results or doing science with citizens. DITOs got funding under a topic called “Pan-European public outreach”, with the aim of increasing public awareness of science and RRI. Now, 2/3 of the way through H2020, they are concentrating on increasing the impacts and effectiveness of the programme, focusing on fewer topics but more closely – and one of such topics is exploring and supporting citizen science (others include institutional change, gender equality, etc – there are still quite a few you can find if you google Citizen Science in SWafS!). Linden lets us know that the future of H2020 and SwafS very likely involves working directly with citizens and civil society organisations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next several presentations are results of DITOs by many of its staff, taking five minutes each, moderated by Margaret Gold.

Judy Barrett, UCL, on the escalator model
Extreme Citizen Science group conceived the idea of DITOs in 2014, with the idea that citizen science should be driven by local needs, practices and cultures. UCL has mostly focused on WP6, “coordination, support and management”, which surrounds all the other work packages (such as policy). We’ve also produced a study of business models of citizen science. Our outputs from WP6 is itself a DITOs legacy, because other projects will be able to use it. We carried out 90 events, which we’ll see more of later. We implemented a MOOC (massive open online course) which has now been operating for 2 years, which has been signed up to by about 1000 people, and is also part of MSc programmes at UCL. Our events are aimed at equipping people with tools to answer their own scientific questions. We’ve made our own escalator model as “the consortium journey” – for several of us, it was our first experience of interdisciplinary work, or citizen science, or many other topics. It was therefore vital to create a supportive, communicative environment, with practice-sharing and exchange of ideas being vital. Some staff of partners were scientists with little experience of citizen science. But many individual staff members felt they had personally grown. Individual highlights include a dedication to progress in citizen science, collaboration with experts, and multi-stakeholder engagement.

Gaia Agnello, ECSA, environmental sustainability
The aim was to introduce citizen scientists and policy makers on developing methods for involvement, bolstering networks, promoting knowledge exchange and events all over Europe. ECSA particularly established the European BioBlitz Network, facilitating best practice exchange between anyone who runs BioBlitzes. Three DITOs partners subsequently established their first BioBlitz. MediaLab Prado created “Interactivos” of discussions and workshops on different topics each year, such as sustainable mobility, food systems, waste management etc. Kersnikova organised the Sister’s Lab, promoting transdisciplinary activities and gender equality, empowering women to collaborate through teaching and learning. UCL ran all-age workshops on air quality, including teaching people how to make environmental monitoring devices. European Green Week last year included discussions of environmental citizen science’s impact on policy. Lessons learned include: balance your organisation’s mandate with the values of the poeple involved; care for participants; co-design events as much as possible – talking to people before designing events; make sure the project has been felt by communities as their own because this will increase impacts; and take care of your team and yourself!

 

Imane Baiz, CRI-Paris, UPD and BioDesign
WP1 is Biodesign, which even the project leaders found a mysterious word at the beginning! It may mean art, or integrating buildings into the ecosystem, or synthetic biology (including the tools and methods). It connects people – for example, scientists with artists. It is interdisciplinary. It also connects ideas, too. We had a total of 700 events, which involved a lot of travelling and creating exhibitions, and partners showing their work to each other, going into schools, designing the Science Bus. It can be about empowerment – designing a sustainable future, inspired by nature. There were also different notions from different people – for example of extensive travel, but in fact, it’s like a group of superheroes who are trying to make the world a better place.

Paweł Wyszomirski, Eco21/Meritum, air quality
Polish cities are suffering from serious air pollution, especially in autumn and winter. Eco21 began to work with policy makers. They were creating data, which they decided to use to empower people to do something about the pollution – which involved teaching people how to use numbers to make decisions. This also allows people to talk with others in their neighbourhoods. Membership of ECSA allowed Eco21 to be invited to an air quality workshop, to learn how to empower and engage people in citizen science and in being able to do something about poor air quality. Pawel hopes that many people will come and ask him about European Clean Air Day.

Carole Paleco, RBINS, the escalator model at the museum
A way that RBINS have tried to apply the escalator model is to evaluate their activities and events, and also trying to involve the citizens at an early stage. At a citizen science cafe, for example, the monitoring and evaluation of feedback from participants has led to being able to give the facilitator feedback each time. They have a small touring exhibition that goes to schools in the Brussels region. They’ve organised biodiversity workshops with volunteers. They asked participants what they would put on a “Z-Card” which would go out to schools to raise awareness of biodiversity. She gave a report on a Phasma Meeting at RBINS, and organised their first BioBlitz last year. It was very focused with five scientists. The XperiBird has given out nestboxes to schools so that the children can observe birds nesting and bringing up chicks.

