Today I came across a particularly poignant reflection by Erinma Ochu on the essence of meaningful citizen science projects in social science – and the experience of working with Parkinson’s patient group which lead her to develop her citizen science project philosophy.
This philosophy is more than applicable to citizen science projects in general. I think it would make for more productive and engaging citizens science projects if the researchers more often thought of them as projects:
where the people, interested in the same challenge, but from slightly different perspectives, come together, design a method to investigate the problem and creatively try and solve it together
And perhaps appreciated that we can treat citizen scientists more than just sources of data or remote sensors – but can somehow be involved in a messy process of making meaning together:
the real learning comes in the social life of the method – in the practice of the thing – of listening, trying and often failing to collaborate – trying again, talking, laughing, sharing, being creative, getting into the rhythm of the thing, together
She also has more direct advice to researchers getting involved in citizen science:
Be equitable – share the money, the power and the glory (the difference you made) – the public are getting wise to the fact that they pretty much fund your research and should have a say in how the money is spent and on what […]
As often as you can, step down from the mantle of the expert – it’s bloody lonely up there […]
Don’t forget that not everyone has a smartphone or access to your methods, data or academic literature […]
There is evidence that researchers who set up citizen science projects in fields such ecology, and who are fairly new to the work with volunteers, often have concerns about ethics of such work, and very little guidance and processes established to deal with it constructively (Riesch, H., Potter, C., 2014. Citizen science as seen by scientists: Methodological, epistemological and ethical dimensions. Public Underst. Sci. 23, 107–20.). Erinma links to some work on ethics in participatory research which may be of help here.