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Citizen Science for environmental monitoring: Engagement and empowerment in Citizens’ Observatories

The second day of the first International ECSA conference introduced the 10 Principles of Citizen Science, a flexible concept designed to encourage best practice in the field. A series of sessions covered topics ranging from Tools, Technologies and Applications in Citizen Science to Citizen Science for environmental monitoring: Engagement and Empowerment in Citizens’ Observatories. Environmental monitoring was a recurring theme throughout many of the projects presented during the three day conference. During the later session, the focus geared more towards the social aspect of citizen science, with its ultimate goal of citizen empowerment in decision making processes, specifically in the environmental domain.

Luigi Ceccaroni spoke about public engagement in science and ways in which to improve knowledge transfer capacity, which he suggests can be achieved through a local network of trainers and the creation of engagement and training protocols.  The school of Trainers is an approach that Mapping for Change have successfully used in collaboration with Eco21 to scale community-led participatory mapping in Poland.

Tom Cole-Hunter presented the tools used for public engagement in the CITI-SENSE empowerment initiative: CityAir app, the Little Environmental Observatory (LEO), an online perception questionnaire and network-modelled map. By the end of this year, all tools will be available in an online, open-access Citizens’ Observatory Toolbox for citizen scientists and city authorities wishing to conduct similar empowerment initiative

Yaela Golumbic shared her experience of some of air quality monitoring in Haifa and the distrust between citizens and authorities in environmental monitoring in Israel.

The second part of the session was organised in a World Café style, which facilitates an open and creative conversation. Three groups were organised around the projects of Itziar Aspuru, Diana Silva and Louise Francis.

Itziar Aspuru from Tecnalia Research & Innovation in Spain developed a toolkit for measuring environmental quality of public spaces. Citizens take readings of thermal and acoustic conditions and additionally contribute their personal perceptions of the environmental conditions and about their general satisfaction with the place. Citizens are encouraged to seek dialogue with local authorities and stakeholders associated with decision making in public spaces.

Diana Silva from King’s College London focuses her research on the behavioural change of citizens after engaging in an air quality study. The participants have gained awareness of exposure to air pollution through this study and showed increased desire to identify ways in which they could reduce their and their children’s exposure to air pollution. Some are interested in confronting the local authorities with their findings demanding the issue being addressed.

Louise Francis from Mapping for Change at UCL shared her insights on another project on the topic of air pollution in which more than thirty communities all over London participate in order generate and share local knowledge on the issue. They are provided with affordable and accessible equipment, including low-cost diffusion tubes to measure nitrogen dioxide levels.

Citizen science and participatory mapping provide practical opportunities with which to bridge the environmental knowledge gap and encourage more citizens to participate in environmental decision making.

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