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Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health
Together for more healthy years
Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health

Explore the possibilities of citizen science together

26 April 2024

The Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health and the Centre of Expertise Social Sciences Health and Well-being are jointly organizing an event on citizen science at the House of Connections in Groningen on May 14th from 12:00 to 17:00. According to Lisette van der Meer, director of the centre of expertise, citizen science can offer new opportunities in the social sciences.

Science together with citizens

Citizen science is a form of science in which citizens play an active role in research. Research is carried out not only for citizens, but rather together with citizens. According to Van der Meer, citizen science is very important these days. 

First of all, a lot of scientific research is financed through public funds. Citizens have a right to participate in thinking about where those funds are spent and to benefit from the knowledge we discover through scientific research, Van der Meer argues.  To do so, however, research must be done that citizens can also benefit from. "Citizen science offers us the opportunity to carry out research for citizens together with citizens", Van der Meer explains. 

Citizen science also offers opportunities for scientists, for example in fields such as social science. "In social science, we study people's behaviour", Van der Meer explains. "We often do that in a somewhat artificial way, through questionnaires or tests in laboratories. Very rarely do we make observations in the real world." This is where citizen science can play a role, according to Van der Meer. "If you use citizen science to study human behaviour, you have the opportunity to study people in their own environment and gather information about reality rather than an artificial environment."

Aletta's citizen science

The Aletta Jacobs School of Public Health has been involved in citizen science for quite some time now. Together with Forum Groningen and Science Linx, a number of citizen science campaigns under the name 'CurioUs?' have been organised in which citizens played an important role. For example, there have been measuring campaigns about fine dust in the air, light pollution, heat stress and adaptation based on cross spiders. In addition, bee and worm counts took place. 

According to Gerda Vrugteman, project leader of 'CurioUs?', balance is very important for a good citizen science project, both the scientists and the citizens should benefit. “If there is no feedback to the participant, people are much less inclined to participate. People need answers to the question they have”, Vrugteman argues. This is also evident in practice. For the worm count, for example, more than 600 people went into their gardens to plant a shovel in the earth and contribute to the survey. "People found out how fertile the soil in their garden was, that's something they benefit from", says Vrugteman.

Vrugteman also notes that the most successful projects are often well matched to current events. “In these times of climate change and pollution, air and soil research are topics that resonate with people”, states Vrugteman. “If you can tie your research into a topical theme, people are often enthusiastic to get involved.”

The event

In the social sciences, more and more research is being done together with citizens, and knowledge is also increasingly being given back to citizens, says Van der Meer. But when it comes to data collection, actively engaging citizens lags behind in the social sciences compared to the natural sciences, Van der Meer argues. “I think it is worth exploring together whether it is possible in the social sciences to collect data together with citizens about human behaviour in their own environment. The event on May 14th is perfect for that.”

During the event, participants will first be presented with two presentations on various ways of approaching citizen science by Margaret Gold, citizen science lead at Leiden University, and Niels Alberts, coordinator of the STEM Science Shop, who are each involved with citizen science in various ways. Afterwards, researchers from universities of applied sciences will share their experiences and tips on citizen science. 

Following these presentations, participants, guided by Margaret Gold, will engage with each other to discuss the opportunities they see in citizen science. "We will discuss what kind of social science questions we can answer with citizen science. We also reflect on the pitfalls and opportunities we need to consider for this kind of research", Van der Meer explains. In addition, there will be a spotlight on funding for citizen science projects during the event. “That funding is sometimes hard to find. We want to give participants an overview of where they can go for funding”, Van der Meer explains.

Finally, there will be a plenary discussion in which participants will have the chance to share what they discussed with each other during the event. More information on the event programme and the registration form can be found in the link below.

Last modified:26 April 2024 4.42 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands

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