Simon Gmajner, Kersnikova, Bridging the Gap
Kersnikova aims to bridge the gaps between scientists and artists, also with participants and events. There was no phrase for “citizen science” in Slovenian, so it was translated best as “participatory science”. They then decided to organise exhibitions which would spur discussions. They did a BioArt exhibition which included science cafes which deepened discussion and complimented the artists’ and scientists’ modes of engagement. They managed to host the author of a book on biotechnology. A problem they ran into was people asking “What is art and what is science here?” which they found they could not always answer! They wanted to build an ecosystem that would support itself, which involved training people in interdisciplinary matters. They have a biotechnology lab and also ran workshops on biorobotics and soil tasting! They also trained mentors, so that citizens who had been coming for a long time could teach newer people.

https://twitter.com/mhaklay/status/1113363070355681280

Claudia Gobel, ECSA, Policy Engagement
DITOs has many public engagement activities, but also wants to talk to decision makers, which ECSA has focused on – at European, national and local levels. They’ve held 16 discovery trips, 17 stakeholder round tables, a pan-European policy forum and many more additional workshops and events. These took place in various countries. Policy briefs have come out of this, with a focus on open science and on responsible research and innovation. There is a diversity of voices in citizen science. It is very important to understand how citizen science is conceptualised and done – which is where the escalator was very important. There are different communities of practitioners. Citizen science needs cultural change and a plurality of voices, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness and these must be very important in our organisations. They also want to build more networks of stakeholders. Claudia also highlighted the citizen science book – if you’re here, please help yourself to a copy, or download it here.

Ted Fjallman, Tekiu UK, WP4 Policy Engagement
Across the project, we’ve managed to achieve 50% more events than we originally planned – DITOs has been very successful in the policy area, too. Tekiu is a for-profit organisation, though is not seeking to make a profit from DITOs. Ted observes that people are learning differently. He asked how many of us go to the cinema (nearly everyone); how many would be willing to pay what you’d pay for the cinema to attend a policy event? It was fewer people. Tekiu joined DITOs to understand how society is changing as a whole (which they cannot ask a single company). Discovery Trips are Tekiu’s brand; they take 10 to 25 people on a trip from one country to another to meet with their counterparts abroad so both parties can learn what the others do. Sometimes, participants may go on for example to join their city council. They plan to keep linking scientists with policymakers. They feel the future lies in active monitoring – we all have a phone, which has technology we wouldn’t have been able to imagine 30 years ago. It is, therefore, time to update the way we think.

Participants’ panel:
Cindy Regalado and Pawel Miedzinski from eutema moderating – Adam, Bernard, Roland, Mark, Pen-Yuan

Adam: Was part of Science has no Borders at UCL. Had a stall with an artist friend who collaborated on art and science of complexity. Attended film nights which included discussions of uneasy topics such as the history of eugenics. Attended Do It Together bio workshops, which taught him how to do simple biology experiments and procedures, use cutout microscopes, and learning about work at an aquarium and how to sample from the wild.
Bernard: Also worked with Rachel at the aquarium (as above), organised some workshops in Ireland with aerial kite mapping to which some environmentalist groups were invited; they hope to map their waterways in the future. They have also worked with young people from youth work in Ireland – they took some cameras which would otherwise have ended up in a landfill, and allowed young people to take the cameras apart to see what was inside them and convert them into near-infrared.
Roland – OpenWetLab evenings at Waag. His background is biology but he’s learning a lot of DIYbio and technology this way. Went to Kersnikova for a Bio-Art project and conference – all these were funded by DITOs; many participants in a Bio-Art movement came from around the world.
Mark – Was a Science Bus captain. Had already done a lot of outreach and engagement activities around Ireland. Science Bus involved travelling in a camper van around Europe collaborating with museums etc to work with the local public and get them engaged in workshops. The bus captains travelled together but didn’t always know each other beforehand! They taught the public how to carry out small DIY projects and gave them tools to investigate the world around them, also encouraging them to investigate and critique the world around them in this way. His favourite part was getting people interested who had never carried out scientific activities this way before. They were interested in the public’s life hacks and traditional remedies – how did people get information about what to do about (for example) what to do about bruises or mosquito bites when they didn’t engage much with science? A commonly stated solution was “urinate on it”!
Pen: worked with Cindy on delivering electronics workshops for the public, learning about open hardware and taking control over it and understand it. Has also worked with Cindy on DIY environmental sensing. He has also been investigating the nature of knowledge and creativity, such as creative commons licensing – how to creatively subvert copyright laws to share knowledge. He has, therefore, run many workshops in different places such as Italy, Scotland etc, and worked with hackerspaces. He has found that many people don’t know how to solder, so has used conductive thread.

