COMPAIR Co-Designs Inclusive CS Strategy at Living Knowledge Workshop
Updated: Aug 2
One of the goals of CompAIR project is to ensure that benefits of Citizen Science (CS) do not concentrate among groups that have traditionally been the main participants in CS activities (i.e. middle-aged educated white males), but that these benefits are spread equally among different demographics. To that end, the project has made it a priority to engage vulnerable people in the upcoming CS experiments. But which groups can be considered vulnerable, what’s the best way to involve them, and how can technology be used to provide a meaningful participation for vulnerable individuals.
To explore these questions, CompAIR joined forces with a sister project Socio-Bee and organised a joint workshop which took place on 30 June 2022 in Groningen as part of the Living Knowledge Conference. The Living Knowledge Conference, now in its ninth year, brings together many experts in action research and community engagement, to name just a few areas, so was a perfect place to gather ideas on effective inclusion strategies that can be later incorporated into CompaAIR’s pilot operations plan.
The workshop started with two short presentations on both projects, after which a Mentimeter poll was launched to get a better sense of the audience and its familiarity with CS.
The fast majority of participants were researchers, and only a few described themselves as professionals, educators, volunteers, and other.
After this, participants split into three groups to work on the following questions:
How to define vulnerable groups?
How to engage people from vulnerable groups?
How can technology potentially support the inclusion of vulnerable groups?
How to define vulnerable groups? Defining who is vulnerable is not straightforward. When talking about air quality, we normally think of lower-socioeconomic groups as vulnerable to air pollution due to their income status and proximity to main sources of pollution such as roads and factories. But a wealthy person too can be vulnerable to air pollution if they have asthma for example and have to travel on a busy city road. So, the same vulnerability is actually experienced by two totally different income groups. Such nuances and the way in which different vulnerabilities linked to socioeconomic status, health, age, skills etc. overlap must be identified and thoroughly understood before starting an outreach campaign.
How to engage people from vulnerable groups? Vulnerable groups value when their voices are being heard, so it’s important to listen to their concerns and interests, and then make sure that both are reflected in a local citizen science experiment, its setup, objectives and protocols. When dealing with marginalised communities (e.g. Roma) it is advisable to make inroads through community leaders that command trust and respect among peers. Without them acting as translators and conduits of local knowledge, project recruitment strategies may seem as alien and are unlikely to succeed.
How can technology potentially support the inclusion of vulnerable groups? Technology is a tool not a goal: Technological tools can never be used alone in CS or engagement initiatives. They must always be used accompanied by other in-person activities, or it won’t be possible to successfully engage hard-to reach communities. Whenever possible projects should build tools that capitalise or build up from those they already know or use. The use of technology always has to be followed by a period of in-depth research in order to understand people’s needs, interests and know-how. This information has to be used in a process of co-design to ensure whatever technological tool we built is properly tailored to those who will be using it. Technology has a great potential to increase awareness especially amongst groups in decision making positions that don’t often attend in-person meetings. To increase success, recruit community leaders to showcase the local benefits of digital tools and increase their sustainability beyond the project.
All these ideas are currently being incorporated into D2.4 Pilot Operations Plan. This document will guide future CS campaigns in CompAIR pilots. The deliverable is expected mid-September 2022 and will be relevant not just to our cities but anyone looking for practical guidance on how to organise and manage inclusive CS with a focus on air quality.