Harnessing Enthusiasm: Ecosocialities and Citizens as Early-Warning Systems

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Geography and Environmental Sciences

Abstract

Citizen science is an activity that is becoming increasingly important as demand for data on biodiversity outstrips the capacity of professional scientists (in terms of finance and manpower). Working in partnership with Forest Research (Britain's principal organization for forestry research), the Sylva Foundation (a charitable trust promoting wood culture) and the Science Museum (internationally-renowned institution engaging citizens with science and technology), this project addresses the need for new ways of harnessing citizen enthusiasm in order to develop a sustainable citizen science for tree health monitoring.

Citizen science is defined as data collection by non-scientists for scientific projects. Since the mid 19th century, volunteers, amateurs and enthusiasts have participated in citizen science. In the 21st-century, citizens are leading the way in monitoring risk and environmental change, for example recording radiation levels following the recent earthquake and nuclear disaster in Japan. They are mixing an interest in science with new technologies and traditional enthusiasms. The sophistication of smartphones and developments within web technology, such as Flickr, Facebook, Google Maps, Wikis and blogs, have increased the breadth and depth of potential participation and interest. However, the role of technology in citizen science and sustaining participation has yet to be fully understood or utilised.

Tracing the new 'Tree Health Surveillance Framework' for Britain through participant observation and semi-structured interviews with citizen scientists, scientists, technicians and users of citizen data, as well as international comparative research on citizen monitoring projects in Australia (a leader in biosecurity), this research asks:

1. Why do citizens participate in scientific projects?
2. What role does technology play in citizen science?
3. How is citizen data valued by scientists and other users?
4. What potential is there for citizens to act as early-warning systems for the movements of biologically invasive species attacking trees?

Encouraging dialogue between researchers in the social and environmental sciences, specifically human geographers, GIS researchers and forest researchers, this project will develop the concept of 'ecosocialities' as a novel theorization of social environmental relations. This research has benefits for a wide range of audiences:
* academics studying relations between people, technology and nature;
* project partners interested in implementing citizen science projects to monitor tree health in the UK;
* government departments, such as Defra and Fera, charged with re-connecting the public to their local environments;
* NGOs and charities organising citizen science projects;
* members of the public who want to contribute to and apply scientific knowledge in their local communities.

In order to maximise the impact of the project, the following activities are planned:
* production of academic papers for journals and conferences;
* progress reports for partners, press releases for the media and details of research findings for other stakeholders via the project website;
* four workshops for researchers, scientists, decision-makers and citizens;
* a secondment to Forest Research to maximise opportunities for knowledge exchange;
* knowledge exchange skills development through training from the Science Museum and UCL's Public Engagement Unit;
* regularly updated website with videos and Twitter feed in order to encourage participation and circulate findings.

Thus, this Future Research Leader award will: build skills in international comparative research; foster inter-disciplinary working between researchers in human geography and GIS; facilitate knowledge exchange between academics, citizens and scientists; and enhance education through research-led MSc teaching and PhD supervision.

Planned Impact

In the 1960s/70s, Dutch elm disease killed some 30 million trees, affecting the provision of multiple economic, social and environmental benefits. The benefits of trees to carbon sequestration, biodiversity and recreation are valued at just under £1.1 billion annually (UK National Ecosystem Assessment 2011). The potential impact of citizens acting as an early-warning system for potential tree disease or pest epidemics is significant. Thus, there are a myriad of non-academic beneficiaries and users for this research.

Project Partner Organisations: All have been enthusiastic about the research and its potential contribution, as well as instrumental in framing research questions. They will be able to use outputs at all stages of the research to inform and formulate current and future citizen science, specifically Forest Research's 'Tree Health Surveillance Framework', the Sylva Foundation's TreeWatch scheme and the Science Museum's Public History initiatives to engage citizens online and off-site with science and technology. Two longer-term impacts relate to the value of our partnership to enhance the research capacity of these organisations, particularly the Sylva Foundation and the Science Museum, as well as contributing toward environmental sustainability as citizen science projects develop.