Q: Has DITOs changed the way you do your work or practice?
Adam: Yes, now collaborates and gives talks, and works with many different people – DITOs was a big confidence-booster.
Bernard: Current role means diverting mattresses from landfill; quantifies work, work done manually – makes that work visible. Does mapping, community gardens, working with young people and getting them to understand the importance of data.
Roland: Has trained biohackers who then go on to train each other; has enjoyed watching skills spread. DITOs has personally influenced him to give workshops, feeling there is a mix between arts and science.
Mark: The Waag had the idea of the science bus; when he met them he felt they were wonderful but had a different way of thinking from how he would have carried out his work, so it taught him a new way of seeing things, which he felt was progressive. He applied these ideas to the science bus and his own work in Ireland. He returned to Ireland trying to find out how to engage the largest number of people possible – and has used the opening of Ireland’s new science centre to engage more people in citizen science and to see what they can do themselves.
Pen: Worked with a citizen scientist who built his own tools and developed his own methods for ecology – and discovered a population of deer near his village. This caught the attention of the local authorities, who built a protected area for the deer. Citizens do not just passively collect data. Science can make all of us become more engaged citizens.

EU-Citizen.Science project kick-off meeting

DSCN3286The EU-Citizen.Science is a new project that is part of a family of citizen science projects that are funded through the Science with and for Society (SwafS) stream of the Horizon 2020 programme. The project started in January and will run for 3 years. It is coordinated by the Natural History Museum of Berlin (the Museum für Naturkunde – MfN) and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).

The meeting was opened by Johannes Vogel, the director of MfN and the chair of ECSA who set a target for the project, with the German presidency of the European Union in 2020, and the need to prepare activities that will emphasise the role of citizen science in cities.

DSC_1458

Men stand in front of a lectern with slides
The range of SwafS projects

Next, Linden Farrer from DG RTD provided the context for the project. The SwafS is about 500m Eur part of H2020, that tries to build effective co-operation, foster the recruitment of new talent for science and pair scientific excellence with a connection to societal needs. These goals have been turned into eight lines of activities. Citizen Science is falling under public engagement. The interim evaluation of SwafS in 2017 found it highly relevant, that there is satisfactory efficiency with a low success rate in calls – it’s the home for civil society organisations. SwafS is highly coherent with internal and international policies, and very high added value – it is not competing with local funding, and because of the level of funding, there is limited effectiveness. As a response to the evaluation, the focused the calls on sustainable institutional changes, focus on “doing R&I” through citizen science and user-led innovation, encourage collaboration among projects, and identify SMART impacts that can be measured. They align with overall goals: RR (MoRRI) SDGs, COP21 etc. The strategic orientation includes building the knowledge base, exploring and support citizen science, and other activities. There are future calls within the area of citizen science and there are 41 projects of which 31 are still active. There are many other H2020 projects that have an element of citizen science. Finally, RRI is an important element that is cross-cutting in H2020 and it is aimed to involve citizens, civil society organisations (CSO) and other non-traditional actors in EU research programmes. There is an aim to change the governance of research. The MoRRI D3.2 report is showing the interaction between different areas of the agenda. There are different projects that are taking an RRI approach is different between projects across the H2020 goals. There is almost no project in the ERC portfolio that is falling under the RRI framework. There are also projects that are going beyond the EU – with international partners that are no in the EU – from Japan to Chile.

