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Policy Week: What is citizen social science, and how can it help policy?

By 18 November 2015

Research to Action attended a session on citizen social science held by the Citizen Science Research Methods programme at the University of Manchester’s Policy Week 2015. The session explored how citizen social science methods bring researchers and citizens closer together. It also discussed the obstacles and opportunities encountered when research projects utilising citizen science methods aim to influence policy at a local, national or international level.

Citizen social science encompasses anything from projects conducted by lay persons who gather the raw data, to projects involving non-researchers in the design, coding, analysis or even writing stages of the research project.

The panel of speakers provided a rich range of citizen science projects from research conducted in collaboration with local councils, data collecting commissioned by international bodies, to projects challenging decisions made by public policy bodies. Individual researchers spoke about the challenges they faced whilst communicating mainly qualitative research findings to policymakers who struggled to see the representativeness of the data they presented. Researchers voiced the frustrations and difficulties encountered whilst presenting different types of evidence such as photographic evidence or observational evidence to policy makers and decision makers who were more used to quantitative data.

One researcher raised the question: how is research conducted by citizens different to research conducted by academics, or research commissioned by local councils or even public bodies themselves? It raises the question how is citizen science different to more typical scientific methods?  Consequently, do these potential differences mean that there should be a difference in how the resulting evidence or research findings are communicated to policy audiences?

Citizen science encompasses more public participation in the research process from the outset than typically conducted research projects but the interesting question is whether this greater stakeholder outreach and engagement from the beginning translates into greater policy influence?

More details on the event can be found on the Manchester Policy Blog here.

If you have any insights into communicating citizen science research projects or know of any useful resources for communicating similar and mainly qualitative projects to policy audiences please leave a comment at the bottom of this post or tweet them to @Research2Action.

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