Last June I found through twitter the recently created http://citizenscienceassociation.org/ . A bunch of scientists (mainly from USA but not only) had the idea of building a global community of practitioners around public participation in scientific production. I immediately joined it. My first contact with CitScihad been a talk of Janice Dickinson from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology that has the greatest data collectors volunteers community of the world. I am not particularly keen on this form of participation, but my colleague Pablo Gonzalez soon showed me that the CitSci movement was something much bigger with a whole continuum of understandings of what means the citizen in citizen science.
I followed the enthusiasm in the organization process of the Association, the democratic process of board election and the great effort put on its first international conference in San José to which I was immensely lucky to attend.
Citizen Science 2015 is the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association (CSA). Over 600 people from 25 countries gathered for two days of building connections and exchanging ideas across a wide spectrum of disciplines and experiences.
In the inaugural plenary Dr. Chris Filardy defined Citizen Science as that point where analysis and intervention meet each other, pointing at the epistemological question of who re-frames scientific questions.
A slide of Dr. Filardy talk relating language expression, action and meaning production
The brand citizen science is attracting a multitude of scientists, tech entrepreneurs and practitioners fascinated by the potential of the involvement of thousands of people in the scientific process. From the courts of thousands volunteers to the place-based and grass-roots action oriented groups, it seems that the umbrella of citizen science is wide enough to attract anybody with ideas to open science. Nevertheless, the extent to which dialogue among different understandings of participation in CitSci exists is not very clear. The conference was arranged in five thematic areas that somehow split these understandings in communities of interests and you could see same people were attending most of the sessions within one or two themes.
- Tackling Grand Challenges and Everyday Problems with Citizen Science
- Broadening Engagement to Foster Diversity and Inclusion
- Making Education and Lifelong Learning Connections (K-12, university, informal)
- Digital Opportunities and Challenges in Citizen Science
- Research on and Evaluation of the Citizen Science Experience
- Best Practices for Designing, Implementing, and Managing Citizen Science Projects and Programs
I am personally interested in citizen science because my research focus is integrated assessment of water governance sustainability in socio-ecological systems. This type of analysis requires multiple types of reliable data that are often not open or don’t exist at all. In addition, it is a school of thought specifically oriented to public participation on assessing sustainability. Last June, we organized last June a conference on Data, Information and Knowledge in the Network Society that was just the beginning of the acknowledgement of the huge challenges that exist around water data production, sharing, transparency and democratic quality control over the information that is used for decision making in water management.
I attended sessions from all the 6 themes to get a general overview. It was certainly surprising the very far that some sessions were from others. There were very technical sessions focused on data quality (current great obsession of most citizen scientists) and structuring, interoperability and multi-scale databases. On the other side, there were participatory sessions more prone to grassroots action that reflected on the ideas of inclusion, barriers to participation, equity and power relations (nicely leaded by the Extreme Citizen Science: ExCiteS, http://www.ucl.ac.uk/excites group). Data sharing and ownership of delicate information was raised as a challenge, alonside the lack of acceptance of CitSci approaches among hard scientists. Besides thematic content, I was delighted by the deepness of some debates and reflections on the role of the observer in the scientific process. I had several nice talks with the common thread of how CitSci is opening opportunities to stay in academia for people that previously found it a too narrow or closed environment, something I have thought many times.
Some questions by conference attendees:
How do we think about democracy?
How much power of scientific expertise are we willing to negotiate?
How can we soften hard scientists?
Surprisingly, water management was not tackled at all in the conference. I would say that more than 80% of the presented work was on biodiversity research. The few presentations around water referred to water quality monitoring either at very local or at the global scales but there were no proposals around citizen science in hydrometric or water governance. Far from disappointing, I realized the great opportunities for future research that open up from here, nicely introduced recently by Buytaert et al 2014 . It also makes me think about the water scientists community that is so diverse in its practices and, especially, in its values that would barely be called a community itself. Might that be a reason why there is so little advance in our field?
Most talks and sessions were fantastic, but probably the one that caught me more was the one from the Women Association of Pictou Landing First Nation in Canada. It made clear the power of citizen science for environmental justice cases. The place has been accumulating pollution from a mill for the last 20 years without any health impact assessment. The women from the community applied for funding for a research proposal and have developed a Participatory Action Research facilitated by the very impressive Heather Castleden. They are collecting data to conduct their own health impact assessment and fight the irresponsible attitude of public authorities. They state something that usually happens in well-design participatory processes: the scientific results themselves are not the most relevant outcome but the process, the process of empowerment when the collective decides to face their problems and fight for justice, the process of doing it together.
If you want to know more check the hashtag #CitSci15
 Pacific programs, Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, American Museum of Natural History
 Citizen science in hydrology and water resources: opportunities for knowledge generation, ecosystem service management, and sustainable development
Wouter Buytaert, Zed Zulkafli, Sam Grainger, Luis Acosta, Johan Bastiaensen, Bert De_Bièvre, Jagat Bhusal, Tilashwork Chanie, Julian Clark, Art Dewulf, Marc Foggin, David M. Hannah, Christian Hergarten, Aiganysh Isaeva, Timos Karpouzoglou, Bhopal Pandey, Deepak Paudel, Keshav Sharma, Tammo Steenhuis, Seifu Tilahun, Gert Van_Hecken and Munavar Zhumanova