Beyond H2020 and into Horizon Europe, the Lamy report pointed the need to mobilise and involve citizens. In Horizon Europe, there is more mission-based science – there is a bigger budget – 400 mil Eur to enhance citizen science and enhancing the European R&I system. The is an article on open science in general, and different R&I missions – a portfolio of actions that require a multi-stakeholder and transdisciplinary approach to achieve goals within a given time frame. The Open Science Policy Platform included in its recommendation citizen science (recommendation 8 in a document from 29/05/2018). OSPP build the visibility of citizen science – opening a roadmap, vision and skills to increase the recognition of it.

DSCN3283Colombe Warin, the Project Officer in charge of the project point that the consortia have a strong obligation for dissemination – need to freely share research strategies, methodologies, raw data, and methodology – to show commitment to citizen science and to the principles of RRI. It is also important to notice the difference between communication and dissemination as a concrete activity of the project,  although these are mixed in citizen science projects.

DSC_1462Katrin Vohland, the project PI pointed to the complexity of citizen science, the complexity of interpreting citizen science, and variety of ideas about what it is, how to call the people who participate, and which disciplines which bring with them different ways of understanding it, the methodologies… There are many approaches to data quality and accessibility. The project itself is the creation of a central hub for cross European Knowledge Sharing, including best practices, and there are lots of material that is emerging and need to be collected. We need a co-design of tools and guidelines so they are relevant to different audiences. The project includes 6 main work packages – first platform, community and network building; WP3 – the content of the platform which includes context, quality assurance and curation to consolidate the citizen science knowledge base; WP5 is about empowering diverse stakeholders to become citizen scientists, start citizen science project or adopt the professionally through training; WP4 that is about exploring new pathways of participatory governance with the public and policymakers, and finally WP6 that about advancing citizen science into mainstream of public engagement, science communication and education by dissemination and exploitation.

Approach to the platform in WP2 with a focus on the platform, community and network building – technology decisions are still open in order to support different audiences: participants, practitioners, policy makers, and science journalists. The groups made the first steps of recognising what are the training needs, how they are linked to specific tools and formats, and what user-centred design principles should guide the implementation.

WP3 is focusing on identifying quality criteria that will be used to judge which tools and resources will be curated on the platform. It is led by IIASA. This was done by identifying specific tools and then considering what quality criteria apply to them – for example, ECSA’s 10 principles of citizen science. About 20 “tools” were recognised in a 20 minutes exercise.

WP4 is about awareness and engagement and is led by Earthwatch – it will share a conceptual model for awareness, empowerment, and engagement and then develop tools and strategies for citizen engagement. It will also provide a coordinated approach to citizen science with other SwafS initiatives. There is also an element of reaching out to policymakers.

WP5, which UCL is leading on, is focusing on training. First, a core objective is to assess the training needs of those inexperienced in citizen science and those that are involved in it. Based on that, aggregate, curate, and create a suite of innovative training resources to address these needs and enhance European knowledge sharing in this area. There will be a specific effort to increase linkages with SDGs. Finally, the WP5 will try to identify and develop a delivery model that reaches citizen scientists and potential practitioners/citizen science project leaders in all countries of Europe. This work package starts only in the summer of 2019 with the gap and needs analysis. There are multiple target groups: Public (newcomers and citizen scientists), Practitioners (coordinators), Academia (career scientists, primary and secondary school teachers), Policymakers (and civil servants), Press (journalists and media experts), and SMEs and industry (and new entrepreneurs). So identifying needs and considering what form of training suit them will be quite a task…

WP1 is led by MfN and deals with management is also tasked with coordination with other projects that are funded from the same call – the SwafS 15 which is about exploring and supporting citizen science. There is a whole group of projects in the call that can be linked to the coordination effort of EU-Citizen.Science. For example, MICS, a project that is coordinated by Earthwatch is focusing on measuring the impact of environmental citizen science and in particular on river restoration, and they aim to provide tools that support the process of understanding and measuring impacts. In WeObserve, there is a CoP on Impact. The Super-MoRRI provide another set of impact evaluation. Integrating these into EU-Citizen.Science so information can be shared widely is important. The ACTION project will include cascading grants for participatory science toolkit about pollution.

DSC_1459
The communication approach to address the vision and objectives of the project

WP6 which is focusing on dissemination and communication is led by ECSITE and Daphnie Daras and Suzanna Fillipecki presented it – the European Network of Science Centres and Museums. The effort of Ecsite effort will include helping with communication with science journalists and science centres across Europe. The project will inherit the social media channels of DITOs. The need to reach out to the multiple target groups with different messages to reach out to them. Some early analysis involved identifying specific messages – for example, for researchers who are not involved in citizen science, to find a way to encourage them to understand and consider it.