Environmental Organisations and Charities: Bodies involved in citizen projects and tree health, such as The Royal Forestry Society, The Royal Horticultural Society, Woodland Trust, National Trust, Tree Council, Confor, Scottish Royal Forestry Society, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and Institute of Chartered Foresters, will benefit from international best practice and technological innovation. A wider group of organisations, traditionally involved in citizen science, such as National Biodiversity Network, Trees for Cities, The Bumblebee Conservation Trust and British Hedgehog Preservation Society to name a few, will benefit from the translation of the value of citizen science actvities for scientists, government and other funders.

Government Bodies: The 'Natural Choice' and 'Giving' White Papers detail the role of voluntary monitoring in enabling citizens to connect with their local environments and communities, and 'volunteer time spent in biodiversity conservation' is used as a biodiversity indicator by Defra. This research will benefit bodies, such as Defra, Fera, Forestry Commission, Environment Agency and Natural England, charged with engaging citizens on the environmental. It will offer understandings of harnessing citizen enthusiasm for science, public engagement with risk, citizens as early-warning systems, as well as monitoring environments for health.

Voluntary Sector: Participation in citizen science projects is predominantly a voluntary activity. Organisations and advocacy groups supporting volunteering will benefit from in-depth understandings of enthusiasm for participation and international best practice, as well as possible local environmental improvement, social inclusion, capacity building and active citizenship. Beneficiaries include but are not limited to: National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Volunteering England, TimeBank, BTCV, Greenspace and the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers.

Citizens and wider public: This includes research participants, the wider body of citizen scientists, as well as current non-participants who will join-in as citizen science becomes more widely accepted. As the project findings feed into policy and practice in the UK and internationally, the research will further encourage environmental citizenship, contributing to awareness, well-being and resilience to change, as well as enhancing the relationship between government bodies and citizens.

My research will also benefit international users similar to those listed above, as well as businesses and charities interested in the users of their technologies, for example ESRI (GIS) and the Citizen Cyberscience Centre.

Publications

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Related Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/K001426/1 01/10/2012 31/08/2013 £169,601
ES/K001426/2 Transfer ES/K001426/1 01/09/2013 30/09/2015 £123,815
 
Description My ESRC Future Research Leader award enabled me: 1) to conduct empirical research into the social, scientific and technological practices required to develop tree health citizen science projects; 2) to establish the value of enthusiasm as an emotional affiliation within the contexts of (a) citizen science, (b) tree health science, and (c) decision-making in government policy, citizen science practice and funding bodies; and 3) to consolidate my position as a leading social scientist by securing a permanent lectureship in Human Geography at the University of Reading. My four key achievements:

Timeliness: Emerging tree and plant pests and pathogens are a significant risk to trees. My ESRC grant commenced in the same month as Chalara Dieback of Ash was announced as present in the UK. Through my project partners Forest Research and the Sylva Foundation, I was able to commence my fieldwork. I followed the story of Chalara as it developed from a fungus affecting ash trees to a political and scientific priority for government agencies and policymakers, academics and funding bodies, industry and civil society. A highlight was tracing the development of the UK's first Tree Health citizen science survey, led by Open Air Laboratories.

Interdisciplinarity: My award afforded me the resources to be one of the few social scientists researching tree health. Prior to Chalara, tree health research was dominated by natural scientists. However, the media furore and strong public outcry associated with Chalara highlighted the importance of research that considers the social, cultural and personal dimensions of tree health and citizen science. My experience and expertise in this field (working with plant pathologists and citizen science practitioners) led to the award of a Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative Phase 3 grant. I am Co-I on a social science work package exploring policy, science, industry and civil society responses to Acute Oak Decline.

Leadership: I am a recognised leader in Human Geography, particularly in relation to collaboration, co-production, citizen science and enthusiasm. I undertook courses relating to personal development and leadership. These opportunities were invaluable, developing my skills and abilities in knowledge exchange, people and project management. Within and beyond the University of Reading, I am leader of the Human Geography Research Cluster and a cross-disciplinary citizen science initiative, as well as ESRC representative on the UKEOF Citizen Science Working Group, and member of the European Citizen Science Association's Policy Working Group.

