A key tool for citizen participation in science



Scientists from the Science, Communication and Society Study Centre at UPF gain insight into how citizen participation in science is practised in Spain and propose a series of recommendations for its improvement.

Researchers from UPF have analysed the way citizen science is practised in Spain. The paper, produced by Carolina Llorente and Gema Revuelta , from UPF’s Science, Communication and Society Studies Centre ( CCS-UPF ) and Mar Carrió , from the University’s Health Sciences Educational Research Group ( GRECS ), has been published in the Journal of Science Communication (JCOM).

Based on the study, a series of recommendations have been put forward to improve how citizen science is carried out. Firstly, they suggest efforts be stepped up regarding the training given for assessing these initiatives or the creation of multi-disciplinary teams with a broad range of knowledge areas to organise this kind of assessment. They also highlight the importance of keeping in mind the activities’ reproducibility.

The aims of the study were to identify citizen science participants in Spain, define what role communication plays and analyse to what extent the key requirements for undertaking citizen science are integrated in its practice. This is the first time this aspect has been studied in Spain.

The results indicate a largely strategic participation of groups of people with traits that make them ideal for participating in certain projects (such as neighbours, patients, public administration staff, etc.).

In this qualitative study researchers analysed 16 interviews with coordinators of citizen science activities, which included the active participation of individuals in different phases of a research project. This participation could consist in providing opinions, collaborating with data collection, interpreting results and/or evidence-based decision-making.

The results indicate a largely strategic participation of groups of people with traits that make them ideal for participating in certain projects (such as neighbours, patients, public administration staff, etc.). The authors also highlight captive audiences - those who participate in activities without having volunteered for them and who have no choice but to take part, such as school students, for example.

The researchers underline communication as a key tool for successful practice. Gema Revuelta explains that "efforts must be spent in the conceptualisation phase to identify the participants, the best strategies for ensuring their participation and the expected level of commitment for the project".

The selection of a strategic public is essential for an activity of this nature to work properly. Although most interviewees made reference to this, there are some who continue to view the public as a single entity. Carolina Llorente stresses that: "it makes no sense to identify the public as "general public" in this kind of activity. Efforts need to be made when designing the activity to identify which specific groups should participate".

The resulting insight into how citizen science is being performed gives us a starting point for proposing improvement strategies to incentivise this way of doing research.

They also analysed the level of integration of five essential key elements that form part of a citizen science activity: the findings, the level of participant contribution, participation assessment, the reproducibility of the activity and the training of the participants and facilitators. Of particular importance here is training in specific skills based on the level of citizen participation and the need to train the teams responsible for organising the activities.

Researcher Carolina Llorente explains that the resulting insight into how citizen science is being performed "gives us a starting point for proposing improvement strategies to incentivise this way of doing research".

This study was carried out with the support of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology (FECYT) and the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Reference article: C. Llorente, G. Revuelta, M. Carrió. Characteristics of Spanish citizen participation practices in science. Journal of Science Communication, June 2021. DOI: 10.22323/2.

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