WP7 is about evaluation and impact assessment. It is led by the centre for social innovation in Vienna (ZSI), with Barbara Kieslinger and Teresa Schafer. ZSI is a not-for-profit that works on different social innovation and got into citizen science through an interest in maker spaces and DIY science, and provided input into the Socientize project in 2014 and many activities since. The WP is assessing the usefulness and user acceptance of the project’s activities. Although we have described objectives, we need to define the details of what will be the measurements of success and knowing that we’ve reached the objectives.

 

 

DITOs, Doing It TOgether Science – introductory video

The Doing It Together Science (DITOs) project is now in its 20th Month. It is a 3-year project, funded by the EU Horizon 2020 programme, that is aimed to increase awareness of and participation in citizen science across Europe and beyond. As such, it is focused on communication, coordination, and support of citizen science activities. Therefore, the project promotes the sharing of best practices among existing networks for a greater public and policy engagement with citizen science through a wide range of events and activities. Some of these activities include doing citizen science, as ‘engaging by doing’ is central to the effort of the project. Other activities, both online and offline, are focused on communicating different facets of citizen science, from in-depth engagement with small and organised groups to large-scale engagement via social media.
DITOs supports existing and new projects across the landscape of citizen science: top-down projects, in which people join an activity that is designed and coordinated by scientists; bottom-up science activities, in which people, scientifically trained or not, organise a research project around a problem of direct concern (this is sometimes known as DIY (Do It Yourself) science); as well as collaborative projects that are created jointly by scientists and participants.

In collaboration across the consortium, the Waag Society produced a short video of less than 3 minutes about the project. It was made from material from our events and it is good to such a short introduction to explain what the project is about…

Securing funding and balancing efforts: a tale of 21 research applications

EU H2020 Participants Portal
EU H2020 Participants Portal

The last 3 months were a gradual sigh of relief for the Extreme Citizen Science group (ExCites), Mapping for Change (MfC), and for me. As the UCL engineering website announced, the ExCiteS group, which I co-direct, secured funding through 3 research grants from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (H2020), with enough funding to continue our work for the next 3 years, which is excellent. As usual in publicity, UCL celebrates successes, not the work that led to it. However, there are implications for the effort of securing funding and it is worth reflecting on them – despite the fact that we are in the success camp. While the criticism of the application process to European projects on the ROARS website is a bit exaggerated, it does give a good context for this post. In what follows I cover the context for the need to apply for funding, look at the efforts, successes and failures from mid 2014 to early 2016 (mostly failures), and then look at the implications. 

This is not a piece to boast about success or moan about failure, but I find writing as a useful way to reflect, and I wanted to take stock of the research application process. I hope that it will help in communicating what is the process of securing funding for an interdisciplinary, research intensive group.

Background & context 

The background is that the ExCiteS group started at the end of 2011, with a large group of PhD students – as common to early stage research groups. With the support of the UK Engineering and Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC) award, which is about to end soon, it was possible to start a group. With additional funding from the European Union (EU) and EPSRC projects, including EveryAware (2011-2014), Citizen Cyberlab (2012-2015), Challenging Risk (2013-2018), and Cap4Access (2014-2016), it was possible to develop the activities of ExCiteS & MfC. This is evident in the software packages that are emerging from our work: Sapelli, GeoKey, and a new version of Community Maps, methodologies for using these tools within participatory processes. the academic and non-academic outputs, and the fact that people know about our work.

However, what was clear since 2011 was that 2015 will be a crunch point, when we will need funding to allow members of the group to move from PhD students to post-doctoral researchers (postdocs). The financial implication of funding a postdoc is about three-times the funding for a PhD student. In addition, while at earlier years members of the group (regardless of their career stage) participated in writing research proposals – and helped winning them (e.g. Citizen Cyberlab), when people write-up their PhD theses it is inappropriate to expect them to invest significant amount of time in research applications. Finally, all our funding come through research projects – we don’t have other sources of income.

Research Applications – effort, successes, failures 

UK Research Councils system (Je-S)
UK Research Councils system (Je-S)

So it was very clear that 2015 is going to be full of research applications. To give an idea of how many and the work that was involved, I’m listing them here – more or less in order of effort. I’m providing more details on successful applications but only partial on the failed ones – mostly because I didn’t check with the coordinators or the partners to see if they allow me to do so.

