Harnessing 'citizen science' to reinforce resilience to environmental disasters:creating an evidence base and community of practice

Lead Research Organisation: University of East Anglia
Department Name: Environmental Sciences

Abstract

'Citizen science', or the participation of 'non-specialists' in the gathering or analysis of scientific data, is playing an increasingly important role in scientific research. It is an excellent way for citizens to contribute to the forecasting and warning of hazards that impact them and could be particularly helpful in low and middle income countries. in these regions, citizen science also has the potential to generate shared understandings of hazardous phenomena, improve communication and help communities at risk take actions to improve their resilience during and after hazardous events.

From earlier volcano-related research projects we have evidence that working with communities at risk to gather data and make observations of natural phenomena does help them reduce their risk. It also helps both scientists and community members cope with the uncertainty around hazardous phenomena by helping them to devise strategies that minimise impacts on lives and livelihoods. Researchers working on other hazards have also found this to be the case.

There are many challenges in moving from the theory regarding the usefulness of citizen science to the practice of making a project work. What we want to do is (A) understand how we should use 'citizen science' to address these challenges and build resilience to environmental hazards (B) create and nurture an international transdisciplinary community of practice to contribute to future projects (B).

We will involve addressing the following objectives:

(1) learn lessons and synthesise knowledge from previous citizen science programs and existing initiatives;
(2) understand what the barriers to success are with these types of project and try to break them down. We think this means we will have to widen our thinking about citizen science techniques, in new ways. We will incorporate methodologies and techniques from the humanities and we include important lessons from the theory and best practices in international development. We will try to address tensions between 'bottom-up' or community driven practices and 'top-down' or technocratic approaches to gathering data.

We will also meet these aims and objectives by using a case study-based approach to frame our thinking about how this will work best for the citizens at risk from environmental hazards. Citizens are at the heart of this project and so we will use conversations with communities in three contrasting study sites (Ecuador, the English-speaking Caribbean and Nepal) to inform our synthesis and critical analysis of the challenges encountered in country.

To achieve these aims we have brought together a group of researchers across all relevant fields, and will use our research to create a new community of practice. Each investigator will act as a 'champion' for their specialism to quickly draw together a grouping of experts to attend an initial workshop and we will use the discussion there to inform a synthesis of relevant initiatives and existing evidence. That synthesis will be used to critically reflect on the barriers to success. During this, we will address the tensions between participatory approaches to development focussed on the communities and their empowerment and engagement and more traditional scientific methods driven by the need for knowledge and data coming from the scientists. We will also work to understand the contribution that narratives and narrative analysis bring to the overall goals of 'citizen science' initiatives, and how they might help to equalise relationships within a project.

We'll produce an analysis of what might help projects in the future successfully use citizen science to empower communities to deal with natural hazards. We will also increase everyone's knowledge of this field. We will share this analysis with the communities where we work and have designed our case studies to be used by initiatives already in place to increase community resilience in those regions.

Planned Impact

CRRED has three main impact objectives, designed to both achieve immediate impact from the short project, and to build an impact foundation for a longer-term legacy.

1. Capacity strengthening.
2. Integrating our findings into existing programs designed to build resilience to environmental hazards in Ecuador, the Caribbean and Nepal.
3. Creating an outward facing network of researchers interested in evidence-based approaches to applying a broad family of citizen science techniques to environmental hazards.

Who might benefit from the research and the successful achievement of our Impact objectives?

There are several important groups who will benefit from this research: (a) Development practitioners who might be interested in applying citizen science techniques in low or middle income countries; (b) managers of the risk associated with environmental hazards (c) communities at risk and (d) policy-makers, practitioners and researchers interested in techniques and tools to help implement the Sustainable Development Goals.

How might they benefit from this research?

We have designed our research in the case study regions in collaboration with our project partners (Impact Objective 2). In Ecuador and the Caribbean they are agencies charged with the monitoring and forecasting of hazardous geophysical phenomena, with close links with those responsible for monitoring other environmental hazards. They also have responsibility to communicate these hazards and to encourage action to reduce risk. In Nepal our project partners are an NGO (Tearfund) who are building a new 'resilience' framework to help the communities increase their capacity to prepare for and recover from environmental hazards. They represent groups (a) and (b) above and by designing our research with these project partners it is focused to provide direct benefit to their ongoing programs, and in so doing benefit group (c). We will also report our findings to the communities with which we have worked directly. During the process of our research we will all learn from one another too (Impact Objective 1: capacity strengthening).

