Citizen science is practised by many researchers across the ECIU network, but only on an ad-hoc basis. How could the ECIU University capitalise on this existing strength, and develop one unifying approach to citizen science that would foster excellence in this area, and crucially support the ECIU University’s aim to produce innovative research with a strong societal impact? How could we define, promote, and develop citizen science across the ECIU communities? What should the ECIU University Citizen Science Hub, which we are proposing to build to support such activities, look like?
Those questions were at the heart of the ECIU University Citizen Science Consultation event in December 2020, which saw over 80 participants from across the ECIU alliance connect and share their views on the topic of citizen science.
Led by DCU, all 12 member institutions were represented on the day, with an audience comprising researchers, research support and development staff, postgraduate students, and other professional staff working in an ECIU member institution. Structured around a roundtable discussion between citizen science experts and practitioners (Professor Eglė Butkevičienė (KTU, Lithuania), Professor Veronica Lambert (DCU, Ireland), Professor Maurizio Marchese (UNITN, Italy), Dr Fernando Vilariño (UAB, Spain), Dr Sabine Wildevuur (UT/ DesignLab, the Netherlands), and Dr Xavier Ariño Vila (UAB, Spain) as moderator), the event gave everyone present the opportunity to contribute to the future of citizen science at the ECIU University.
The consultation highlighted the strong appetite among the ECIU research community for the development, promotion, and institutional support of citizen science methodologies in research whenever relevant, and for the ECIU University to develop as a leader in the field. 75% of respondents on the day agreed that citizen science should be integrated into the whole research lifecycle (from problem definition to dissemination of results), and 73% of them believe that citizen science should, as much as possible, be an integral part of ECIU University activities.
The consultation also resulted in a series of recommendations for the future ECIU University framework for citizen science. Diversity and inclusivity emerged as key words in this respect. Any future ECIU University framework for citizen science should cater to the diversity of academic disciplines, levels of engagement, and national realities. It should also seek to engage with a diverse cohort of citizens from the local communities. Crucially, citizen science for the ECIU University should be founded on a balanced and collaborative partnership between researchers and citizens, and between science and society: citizens and academics should be considered as equally valuable partners in the research process. Citizen science should be a two-way collaborative dialogue, where both citizens and researchers tackle societal challenges and benefit from working together and building relationships.
Over the next three years, the ECIU University SMART-ER virtual research institute, financed by Horizon 2020 programme, will develop citizen science activities for the ECIU University, and work towards the proposed creation of the ECIU University Citizen Science Hub. This Hub should be built for the longer term and with a focus on sustainability. While additional work is required on the structure, mission, and functions of the proposed Hub, preliminary findings from this consultation suggest that it should initially focus on capacity building (incl. training of both researchers and citizens) as well as on facilitating collaboration both across the ECIU alliance and between researchers and citizens.
The consultation represented the views of the ECIU research community. We now need to widen the consultation to gather the perspectives of citizens, and identify all existing citizen science structures in place in each ECIU member institution. Those steps are for SMART-ER teams to act upon.