We started in mid 2014, when we started working on the first version of what is now DITOs. Coordinating an EU H2020 project proposal with 11 partners mean that between May and September 2014 we’ve invested an estimated 6 or 7 person months within the group in preparing it. We’ve submitted it early October, only to be disappointed in early March 2015 when we heard that although we scored high (13/15), we won’t be funded – only 1 project out of 19 that applied was funded. We then resurrected the proposal in July 2015, dedicated further 5 person months, resubmitted it and won funding after competition with 56 other proposals – of which only 2 were funded.

The next major investment was into a first stage proposal to the Citizen Observatories call of H2020. ExCiteS coordinated one proposal, and MfC participated in another. The process required an outline submission and then a full proposal. We worked on the proposal from December 2014 to April 2015, and it wasn’t a huge surprise to discover that 47 proposals were submitted to the first stage, of which 11 progressed to the second. The one coordinated by ExCiteS, with an investment of about 5 person months, scored 7/10, so didn’t progressed to the second stage. MfC also invested 2.5 person months in another proposal, as a partner. This proposal passed the first stage, but failed in the second.

Participating as a major partner in a proposal is also a significant effort, especially in H2020 projects in which there are multiple partners. The collaborative effort of MfC and ExCiteS in the proposal that emerged at WeGovNow! required about 4 person months. The proposal was submitted twice – first in July 2015 to a call for “Collective Awareness Platforms for Sustainability and Social Innovation” which received 193 proposals of which 22 were funded, and then again to a call for “Meeting new societal needs by using emerging technologies in the public sector” where only 2 proposals were submitted in December 2015 (you can be lucky sometimes!).

The proposal for the European Research Council (ERC) was developed between May and June 2015, with about 3 person months – and luckily was successful. It competed with 1953 applications in total (423 in the social sciences), of which 277 (59) were successful – about 14% success rate.

Another fellowship proposal in response to an EPSRC call passed the first round, and failed at the interview stage (where 2 out of 5 candidates were selected). This one was developed from May 2015 and failed in February 2016, after an effort of about 2.5 person months.

We also developed the Economic and Social Science Research Council (ESRC) responsive mode proposal, which mean that we’ve applied to the general funds, and not to a specific call. We collaborated with colleagues at the Institute of Education from January 2015 to July 2015 , with an effort of about 2.5 person months, but we learned that it was unsuccessful in March 2016.

Another 2 person months were dedicated to an ESRC call for methodological research, for which 65 applications were submitted out of which 6 were funded, with our proposal ranking 22 out of about 65. In parallel, I had a small part in another proposal for the same call, which was ranked 56.

We’ve invested a month in an unsuccessful application to Wellcome Trust Science Learning + call in July 2014.

Less time was spent on proposals where we had a smaller role – a failed H2020 ICT proposal in April 2015, or another H2020 about Integrating Society in Science and Innovation September 2015. This also include a successful proposal to the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).  Because of all the other proposals, information such as the description of our activities, CVs and other bits were ready and adjusted quite easily.

ExCiteS and MfC also participated in an EU LIFE proposal – this was for funding for applied activities, with very low level of funding of only 50%, so there was a need to think carefully about which add-on activities can be used for it. However, as the proposal failed, it wasn’t an issue.

Along the way, there were also small parts in an application to the Wellcome trust in early 2015 (failed), in an EPSRC programme grant (a large grant with many partners) that was organised at UCL and on which we dedicated time from June 2014 to February 2015 (ditto), an outline for Leverhulme trust (ditto), an ERC research proposal (ditto), and finally  a COST Action application for a research network on Citizen Science (which was successful!)

So let’s summarise all these proposals, success, failure, effort in one table. Lines where the funder marked in bold mean that we’ve coordinated the proposal:

Funder Effort (Months) Success/Failure
1 H2020 7 Failure
2 H2020 5 Success
3 H2020 5 Failure
4 H2020 2.5 Failure
5 H2020 4 Failure
6 H2020 1 Success
7 ERC 3 Success
8 EPSRC 2.5 Failure
9 ESRC 2.5 Failure
10 ESRC 2 Failure
11 ESRC 0.5 Failure
12 Wellcome 1 Failure
13 H2020 0.25 Failure
14 H2020 0.25 Failure
15 CDKN 0.25 Success
16 EU LIFE 0.5 Failure
17 Wellcome 0.5 Failure
18 EPSRC 0.5 Failure
19 Leverhulme 0.5 Failure
20 ERC 0.25 Failure
21 COST 0.5 Success

So what?

