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Lessons learnt from citizen science

An exciting networking workshop on citizen science and participatory community-based research on 12 January 2018 brought together researchers from across all three faculties of Newcastle University.

Researchers presented from a diverse variety of schools including: Engineering; History, Classics and Archaeology; Natural and Environmental Sciences; Architecture, Planning and Landscape; Geography, Politics and Sociology; Institute of Ageing; National Centre for Energy Systems Integration; Peals Research Centre; and Institute of Health and Society.

What did they learn?

Each researcher shared a few lessons learnt from their experiences in facilitating citizen science:

Dr Claire Walsh, School of Engineering

  • Build a common understanding and trust.
  • Be realistic in what can be achieved.
  • Increase in public interest and engagement in science, as well as awareness and attitudes to urban agriculture and air quality.

Tom Maskell, Kyle Montague, Institute of Health & Society and Open Lab

  • High volumes of context rich data provides some really promising ways the data could be used.
  • Filtering is important to enable people to look at manageable chunks of data and prioritisation is crucial for taking next steps.
  • Citizens could commission each other to do follow up work i.e. to collect more data or to make a proposal for action.

Dr Geoff Parkin, School of Engineering

  • Community-based monitoring can provide good quality data, with the potential to complement formal monitoring and provide additional spatial hydrological information.
  • Sustainable data collection depends crucially on motivation, which can be internally- or externally-driven.
  • Feedback of information to communities is crucial (knowing the data are useful and are being used).

Dr John Gowing, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

  • Time series data collection is challenging and streamflow measurement is a particular problem, but good data can be collected.
  • In the absence of direct benefit to participants, we have to consider who pays for data collection and who owns the data.
  • There is an important role for a ‘barefoot’ technician we call the parahydrologist.

Dr David Webb, School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape

Be aware of:

  • Divergent aims among partners
  • Pressures/ constraints on partners; power imbalances

 Be critical of:

  • The idiosyncratic valorisation of knowledge in contemporary academia
  • The spaces for manoeuvre

 Stay up at night thinking about:

  •  What motivates you, what you will gain, how others will be affected, whether they want this, how the project is evolving where it might lead next and whether others realise and appreciate the effect it may have on them.

Dr Jane Delany, School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

  • Ensure you are clear about what your data will achieve and convey that effectively to volunteers. Manage expectations.
  • Ensure your task is tractable for volunteers. Trial your methodology with non-scientists. Iron out the ambiguities in terminology and phrasing. Provide adequate training/accessible resources.
  • Be prepared to modify if your task simply isn’t appealing/engaging. Skills, feedback, social capital, networks, feeling valued.

For further information or to register your interest please contact Dr Geoff Parkin (School of Engineering), or Dr Jane Delany (School of Natural and Environmental Sciences),

citizen science stock photo

published on: 13 February 2018