#WCMT Citizen Science research trip: ECSA, German #citizenscience platforms and networks

Berlin by night from the River Spree

This is the second blog post from Berlin which delves into the structure of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), the Bürger schaffen Wissen network and evolving pan-European citizen science platform. Untangling the scope and boundaries of each is complex to a visitor(!) with a wealth of stakeholders supporting citizen science through network and policy-building, projects, programmes and research.  

Berlin is a hub for citizen science. Not only is the Berlin Natural History Museum (MfN) the headquarters of ECSA, but also the Bürger schaffen Wissen platform and a range of citizen science programmes and projects. Other close by institutes e.g., the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) at the Helmholtz Zentrum fuer Umweltforschung also form part of the German citizen science infrastructure. Further afield is the University of Münster and national programmes such as Plastik Piraten (see Forum Citizen Science 2019 blog posts here and here and a published article on the project here), both of which also contribute to strengthening citizen science in Germany.

Insights into the European Citizen Science Association

I met with part of the 7-person ECSA team – not all work in Berlin and some were away on project work. ECSA was established in 2013, primarily as an informal network of researchers and communicators interested in Citizen Science. Six years later, ECSA has more than 200 individual and organizational members from over 28 countries across the European Union and beyond. ECSA goals:

  • Enhance public participation in scientific processes
  • Support citizen science projects
  • Undertake research on citizen science

The next citizen and participatory science conference (Trieste, April 2020) is a major collaborative undertaking that sees strong involvement from ECSA staff. The conferences are biennial, the first taking place in Berlin 2016 (see blog post here), and the second in Geneva 2018 (see blog post here).

Although the Berlin Natural History Museum (MFN) currently provides office space and administrative support to 5 ECSA staff, engagement in large-scale projects both enhances the reach of the organisation and provides much needed funding for staff. Examples include the 3-y Doing it Together Science project (now finished – see project legacy here), LandSense (which aims to empower communities to monitor and report on their environment) and the new D-Noses initiative. As a supporting organisation, ECSA does not provide training but investigating which training materials exist that could be shared through the wider EU citizen science platform is a priority. This would greatly help our fledgling Citizen science Assn in NZ (see here for notes on the inaugural meeting) – a lack of resourcing means recycling rather than reinventing information and resources.

ECSA and Policy development

A strong focus on policy and strategy development underpins the work of ECSA and extends the reach of the organisation to decision-makers:

D-Noses: measuring odour pollution with citizen science

Two ECSA staff are currently working on the D-Noses project. This is a multi-national initiative with a consortium comprising 14 partners from 9 countries to address odour pollution issues affecting local communities and to build the International Odour Observatory . In Germany, a pilot study is underway near Essen in Germany’s north-west and one of the largest urban areas in Europe. The site was targeted following media analysis of odour pollution issues. Stakeholder mapping and public engagement are the next steps. A recent consortium meeting took place in Porto (Portugal) with practical workshops to develop timelines and actions, project presentations and field trips to see practical mitigation of odour pollution issues. Again, the diversity of partners provides valuable learning – despite meta-level objectives and shared principles, critical differences exist for how the project is developed and actioned in different countries and cultural settings.

Finally time to read a few papers relating to the summary of the 2016 ECSA conference in Berlin!Project extension: Developing Policy Briefs

Outputs from the DITOS project as well as D-Noses include short format Policy Briefs. Three Briefs were collaboratively prepared in the DITOS project (1) BioBlitz: Promoting cross border Research and collaborative Practices for Biodiversity Conservation (2) Do It Yourself Biotechnology (DIYBio) for open, inlcusive, responsible Biotechnology and (3) Citizen Science and Open Science. Synergies and Future Areas of Work. The D-Noses project has released an initial policy brief highlighting the widespread impact of odour pollution on communities and connection to 11 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals.

EU Citizen Science Platform 

To add greater cohesion to the rapidly expanding field of citizen science across Europe, a new platform is under development. Tim Woods (ECSA Communications Manager) gave me an outline. This is a complex initiative given the diversity of countries in the EU and existing country-specific platforms housing project/programme databases. However, the aim to not to double up on databases, but for the EU site to act as a ‘front door’ to the various country sites.

An international consortium is developing the platform which will include an online discussion forum for members (pending stakeholder mapping to determine user requirements), toolboxes, resources and training materials. Differentiating what will be on each site (i.e. ECSA cf. the platform) will be an ongoing task as the field of citizen science continues to evolve both in scope, scale and complexity. ECSA will manage the platform on its completion in 2021.

http://eu-citizen.science/ is one of many #citsci platforms, networks and collaborations designed to share resources and best practice

Bürger schaffen Wissen

I met with Vanessa van den Bogaert, one of 5 staff contributing to developing and managing the Bürger schaffen Wissen (BSW) platform – the name translates as ‘citizens create knowledge’. Funding for BSW was provided by the German Ministry for Education and Research and is a joint initiative between the Museum and Wissenshaft im Dialog which promotes discussion and exchange about research in Germany. BSW currently houses 133 projects underway in Germany but is growing as new projects are added. Like other platforms, most projects are enviro-centric but an increasing number have a socio-cultural focus. Two presentations at the September Forum CS (one by  Emu-Felicitas Ostermann-Miyashita and the other by Barbara Heinisch) compared platforms (see blog post here), analysed e.g., project time since establishment and project topic area.

BSW are the drivers behind CS Forum events, held annually in different cities around Germany (see blogs posts here and here). Hands-on workshops are offered such as using social media for citizen science and the science of citizen science. This is the first time the latter workshop will take place, the idea being to investigate factors resulting in success or failure (e.g., why volunteers participate/engage more in some projects than others). A critical mass of projects now enables analyses and robust dialogues to take place.

Some of the projects featured on the BSW database. Project themes cover climate, landuse, plants, waterways and microorganisms

There are important differences how citizen science is interpreted centring on the nature of activities and field of engagement. US-based Rick Bonney’s interpretation (i.e. participatory data collection) cf. that of UK-based Alan Irwin (scientific citizenship i.e. opening up science and science policy processes to the public) have implications for project goals. Understanding key differences ultimately helps project design and integration of evaluation. Debate around what constitutes citizen science is ongoing and will be explored more in the following blog post.

Where to from here?

The next stop is Vienna where I will follow up with collegues I met at the Austrian Citizen Science Conference #oesck in June this year (blog posts here, here and here).

References

DITOs consortium, (2017). BioBlitz: Promoting cross border Research and collaborative Practices for Biodiversity Conservation. DITOs policy brief 1.

DITOs consortium, (2017). ‘Do It Yourself Biotechnology’ (DIYBio) for open, inclusive, responsible Biotechnology. DITOs policy brief 2.

DITOs consortium, (2017). Citizen Science and Open Science: Synergies and Future Areas of Work. DITOs policy brief 3

D-NOSES consortium (2019) Odour Pollution – A growing societal concern. D-NOSES Policy Brief #1

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