We’ve applied to lots of funders and mechanisms – fellowships, calls for proposals, and open calls for research ideas. We applied to UK funders and EU. As we are working in an interdisciplinary area, we have applied to social science as well as engineering, Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) and in between these areas. In third of the case we led the proposal, but in the rest we joined in to proposals that were set by others. So the first point to notice is that we didn’t fixate on one source, mechanism or role.

As the table shows, we’re not doing badly. Out of the 7 proposals that we’ve led, 2 succeeded (30%). Also among the 14 that we’ve participated in 3 succeeded (20%). The overall success is about quarter. Over about 18 months a group of about 10 people invested circa 40 person months in securing future funding (about 20% of the time) for the next 3 years, which doesn’t sound excessive.

However, the load was not spread equally, so some people spent a very significant amount of their time on proposals. I was involved in almost all of these 21 proposals during this period, much more in those that we led, and in some of those that we participated as partner, I was the only person in the group that worked on the proposal. It was increasingly challenging to keep submitting and working on proposals with so much uncertainty and the very long gap between submission and results (look above, and you’ll see that it can be up to 9 months). Because of the uncertainty about success, and an assumption that only 20% will be successful at best (that’s 4 wasted proposals for every successful one), I felt that I need to keep on going, but there were moment when I thought that it’s a doomed effort.

There is also the issue of morale – as should be obvious from the fact that we’ve announced the successes recently, as the failures mounted up during the second part of 2015, it was harder to be cheerful. Because of the long gap between proposal submission and result that I mentioned, the future of the group is unknown for a significant period, and that influences decisions by people about staying or leaving, or how to use the funds that we do have.

Implications

Leaving aside that by early 2016 it became hard to find the energy to be involved in more proposal writing, there is an issue about how interdisciplinary research groups are funded. While we can apply to more funding opportunities, the responses from the failures indicated that it’s tough to convince disciplinary evaluators that the work that is being done is important. This mean that we knew all along that we need to apply more. Maybe it was a coincident, but the EU funding evaluations seem more open to these ideas than UK funders.

Second, such a high number of applications take time from other research activities (e.g. check my publications in 2014-2015). Applications, with all the efforts that is associated with them, are not seen as an academic output, so all the effort of writing the text, proofing it and revising it are frequently wasted when a proposal fail.

Third, all these proposals burn social capital, ‘business capital’, and cash reserves – e.g. having a consultant to help with H2020 project or covering the costs of meetings, asking for letter of support from business partners, raising hopes and making links with partners only to write at the end that we won’t be working together beyond the proposal. There are also negotiations with the Head of Department on the level of support from the university, requests for help from research facilitators, financial administrators and other people at the university.

Fourth, considering how much effort, experience, support – and luck – is needed to secure research funding, I’m not surprise that some people are so despondent about their chances to do so, but all the above is the result of a large team and I would argue that the clue to the ability to keeping the stamina is team spirit and having a clear goal on why the hell you want the funding in the first place (in our case, we want to materialise Extreme Citizen Science).

Finally, looking at the number of the submissions, the ranking and the general success rate of applications in the areas that we’ve applied to (about 15% or less), I have concerns that under such conditions there is a ‘crowding out’ situation, in which groups that got better resources around them (e.g. the institutional infrastructure at UCL, our internal experience) make it harder for new entrants or smaller groups. At a higher funding rate, we could have secured the funding in less proposals, at which point we wouldn’t continue to apply, and therefore allow others to secure funding.

Epilogue

I have no plans for another period like the one that led to the current results. I am incredibly grateful to have such a level of success, which is about the institution that I’m in, the hard work and the evolving experience in preparing proposals and, always, luck. It is very possible that this post would have counted 19 failures, so we’re very grateful to all the people who evaluated out proposals positively and gave us the funding.

Back to the funding, with all the successes, in people terms, we’ve secured funding for the 10 people that I’ve mentioned for 3 years, with further 6 PhD students joining us over that period. There are still other people in the group that will need funding soon, so probably we will put the accumulated knowledge and experience to use soon.