Impact: I developed my Future Research Leader award in collaboration with project partners to ensure uptake of my findings as they emerged. I adopted a form of 'action research', whereby I was embedded within the community I was investigating. As a result, this led to the formation of the Tree Health Citizen Science Network in the UK, with strong connections to work in the Europe, USA and Australia. In 2014, I undertook a research visit to the University of Wollongong and worked with colleagues at the National Trust of Australia (Victoria), City of Melbourne and the University of Melbourne to examine enthusiasm for trees in Melbourne.
Exploitation Route Prior to 2012, tree health and citizen science were largely the domain of the natural sciences. My research has challenged 'business as usual' and carved out an approach to tree health research drawing on social science methodologies and theories from Social and Cultural Geography and STS. My work on professional enthusiasm and motivations in citizen science, as well as my re-conceptualisation of tree health will be of interest to: (1) social scientists with interests in: social and cultural geography; emotion, affect and embodiment; planty perspectives and the more-than-human; care, ethics and justice; plant and animal health; citizen science, technology and participation; policy mobilities; and data journeys; (2) natural scientists with interests in: plant and animal health; plant pathology; citizen science implementation; citizens as early-warning systems; and scientist motivations and enthusiasm; (3) environmental organisations and government bodies with interests in improving: (a) their understanding of complex challenges with multiple stakeholders such as tree health; (b) the uptake and sustainability of their citizen science surveys; (c) their knowledge of what motivates professionals (scientists, funders and policymakers) to engage in citizen science; and (d) their use of cultural, emotional and personal attachments to harness volunteer and professional enthusiasm for projects, causes or issues.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Energy,Environment,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Government, Democracy and Justice,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

 
Description Improving the sustainability of citizen science projects (and therefore the number of volunteer citizen scientists); Increasing the effectiveness of tree health citizen science projects and collaboration between initiatives and organisations; Revaluing the importance of understanding the social dimensions of participation in citizen science, and tree health surveillance.
First Year Of Impact 2015
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Environment
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Economic,Policy & public services

 
Description Advisory Board Member for Defra/Imperial College Tree Health Citizen Science Fellowship
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Membership of UK Environmental Observation Framework Working Group on Citizen Science
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Implementation circular/rapid advice/letter to e.g. Ministry of Health
 
Description British Ecological Society Special Interest Group
Amount £1,500 (GBP)
Organisation British Ecological Society 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2015 
End 05/2015
 
Description OPENER: Scoping out a national cOmmunity of Practice for public ENgagement with Environmental Research
Amount £103,910 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/R012067/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2017 
End 10/2018
 
Description UKEOF Citizen Science Working Group (tender via NERC)
Amount £30,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of Reading 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2015 
End 03/2016
 
Description Living with Environmental Change (LWEC) Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative Launch, (enthusiasm) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards

N/A at this stage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Department Seminar (Aberystwyth) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation paper presentation
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards

N/A at this stage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013
 
Description Department Seminar (Exeter) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact talk sparked questions and discussion afterwards

N/A at this stage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Department Seminar (Liverpool) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Sparked questions around citizen science and chalara dieback of ash.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Department seminar (University of Western Sydney) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact talked sparked questions and discussion afterwards

N/A at this stage
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Department seminar (University of Wollongong) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Type Of Presentation keynote/invited speaker
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact this talk was to an Australian audience and sparked plenty of questions and discussion

the university of Wollongong's tree officer asked to meet with me to discuss enthusiasm for trees on the campus.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Encouraging Enthusiasm for Trees in Melbourne (Australia) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact 40 tree officers and other officials attended a meeting co-hosted with the National Trust of Australia to explore the potential for increasing Melbourne citizens' enthusiasm for trees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Enthusiasm Futures 2015 (Reading) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact 11 academics researching 'enthusiasm' gathered at the University of Reading to map out the next 10 years of enthusiasm research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Future Proofing Plant Health, Food and Environment Research Agency (enthusiasm) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Participation prompted interest in my own workshops.

Attendance at my workshop by colleagues at this meeting, reported increased interest in social science research
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Harnessing Enthusiasm for Tree Health Citizen Science (Reading) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Attended by representatives from Forest Research, Forestry Commission, Fera, Defra, Woodland Trust, National Trust, International Plant Sentinel Network. Led to the formation of the UK's tree health citizen science network.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2015 (Exeter) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Invited speaker on enthusiasm and amateur creativities. Sparked discussion and basis for Enthusiasm Futures event.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Social Science for Tree Health & Plant Biosecurity Workshop (York) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Presented a paper on Tree Health, Citizen Science and Enthusiasm from a cultural geography perspective. Sparked questions and discussion. Led to development of two conference sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2016 on 'Re-imaging' Tree Health.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015