Session 6 Citizen science

21st June, 16.15-18.15, Chair: Ana Delicado, Room Polivalente

Exploring the engagement and participation of seniors in citizen science projects: interests, motivation and impact, Cândida G. Silva (Coimbra Chemistry Centre, Department of Chemistry, and Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, U. Coimbra, Portugal), António Monteiro (Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência, Lisboa, Portugal), Caroline Manahl, Teresa Holocher-Ertl, Maria Schrammel (Centre for Social Innovation, Vienna, Austria), Fermín Serrano Sanz (Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems, Zaragoza, University of Zaragoza, Spain), Paulo G. Mota (Science Museum of the University of Coimbra, Portugal) & Rui M. M. Brito (Coimbra Chemistry Centre, Department of Chemistry, and Center for Neuroscience and Cell Biology, U., Portugal)

A simple and effective way to improve people understanding of Science is by encouraging their active participation in scientific research and experiments. In the last decade, a growing number of citizen science projects have been widening the opportunities for the general public to engage in scientific processes. Socientize (, a FP7 project, implemented several applications to support different citizen science projects enabling volunteer citizens to actively participate in scientific projects. In order to increase awareness and participation in citizen science projects, a portfolio of dissemination activities were developed targeting different groups of citizens such as students and teachers in school communities, seniors at universities and web platforms, patients associations, and other risk-of-exclusion groups such as prison inmates. This study presents the lessons learned from the activities developed with seniors focusing on the interests, motivations and impacts as well as potential limitations and barriers reported by this target group.

Seniors represent active and dedicated people willing to be involved and feel useful to others, and a key group to achieve a more inclusive society. To engage the senior community in citizen science projects, the Socientize team explored two distinct strategies: in Portugal, a network of senior citizen universities was contacted to disseminate the activities proposed, while in Austria, Socientize and its citizen science projects were disseminated in online forums targeting people aged 50+.

The evaluation of the activities developed for the engagement and participation of the senior community in citizen science projects was conducted via a mix of quantitative and qualitative data collection instruments such as questionnaires, focus groups and online forums.

Results show that citizen science projects can be very appealing for seniors as they increase participants’ scientific culture, contribute to mental training and active ageing, and bring citizens close to the scientific process. Nonetheless, language and technological difficulties were seen as possible barriers for the involvement of seniors. These barriers may be overcome with comprehensive background materials and strong support structures.


Citizen Science: How the relationship between science and the public is reconfigured in the digital age, Martina Franzen (Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung WZB, Germany)

The Citizen Science development is a major driver of the reconfiguration of the relationship between science and the public. The concept of Citizen Science implies multiple efforts to bridge the institutional gap between science and the public. In order to grasp the implications of the inclusion of non-experts in science from a sociological point of view, a role-set of non-certified knowledge production and reception has been suggested (Dickel and Franzen 2015). This typology shall serve as heuristics to draw attention to the prototypical manifestation of diversified inclusion efforts. Here, the role set of professional scientists, who perform the roles of professional researcher, assistant, critic or recipient according to a given status or situation, acts as a blueprint of the typology for the inclusion of lay people. The digital shift not only supports new forms of knowledge production, but also enables new modes of knowledge reception via non-scientists. With reference to the first dimension, namely science production, we identify two roles: amateur scientists (1) and science participants (2). As to the second dimension, namely science reception, two roles can be outlined: amateur critics (3) and research recipients (4). Our results demonstrate that in the contexts where a greater inclusion complementary to one’s professional role is in place and capable of adapting to the science system, science-related expertise is no longer a prerequisite for inclusion (Dickel and Franzen 2016). The digital shift brings moreover the “problem of extension” identified by Collins and Evans (2002) in the context of science and technology governances now closer to the core of scientific practice (Dickel and Franzen 2016). The underlying questions, however, are becoming even more relevant: How can confidence in the certainty of knowledge be established and guaranteed, if the circle of experts is extended beyond the science system? To what extent can and should non-scientists be involved in science and technology policy issues? Where does inclusion stop, when it seems more and more unlikely that scientists have privileged access to the truth?

The aim of this paper is to offer an analytical framework to study changing science-society relations in different configurations of Citizen Science and to discuss its broader implications.


Collins, Harry M. and Evans, Robert (2002): The Third Wave of Science Studies. Studies of Expertise and Experience. Social Studies of Science 32 (2), pp. 235–296.

Dickel, Sascha; Franzen, Martina (2015): Digitale Inklusion: Zur sozialen Öffnung des Wissenschaftssystems. Zeitschrift für Soziologie 44 (5), S. 330-347.

Dickel, Sascha; Franzen, Martina (2016): The “Problem of Extension” revisited: new modes of digital participation in science. Special Issue Citizen Science Part 1, Journal of Science Communication 15 (01), A06_en.


