Vienna marked the final stop on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust research trip. I met with several contacts made earlier in the year at #oecsk2019 – the Austrian Citizen Science Conference in Obergurgl (see blog posts here). There are some synergies with NZ as the Austrian Citizen Science Network is relatively young (formalised in 2017; launched in 2014) and co-exists alongside a Government led initiative – the Centre for Citizen Science.
Establishing the Austrian Citizen Science Network
Österreich forscht (the associated platform of the Citizen Science Network Austria) was brought to life by two researchers, Daniel Dörler and Florian Heigl, both at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna (BOKU). Although the new Network was supported in principle by BOKU, no funding was provided for its ongoing management, promotion and development at the beginning. After 3 years of considerable voluntary input, a limited funding via the performance agreements between BOKU and the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Research was put in place. As of January 2019, BOKU financially supports both Daniel and Florian as the Network’s Citizen Science managers, coordinators, communicators, trainers, researchers, movers and shakers. In 2017 a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was developed to formalise the involvement of other stakeholders in the Network. The (non-legally binding) MOU is basic, specifying that stakeholders’ projects must be uploaded onto the Network’s online platform; that representatives of the signatory partner organisations agree to participate in networking events, conferences and Working Groups.
To date, 38 organisations including Universities, NGOs, Applied Science Institutes and natural history museums have signed the MOU. This is no mean feat in a competitive environment – there are 15 universities alone in Vienna! Formal support from BOKU along with the MOUs have helped built the credibility of Network.
Network membership is free. Firstly, managing fees requires resourcing; secondly, determining variable rate limits for diverse stakeholders (e.g., individual – NGO – Institute) proved too difficult. The focus was on removing all barriers to membership among all potential stakeholders.
D-A-CH working group
With 100 million German speakers in Europe across several countries, a decision was made to develop a German-speaking network comprising Germany (D), Austria (A), Switzerland (CH) as well as the German speaking regions of South Tirol (Italy), Luxemburg, Liechtenstein and Belgium. There are further plans to develop a networking event in the Bodensee (Lake Constance) region, where the three largest German speaking countries share coastlines. Inter-country collaborations are already in place in the region, setting the scene for developing events that are financially supported by each contributing country. Although country and international citizen science conferences are well established, geography must be taken into consideration. The Bodensee region lies in the far south of Germany, far west of Austria and north-east of Switzerland. The aim is foster local connections in regions where there is potential for growing citizen science, while acknowledging the importance of face-to-face networking to build relationships.
Developing quality criteria for citizen science
Amid challenges to standardise the rapidly expanding field of citizen science, a purpose of defining quality criteria is to ensure that citizen science maintains both credibility and integrity as a research method. A version of citizen science quality criteria was prepared by the Network in 2017, which sparked considerable debate around where boundaries should lie. See references.
ECSA Working Group: Citizen Science Networks
The goal of the newly formed Working Group on Citizen Science Networks is to frame transparent criteria that help networks to decide, impartially, if a project should/shouldn’t be listed as citizen science on their online platforms. This will facilitate exchange between projects on different networks and enhance project comparabilty. The ongoing process to determine criteria for citizen science projects listed on a platform is necessarily collaborative – involving country leads, platform or database managers, project coordinators as well as project participants across at least 10 different countries. Material (e.g., surveys and feedback) needs to be translated into the local language(s) and then back into English so that everyone can participate on an equal footing. An extended timescale will see criteria set in 2022, though discussion is scheduled to take place at the next ECSA conference in Trieste 2020 to socialise drafts and seek wider participation.
Citizen science training courses
Daniel and Florian have developed a series of workshops on citizen science project design and delivery for scientists across different disciplines. Project examples are selected from the relevant discipline to share with participants. Given the short-term nature of the workshops (i.e. 2-4 hours only), ongoing peer-to-peer support is offered for researchers needing e.g., technical guidance and mentoring.
The next (and final) blog from Austria outlines the Sparkling Science programme and how the Ludwig Bolzmann Gesellschaft developes its citizen science projects.
Heigl, F., Dörler, D., Bartar, P., Brodschneider, R., Cieslinski, M., Ernst, M., … Ziegler, D. 2018. Quality Criteria for Citizen Science Projects on Österreich forscht | Version 1.1. OSF Preprints – Web.
Heigl, F., Kieslinger, B., Paul, K.T., Uhlik, J & Dörler, D. 2019. Opinion: Toward an international definition of citizen science. PNAS 116 (17) 8089-8092
Auerbach, J., Barthelmess, E.L., Cavalier, D., Cooper, C.D., Fenyk, H., Haklay, M., Hulbert, J.M., Kyba, C.C.M., Larson, L.R., Lewandowski, L., Shanley, L. 2019. The problem with delineating narrow criteria for citizen science. PNAS 116 (31) 15336-15337
Heigl, F., Kieslinger, B., Paul, K.T., Uhlik, J & Dörler, D. 2019. Reply to Auerbach et al.: How our Opinion piece invites collaboration. 2019. PNAS. 116 (31) 15338