Report: Supporting Citizen Science in Academia and Beyond

On January 16th 2020, about 100 Citizen Science (CS) enthusiasts from all over Switzerland met up at ETH Zurich to discuss some hot topics in the current debate around Citizen Science and academia. The workshop series was organized by the Citizen Science Center Zurich and the Participatory Science Academy.

Workshop session at “Supporting Citizen Science in Academia & Beyond”, 16.1.2020 in Zurich

The aim of the event was to discuss the basis for a common strategy to promote Citizen Science in Switzerland, focussing on the role of Academia. Universities have a clear interest in processes and results ensuring academic-quality, and play a key role in supporting activities and projects that maximize the collaboration between citizens and scientists in all phases of the research process, defined in the literature as “co-created” (see Bonney et al. 2009, Shirk et al. 2012). Such projects allow both science and society to take full advantage of participatory research approaches.

After a warm welcome by Prof. Dr. Gabriele Siegert, Deputy President & Vice President Education and Student Affairs UZH, and Prof. Dr. Detlef Günther, Vice President for Research and Corporate Relations ETH, Claudia Appenzeller, Secretary General of the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences set the scene by giving an overview of existing CS activities in Switzerland. Starting with the story of her early experiences observing wildlife and collecting plant samples as a child together with her family during summer vacations, she highlighted how CS is not only about science but also about collaboration and meaningful interaction.

Prof. Mike Martin, Co-Chair of the Center’s Board of Directors, discussed several aspects and consequences of academic co-created Citizen Science, adding some impressive details on the amounts and possible use of personal data.

After lunch, Prof. Michael O. Hengartner, President of UZH and swissuniversities, presented an overview of the current Swiss strategy for Open Science, which includes, together with Open Data and Open Access, chapters on Open Education, Open Innovation and Citizen Science. Alas, these relatively new fields will have to wait a few more years (2024) to become the focus of strategic activities at the federal level. Michael Hill, PhD, Deputy Head of Strategy at the Swiss National Science Foundation, highlighted the freedom of researchers to use support provided by SNSF to include Citizen Science activities within their research plan.

Both in the morning and afternoon, participants shared their experiences and expertise during a series of workshops focusing on motivations and incentives for researchers, infrastructures, CS in curricula, early career perspective on CS, funding for academic CS and evaluating CS.

Each workshop reported at the end of the day on the key outcomes of their discussions. Among the many important points, we retained:

  • In order for Citizen Science to bloom, we need a cultural change in academia towards more diversity of research modes, as well as more resources and infrastructures for co-created research projects.
  • The added value of Citizen Science should be showcased more.
  • There has to be more community building between academics and Citizen Scientists, but also amongst academics within one university.
  • Offer Citizen Science workshops to teachers and schools to start being familiar with Citizen Science as early as possible in life.
  • Recruit more “champions” for Citizen Science in academic management
  • Make evaluation of Citizen Science projects more common and better define success factors. 

In his final remarks, Mike Martin summarized the day with the following recommendations: more community orientation, focus on real impact, sustainability of projects & efforts and better institutional frameworks. Some of the conclusions from the discussions will be used to inform further dialogues at a dedicated conference in the near future.

The documentation of the event will be shared at the event website within the coming weeks. We would like to thank all participants for coming to Zurich and joining the discussion.

More on Twitter: #CSinCH2020

Literature

Bonney, Rick et al. (2009): Public Participation in Scientific Research: Defining the Field and Assessing Its Potential for Informal Science Education. A CAISE Inquiry Group Report

Shirk, Jennifer et al (2012): Public Participation in Scientific Research: a Framework for Deliberate Design

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