1. 6. 2023
Researchers at European universities are central stakeholders in citizen science and the societal commitment the field of research represents. However, universities have no shared knowledge base or support for these efforts and central citizen science hubs can be the solution.
TRAIN4EU+ takes the first step to make recommendations on how to strengthen citizen science at European universities.
Citizen science is a research method that is increasingly gaining ground at European universities. However, there is a need for establishing a single entry point for researchers to pool experiences and resources, raise awareness of the method and create a foundation for cross-faculty and cross-disciplinary projects.
With more and more citizen science projects emerging, the need for sharing experiences and knowledge across universities is growing, for example, on the methodology and funding for this particular genre of research projects. That is why a working group under the TRAIN4EU+ project is gathering knowledge which can benefit researchers and administrative staff working at member universities of the Alliance.
TRAIN4EU+'s Work Package 5 dedicated to mainstreaming Open Science has collected information from researchers who work with citizen science to identify needs and best practices across European universities and disciplines. Citizen science helps strengthen the universities, says Anna Wołodko, Director of the University of Warsaw Library and leader of the TRAIN4EU+ Work Package 5:
"Citizen science is an important approach to addressing global challenges such as climate change and technological issues. Universities need input from citizens who can contribute with their knowledge and experience. Citizen science helps create an important link between research and society and is also part of universities’ public image,” explains Anna Wołodko.
What exactly do researchers need help with when working with citizen science? What kind of skills does it require, and how can the much needed support be organised, locally at the universities or at the national level? How can researchers acquire funding for their citizen science projects?
After a series of interviews with key stakeholders, the first set of recommendations has been drafted, and a general picture of what is needed has emerged.
In general, both human and technical infrastructure is needed. Such infrastructure could be a physical and/or virtual hub that can provide advice on the design of, and the funding for, citizen science projects, as well as help with the important communication that comes with such projects – all in one place, one hub at each university.
Sorbonne University supports researchers that work with citizen science projects via the trans-faculty competence centre Mosaic, which Professor Romain Juillard, Museum of Natural History and Sorbonne University, has helped develop. He has 20 years of experience with citizen science and sees obvious benefits of the method:
"During the 20 years I've worked with citizen science, I've seen it improve universities’ reputation because it bridges two worlds and helps build trust in the world of research. At the same time, citizen science is a way for universities to address important issues for society and also for citizens to contribute to, for example, sustainable development,” Professor Juillard says.
Professor Romain Julliard has more than 20 years of experience within citizen science. SPIPOLL is one of his projects. It aims to study pollination networks, i.e. the complex interactions between plants and insects.
In November 2022, TRAIN4EU+ organised an internal annual seminar to strengthen the collaboration within the 4EU+ Alliance in the field of linking citizens, academia and business. At the seminar, colleagues and experts met with representatives of the Sorbonne University facilities SCAI, Quadrivium, SUMMIT, LUTECH TTO and Fablab to exchange ideas and learn from each other.
The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) also has a strong tradition in working with citizen science. The Natural History Museum of Denmark established a special research unit that offers partnerships and networking for the museum’s researchers. And with its app 'Arter.dk', created in collaboration between UCPH and The Ministry of Environment in Denmark, where citizens can register their observations of Danish species, with one million visitors per year, it is well versed in outreach and citizen science. However, the unit cannot currently support other researchers.
Anders P. Tøttrup, head of the research unit at the museum, emphasises the value of citizen science. This method creates the opportunity to ask new research questions and very quickly collect large volumes of data from different geographical areas, for example within biology, which is his field of work.
“The fact that we all walk around with a mobile phone, and thereby also a GPS, makes it easy to involve citizens, and with today’s supercomputers, we can quickly analyse data,” he says and further explains the citizen science’s potential:
"We see many calls, for example from the EU, which include citizen science. If you have a unit that supports researchers doing citizen science, you also expand the opportunities for participating in EU projects."
Anders P. Tøttrup hopes that UCPH will one day establish a support unit with a citizen science steward and a citizen science project. There has recently been a discussion whether UCPH should establish a physical and a virtual hub for the university, which would offer the human and technical infrastructure that citizen science projects need. However, for the time being, there are no plans to realize it.
"A virtual hub can give all researchers access to the necessary tools as well as support for data collection methods and funding. The technical infrastructure must work – with everything from data security and communication training of researchers to plug-and-play web solutions for citizens,” says Lorna Wildgaard, who is special consultant at the Department for Research Support, Copenhagen University Library. Together with an information specialist and Citizen Science expert Uffe Smed, she is involved in TRAIN4EU+ Work Package 5 on Open Science.
When talking about the need for support, Lorna Wildgaard mentions the Tomas Bata University in Zlin Czechia, which leads the citizen science project On Drought. The university does not currently have a unit or hub that can support the project, but has asked for support from ECSA (European Citizen Science Association) that supports citizen science in the EU.
Researchers embarking on citizen science projects need technical support and ethical advice in the data collection process. Together with university libraries and IT departments, data stewards can help researchers gather data responsibly as they can establish the necessary platforms and infrastructure that such projects require. As is the case for the competence centre Mosaic.
Another recommendation is to appoint ‘citizen science stewards’ who can offer advice on the design of a citizen science project, funding, communication and dissemination. The citizen science steward is an expert in citizen science methodologies, challenges and workflows.
All citizen science projects need a communication effort to attract attention in the project phase when researchers want to establish contact with just the right group of citizens and other stakeholders, such as experts who can validate the data. The facilitator establishes and maintains contact with citizens to keep them engaged in the project and communicates strategically with other stakeholders, such as policymakers and investors.
TRAIN4EU+ Work package 5 on mainstreaming Open Science will publish their recommendations at the end of 2023.
Read the current recommendations from UCPH for citizen science at European universities
Citizen science projects are scientific projects in which citizens are invited to contribute to research. Research is conducted within different scientific areas, and accordingly the projects can be designed in different ways.
Citizen science is one of the eight pillars of Open Science.
The EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme has supported over 2,000 projects with societal commitment, including the allocation of EUR 60 million to dedicated citizen science projects from the programme’s ‘Science with and for Society’ calls.
Watch the video about the Horizon 2020 INCENTIVE project that addresses how Citizen Science Hubs can build a strong alliance between scientists and society.
With the help of the website arter.dk/landing-page or the app ’Arter – reporting’, nature enthusiasts can gain knowledge about Denmark's approximately 35,000 species of animals, plants and fungi. At the same time, users can create a profile on the website and report occurrences of species.
On Drought investigates the current state of the agricultural landscape in the Czech Republic. The main goal is to get farmers, farm landowners and people walking by farmland to take photos of agricultural areas and upload them to the app iNaturalist. The aim is to jointly create a database that monitors the impacts of drought on Czech agriculture, to share examples of bad and good practices and thus contribute to a better future in terms of water retention in the landscape, a better yield from fields and more ecological management.
L’Observatoire Agricole de la Biodiversité
L’Observatoire Agricole de la Biodiversité (OAB) aims to compensate for the lack of monitoring of biodiversity. The observatory creates a link between biodiversity research and farmers as well as other stakeholders within farming in order to record relevant biodiversity data.