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Introducing “Doing It Together Science” – an EU citizen science project

The European Commission through its Horizon 2020 programme, with support from the Swiss confederation, have committed almost €4m to a three-year project to increase public participation in scientific research and innovation across Europe. The 11-partner project, co-ordinated by UCL Extreme Citizen Science group, aims to build the institutional and policy foundations for sustained deep public engagement in science and technology in Europe that enables people to contribute at a level of participation suitable for them, whether that is engaging in face-to-face community meetings, using a crowdsourcing app to log air quality or working in a citizen biolab.

Escalator Final
“Doing It Together” Science (DITOs) will implement many innovative participatory event formats across Europe focussing on the active involvement of citizens in two critical areas: the cutting edge topic of biodesign and the pressing area of environmental monitoring. The project will advance the EU Responsible Research and Innovation agenda by moving beyond more traditional approaches into direct engagement that builds upon DIY, grassroots, and frugal innovation initiatives so that in the short and medium term we sustain localised capacity building and in the long term the effects of these grassroots efforts channel into policy action at different levels. A central element of the project is the ‘escalator’ model of engagement, in which people can enter at a level of participation that matches their needs, interests, and abilities, while also encouraging them to move beyond. In keeping with this, exhibitions, workshops, support for existing organisations, and guidelines to share the ingredients of successful projects are also part of the long-term project plan.

The consortium includes a pan-European network (European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), DE) – linking practitioners, scientists, and supporting policy makers), SMEs (Tekiu, UK; eutema, AT), universities (UCL, UK; Universite Paris Descartes, FR; University of Geneva, CH), science galleries and arts organisations (Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, BE; Kapelica Gallery / Kersnikova, SL; Medialab-Prado, ES) and NGOs (Meritum Association, PL; Waag Society, NL). These organisations cross multiple countries and languages, enabling coverage of much of Europe in its native languages.

At UCL, central coordination for DITOs as well as events, analysis and research will be provided by the ExCiteS group, building on our experience in developing tools to help communities collect data and participate in decision making. From work with non-literate peoples in the Congo to document environmental damage, to collaborations with communities around Heathrow to monitor noise pollution (in a previous EU funded project, EveryAware http://www.everyaware.eu/).

Muki Haklay, co-director of UCL ExCiteS and project co-ordinator for DITOs, noted that Doing it together science is a step-change in European public participation in science and innovation. Prior projects show this is possible, but now we need to scale it up and engage many more people; we want to promote this ‘deep’ engagement. Our great aim is for the public to be engaged in all aspects and stages in the scientific and innovation progress, at a level suitable for them.

Dr Katrin Vohland, vice-chair of the European Citizen Science Association added: “DITOs provides a great opportunity not only to experiment with different pathways for different persons and communities to engage at different intensities but to enhance mutual learning for lasting effects at the interface of science and society.”   

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Community science workshop in London

For more details about the project, see the summary below. 

Doing It Together Science (DITOs) – summary

Call: Pan-European public outreach: exhibitions and science cafés engaging citizens in science (ISSI-1-2014)

Citizens have a major role to play in addressing the challenges to a sustainable future. It is by ‘Doing Science Together’ that we combine our resources and expertise to raise awareness, build capacity, and innovative lasting solutions grounded in society. We address the call for Pan-European public outreach in science with and for society, through a tangible ‘Do It Together’ method for wide and deep public engagement and participation in science. As a ‘Coordination and Support Action’, this project will support and build upon DIY, grassroots, and frugal innovation initiatives so that in the short and medium term we sustain localised capacity building and in the long term the effects of these grassroots efforts channel into policy makers at different levels, from external advice to societal inputs, regarding appropriate research and innovation policies. ‘Doing-It-Together science’ (DITOs) aims to build the institutional and policy foundations for deep public engagement in science and technology in Europe. To make this happen our consortium of 11 partners across the EU brings expertise from a range of areas including community organising, policy development, engagement in science and technology, citizen science research, technical visits and knowledge transfer in two broad strands: Environmental Sustainability and BioDesign.

The design of the DITOs project and its engagement methodologies are based on four principles that map our aim: deep public engagement in scientific knowledge production through citizen science; an ‘escalator’, that allows people to enter at a level of engagement that matches their needs, interests, and abilities, while also encouraging them to move beyond; the strengthening of European cooperation through capacity building of the European Citizen Science Association; and participatory activities, with a strong focus on cross-European fertilisation and knowledge sharing between hubs and activity centres. All this with particular effort towards engaging currently excluded groups.

DITOs will achieve its aim through six objectives linked to six work packages. DITOs will engage citizens, scientists and policy makers in shaping and conducting research in the areas of biodesign and environmental sustainability. It will do this through activities that employ a variety of engagement techniques matching local contexts but which also push the boundaries of participation in science and technology. These include the creation of spaces for observation and interaction (exhibitions), spheres of collaboration (seminars and conferences), safe, inviting, and immersive arenas for discussion (science cafes), and opportunities for experimentation and deliberation (workshops). These activities will follow the escalator model, noted above. DITOs will develop clear guidelines, mechanisms and institutions to extend the development of public engagement and policy engagement fostering Responsible Research and Innovation – RRI in citizen science and Do-It-Yourself (DIY) science across Europe. These and our engagement activities will be evaluated with a robust framework for iterative learning. Lastly, DITOs will develop an innovation plan and identify suitable business models for citizen science and DITOs activities, including support for RRI. This includes planning and coordinating the project’s legacy in terms of intellectual property, innovations management, knowledge transfer and ownership of assets. Working through phases of scoping, engagement, and scaling up, DITOs will set a strong foundation for deep public engagement in science and technology in Europe.

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About mukih

Professor of GIScience, University College London

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