Science and democracy under scrutiny: trajectories and changes after a Citizen Conference, Guillem Palà Nosàs & Miquel Domènech (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain)

The growing gap that progressively isolated science developments from society started to be seen as problematic when several authors realized the democratic shortcomings associated to it. The worry about the possibility that public policies could become a creation of consensus between experts was quite extended. In order to weave stronger relations between science and society, a broad number of initiatives have been proposed since then. The main idea underlying those approaches consisted in affirming that to democratize science is to democratize democracy itself. In that vein, different participation experiences where citizenship was encouraged to engage with science through different ways have been carried out. Despite the fact that those mechanisms succeeded in some of the aims they pretend, it is not already clear how the outputs of these experiences really impact on society to foster real changes. Public engagement with science studies regularly conclude that the issues put to the public are limited, that the actual involvement of the public is marginal and that institutional actors resist engagement (Irwin at al., 2012). Starting from those concerns, we are going to deploy an analysis of the trajectory of one specific output produced in an experience of public engagement with science, focusing on the possibilities it opened and the actual changes it contributed to.  

First of all, we will open our case study accounting the development of a Citizen Conference where twelve older people were engaged in talking about digitalization of society and writing a document with political recommendations. Once the citizen concerns were standardized by the participatory mechanism, several operations had to be carried out in order to enable (solid) changes in the composition of a common world. It is in that sense that, in a second moment, we explore how this document has been used by the Barcelona Council to perform public policies. Thus, from the conclusion of the experience, the output crossed over several political ecologies, most of them hostile to it. Far from claiming this document acquire explicit political capacities once the mechanism conclude, we describe how such political capacities switch in several ways in the spreading of this artefact. That way, the document appears as a fragile one, a mode of existence of matter which needs to be sustained to act in political terms.

Following Denis and Pontille argumentation (2013), fragility is a mode of existence of matter that must be considered if material ordering processes are to be documented in their full complexity. That approximation is linked with Ingold’s (2007) call to fully explore the diversity of materials, their relationships and their mutations. In that vein, we do not consider how the document spreads out through a relational activity, exploring their propensity to enact different realities (Mol, 1999, 2002).

During its trajectory, multiple possibilities of getting related with the document occurred and diverse scenarios were opened. The analysis of such outcomes has been an opportunity to explore science and democracy relationships.


Environmental volunteering: reflection and analysis for “new” public policies, Ana Luísa Martins (ICS ULisboa, Portugal), André Vizinho (CE3c, Faculdade de Ciências, ULisboa, Portugal), Inês Campos (CE3c, Faculdade de Ciências, ULisboa, Portugal), Gil Penha-Lopes (CE3c, Faculdade de Ciências, ULisboa, Portugal)

Environmental volunteering is one of the most visible ways that societies have to express their knowledge and understanding of science and demonstrates how society and science interact. It is recognized the role of volunteering as a promoter of sustainability and action on the environment, particularly in mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as the multiplier effect of capacity training of the various actors involved. The United Nations recently launched an Action Plan for Volunteering 2016-2030 with a strong focus on implementation and monitoring of sustainable development goals (UNV, 2014).

Due to a certain degree of dissatisfaction by the dominance of the excessive focus on individual responsibility or technology in the promotion and integration of environmental issues, Theories of Practice have gained prominence over the last years in the field of sociology, organizational marketing, consumption studies, media studies, among others, proposing an interspace that recognizes the dualism between agency and structure. Here, the analysis is focused on everyday life practices themselves removing the exclusive attention from the individual.

It is proposed with this work a reflection on the role of environmental volunteering as a practice in everyday life: a practice that can emerge, become ‘normal’, or disappear, and trigger a series of new links with other practices that can produce new configurations in practice systems. We also seek to examine the role of environmental volunteering as a tool to implement / enhance a “new” governance form taking into account an informed practice approach for effective and reflexive governance.

This work presents a review of the academic literature, both in terms of the fundamentals of this theory, especially in its proposals for governance, also the existing research on the concepts and knowledge about the practice of environmental volunteering in general. Three case studies on volunteering and environmental volunteering were selected for critical reflection in the light of a practice theoretical approach.

In order to face the pressing environmental challenges that science (e.g. climate change science) brings to light, we will need new embebbed practices in the society like environmental volunteering, which in turn, is a way that society has to express how it interprets and reacts to science. So, in short, we argue that by taking a practice lens it is possible to weave useful recommendations to current public policies on environmental volunteering, at both international and national levels. Instead of recurrent concerns focused on trying to change society via moralistic intentions to solve environmental science problems, we consider a practice approach to understand and unlock the potential of environmental volunteering in everyday life, and grasp how it can support an endogenous (instead of externally imposed) transition to sustainability.