This penultimate Winston Churchill Memorial Fellowship blog describes discussions, thoughts and experiences on a 5-week research trip to Singapore and several European destinations. This blog wraps up meetings in Austria which centred on better understanding the operating environment of citizen science and how these initiatives are supported. The very last blog summarises the main themes that have emerged over the course of the research trip, highlighting some similarities as well as major differences between citizen science in Europe and in NZ.
The Center for Citizen Science
Running parallel to the Citizen Science Network of Austria (described in the last post), is the Center for Citizen Science. This was established in 2015 and funded by the Austrian Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. I met with Marika Cieslinski (Project Manager for Public Science) at the Center. She explained the workings of the Center and provided an overview of the main funds they administer.
The charmingly named Sparkling Science fund (est. 2007), was initially designed to break down barriers between the science community and schools (from primary to college) as well as support excellent research. The fund was set up for scientists operating within diverse institutes (incl. museums and universities), to develop novel research projects with school students. Over 12 years, 299 projects have been funded for 2 y on average. That’s a total of c. € 35 million invested, essentially to build bridges between science and the public. All project applications were peer reviewed by scientists as well as educators to determine project feasibility. Project disciplines covered natural, computer and social sciences, technology, medicine, teaching and learning as well as humanities. Some were presented at the Citizen Science Forum in Münster (see blog posts here) as well as at OESCK2019 (see blog posts here).
As a national fund, nearly 500 schools have participated from all over Austria, covering all age groups and school types. Nearly 100,000 students, teachers and other stakeholders have been involved either hands-on, or e.g., listening to presentations.
Evaluating Sparkling Science: individual projects and across projects
To determine the success of individual Sparking Science Projects and the programme itself, evaluations were integrated into the programme process. Evaluation objectives varied e.g., analysing scientific or structural impacts of the programme. The last evaluation carried out focussed on the impacts at an institutional levels: participants had developed new skills and competences, new educational resources were created and greater acceptance of these novel collaborative projects.
A total of 5 evaluations were carried out between 2009 and 2018 (see references). A Special Directive was developed which includes criteria for project selection (e.g. methodical concept for the cooperation of partners from research and education; integration of the results into the research process) and full projects (e.g. added value for the pupils from the involvement in the research project).
A bridging fund, Top Citizen Science (established in 2015) facilitates further study in projects in addition to current Sparkling Science and FWF funded (Austrian Science Fund) projects. So far 31 projects have been developed, half covering natural sciences, and the other half social sciences and humanities.
Young Science provides Austrian schools opportunities to contact and collaborate with research institutions. The site also offers research themes and tips on key pieces of literature for developing theses for their diploma work. In addition, Young Science Ambassadors visit schools for free to share their day-to-day research with students.
Citizen Science Award
This is not your usual award! In this annual competition the Center for Citizen Science supports research projects to encourage citizens to take part in scientific research projects. Between 2015 and 2018 about 12,000 citizens contributed to citizen science projects. Every year, the most enthusiastic citizen scientists are awarded with prizes in a festive event by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research together with the research projects. In 2019, 7 Citizen Science projects were selected from different parts of Austria, addressing different topics. Each of these projects are given €3,000 for creating prizes based on criteria selected by each project. Criteria may include ‘innovative solutions’ or ‘quality of responses’ depending on the focus of the project. There is also a Citizen Science Award Day showcasing projects to stakeholders and potential participants.
Next steps for the Centre for Citizen Science include teacher training in citizen science and growing the database of contacts at schools, universities that can provide basic information on citizen science as well as mentor coordinators of new projects.
Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft: Open Innovation in Science
To wrap my time in Vienna, I visited the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft (LBG). There, I met up with Benjamin Missbach (responsible for Open Innovation in Science projects which includes crowdsourcing, crowdfunding) and Daniel Spichtinger (Project Manager for Leveraging Open Data Re-Use). The LBG is a research organisation, comprising a network of 21 institutes across medicine, and the social, cultural and life sciences including Open Innovation in Science. These institutes have a limited lifespan. Each can receive a maximum of 2 x 7 y of funding and may then be integrated and supported by another institute (e.g., a university).
The meta objective of the LBG is to change how science-based research is conceptualised and carried out. This means developing and testing new methods of collaboration between science and non-scientific participants i.e. companies, civil society and the public. The participatory research focus means participation from non-scientists is embedded in different stages of a project cycle, including determining the research question.
An example provided was crowdsourcing research questions. With 400 responses gathered from the public for a mental illness-related project, a panel then sorted and clustered emergent themes. In this case, the effects on the children of parents with mental health issues was raised as a pressing concern and a sorely under-researched area. During workshopping phases to develop and refine methods, some of these children/youth were invited to participate, ensuring the research remained grounded and the topic central. In some cases, direct approaches are made to research participants (e.g., to patients and caregivers in hospitals) to avoid e.g., biases around access to digital media.
Overall, this area is described as patient and public involvement and engagement (PPIE) and is gaining traction with funders, researchers and academics. The patient is no longer merely the research subject, but an active participant in the research. Central to the process, is building trust between researchers and participants.
The following reports (in German) are available from here
Mittrauer, B., Birke, B. 2009. Report on the Evaluation of the Sparkling Science Funding Program. AQA Österreichische Qualitätsagentur.
Birke, B. 2013. Evaluation of the Sparkling Science Funding Programme. AQ Agentur für Qualitätssicherung und Akkreditierung Austria.
Manahl, C., Wagner, I. Schuch, K. (2016). Evaluation of the Scientific Impact of Sparkling Science. Zentrum für Soziale Innovation.
Soyer, L., Schwarz-Wözl, M., Kieslinger, B., Schäfer, T. 2018. Supplementary Analysis of the Structural Effects of the Sparkling Science Program. Zentrum für Soziale Innovation.
Tiefenthaler, B. 2018. Analysis of the Institutional Effects of Sparkling Science. Technopolis.