Citizen Science: Participating Actively to Generate New Knowledge

Citizen Science: Participating Actively to Generate New Knowledge

14.12.2016

How can we more effectively bridge the gap between science and the public? How can we get ordinary people involved in some or all of the processes involved in research? At Barcelona’s third annual Citizen Science Day, held on 18 November at Pere Quart Civic Centre, we saw many examples of how citizens are helping to create and carry out science projects.

Image: CITI-SENSE

Researchers from ISGlobal presented CITI-SENSE, a recently completed European project whose main objective was to develop Citizens’ Observatories. The technology provided by these observatories empowers citizens to contribute to environmental governance, develop community-based policies and influence decision-making. The CITI-SENSE project has developed and implemented various tools for collecting information, including portable and static sensors, a mobile app that people can use to report the perceived air quality in their area (good, bad or regular) and general surveys on air quality. The aim of the project was to find out how much the public knows about the problems associated with air pollution and to enlist citizens to help solve them.

It is more interactive: users can modify and personalise the services

A citizen science project like CITI-SENSE has several advantages: it can gather both static and dynamic information (whereas previously only static information could be collected), it is more interactive (users can modify and personalise the services), it obtains observations at a more local level (i.e. street-by-street), and it allows users to generate information.

But it also has disadvantages: users sometimes have excessively high expectations for the current technology, which is limited and may not measure what the users think it should measure. And with so much attention paid to local problems, the big picture can sometimes be obscured. There are also a few challenges that need to be addressed: dealing with errors, approaching users and getting them to commit to the project.

Image: CITI-SENSE

Other Citizen Science Projects

We also learned about various other projects. The University of Barcelona presented Games for Mental Health, a project that develops models of mental health disorders. Another example was Science Time, an initiative of the magazine El Temps. This project will create a citizen science prize and a web portal featuring a collaborative map of citizen science projects in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as information about projects in other regions.

The Big Bell Test involves quantum physics research laboratories all over the world

Another interesting project was the Big Bell Test, an initiative of the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO) that involves quantum physics research laboratories all over the world. The Big Bell Test takes place on a single day: 30 November. But what does it have to do with citizen science? The quantum physics experiments taking place on that day will be driven by random numbers generated by members of the public. Participants will play a video game in which they must type zeroes and ones as randomly as possible, and the scientists running the experiments will then do one thing or another, as dictated by the digits arriving in real time.

Image: ICFO

Citizen Science in Schools and Neighbourhoods

The teachers and students played a central role: they defined the research projects that would be carried out

Núria Ferran of the Open University of Catalonia (UOC) explained how a RecerCaixa project introduced citizen science in several schools. A total of 17 teachers and over 540 students participated in five citizen science projects. The teachers and students played a central role: they defined the research projects that would be carried out. The teachers were responsible for defining the areas of the research (more scientific, more social, etc.). The organisers assessed the impact of the citizen science projects in the schools. They found that school visits by scientists encouraged the teachers and students to become much more involved in the projects. The conclusions of the analysis were presented at CosmoCaixa in May.

Diana Escobar of the Institute of Culture of Barcelona (ICUB) described Citizen Science in the Neighbourhoods, an initiative of the ICUB’s Office of Citizen Science comprising six projects in six different Barcelona neighbourhoods. The projects are open to students and other local residents. One of the projects is CITI-SENSE Barcelona, which will be carried out by the students of Ernest Lluch Secondary School with the support of ISGlobal and the Urgell Civic Centre. The results will be presented in the civic centre auditorium on the afternoon of 14 February.

Citizen Science Day also featured other interesting projects, including Yotuba, a Barcelona-based marine protection initiative; Stick Out Your Tongue, a study of teenagers’ oral microbiome coordinated by the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG); and DIYBio Barcelona – Biohacking, a project that encourages people to create home laboratories, presented by Reimund Fickert of the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB).

Image: CRG