Our over-arching analysis will be particularly relevant in low and middle income settings beyond our case study regions, and we will ensure that we reach out to build wider collaborations in these areas. We have aligned the three challenges in our project (to improve monitoring and warning, increase communication and improve uptake of resilience measures) with the Sustainable Development Goals. This will ensure relevancy for our intended beneficiaries.

We will ensure that all of our work is freely available in the public domain and will develop a dedicated open web portal, to share the results of our project. We will contribute to established networks to disseminate findings relevant to global development (e.g. SciDev.net; ukcds.org.uk; PreventionWeb). Through TearFund we will identify pathways to engage with relevant NGOs. Our open portal will encourage links to other case studies and evidence for design in other hazards fields and regions. This will allow researchers and NGO's within and outside of Disaster Risk Reduction studies, to access the details of previous projects and customize approaches to suit new citizen science 'missions' and/or case study contexts. We shall go to our intended audience and will apply to present at the May 2017 UNISDR Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction meeting. This meeting is to enable governments, NGOs, scientists, practitioners, and UN organizations to share experience and formulate strategic guidance for the implementation of global disaster risk reduction agreements.

Finally, the foundation for a wider and longer legacy will be laid via the creation of Network dedicated to improving and developing the family of citizen science techniques with the explicit aim of building resilience to environmental hazards in low and middle income countries worldwide.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description We wanted to learn lessons and synthesise knowledge from previous/current citizen science programs and allied initiatives and understand what the barriers to success in applying citizen sciene to disaster risk reduction and try to break them down. We used both a literature review (still completing) and a case-study based approach (working in Nepal and Ecuador - finalising with the joint implementation of a new project in St. Vincent).
We explicitly wanted widen our thinking about the citizen science family of techniques. We included methodologies and techniques from the humanities (narrative and story-telling) and important lessons from the theory and best practices in international development ( 'participatory techniques'). We also tried to address tensions between 'bottom-up' or community driven practices and 'top-down' or technocratic approaches to gathering data (e.g. crowdsourcing).

. A particularly strong challenge was the integration of thinking from the humanities. Widening thinking to humanities was useful for 2 reasons: (A) vehicles (stories, historical accounts) for information about past events that could be interpreted and (B) as a tool to address inequalities and power relations in the valuing and sharing of experience of past hazards and their impacts.
It was initially tricky to identify relevant past literature, and methodological framings but this has been successful and included this approach in our trial workshops on St. Vincent too. 'Story-telling' was a very successful aspect of the work we did there. Further, we used an 'art facilitator' at our case study workshop in Ecuador. This was so well received he is now working with the 'community watchmen' to further document their experiences.
Exploitation Route These findings are designed to try to help improve future citizen science projects allied with disaster risk reduction
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Environment,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections

URL https://citizensciencedrr.com/
 
Description We are co-creating a book with one of the communities we have worked with about the value of the citizen science approach. We have used our findings to set up a community-based disaster risk reduction project on St. Vincent
First Year Of Impact 2017
Sector Education,Environment
Impact Types Societal

 
Description AHRC Follow-on Funding for Impact and Engagement
Amount £999,887 (GBP)
Funding ID AH/S00579X/1 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 01/2019 
End 12/2019
 
Description GCRF Urban Disaster Risk Hub
Amount £17,657,278 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/S009000/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 05/2024
 
Description Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE): - 2017-18 GCRF QR University of East Anglia (£ 9800; 2018 - 2018)
Amount £40,000 (GBP)
Organisation University of East Anglia 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 03/2018 
End 07/2018
 
Description Community citizen science workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We held two 'story-telling' evenings in St. Vincent. These were designed to value the communities observations and knowledge of past volcanic activity, and to encourage ownership of risk.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Community-based discussion of multi-hazard impacts 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Two day long workshops in communities in St. Vincent to explore the impacts of various hazardous events in the community.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Explosive Transformations workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Workshop designed to engage with poetry, prose and cultural responses to volcanic exhibit. Also designed to create a new exhibit for St. Vincent.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Facilitated discussion with Art Facilitator 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact An Art Facilitator ran a workshop where participants drew and discussed the impacts and relationships created (and destroyed) by volcanic activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New website collating outputs 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We have generated a website that collates the findings from the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
URL https://citizensciencedrr.com
 
Description Peruvian Ash impact workshops 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We ran a series of workshops in communities impacted by volcanic ash, to discuss those impacts and good ways to mitigate them, Transferring learning from STREVA
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Soufriere Blow - an Exhibition on St Vincent 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We created an Exhibit that commemorated and celebrated past eruptions and appropriate cultural responses to those eruptions on island. This exhibit was left as a legacy of the project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018