Empowering citizens for better science

Scientific progress has yielded technological innovations that have improved the lives of billions of people. But often, those people feel detached from how scientific research is done. EU-funded researchers aim to close the gap by involving citizens more directly in scientific research.

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Countries
Countries
  Algeria
  Argentina
  Australia
  Austria
  Bangladesh
  Belarus
  Belgium
  Benin
  Bolivia
  Bosnia and Herzegovina
  Brazil
  Bulgaria
  Burkina Faso
  Cambodia
  Cameroon
  Canada
  Cape Verde
  Chile
  China
  Colombia
  Costa Rica
  Croatia
  Cyprus
  Czechia
  Denmark
  Ecuador
  Egypt
  Estonia
  Ethiopia
  Faroe Islands
  Finland
  France
  French Polynesia
  Georgia


 

Published: 27 August 2018  
Related theme(s) and subtheme(s)
Information societyInternet  |  Multimedia
Research policyHorizon 2020
Science in societyEducation & popular sciences  |  Education & popular sciences  |  Science communication  |  Science communication  |  Women & science
Countries involved in the project described in the article
Austria  |  Belgium  |  France  |  Germany  |  Netherlands  |  Poland  |  Slovenia  |  Switzerland  |  United Kingdom
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Empowering citizens for better science

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© idambeer #218618798, 2018 fotolia.com

Updated on 22 February 2019

Up to now, major institutions like universities and laboratories have driven scientific research. While this process has generated discoveries and innovations that have helped billions of people live better lives, it has also created a communication gap between the scientists who perform research and the citizens who might benefit from it.

This gap exists because of a lack of meaningful exchanges and mutual learning and listening between scientists conducting research and both the daily concerns of citizens and broader societal challenges. As a result, some citizens feel apathetic about whether science can solve today’s most pressing problems, or even whether research is worth the cost.

The EU-funded DITOS project aims to close the gap between scientists and citizens by involving non-scientists directly in gathering scientific data, formulating research questions, and conducting analyses. The results will encourage more widespread scientific literacy.

Project activities focus around two themes: bio-design, or the use of living things such as bacteria in product design or art; and environmental sustainability. ‘Citizen scientists’ have great potential to assist in such research. For example, citizens in urban areas have helped to collect data about local levels of air pollution, leading to an improved understanding of where pollutants tend to concentrate inside major cities and what to do about it.

Project coordinator Muki Haklay, a professor of geographical information science at University College London in the UK says that the project is already paying off.

“In the short term, this project has helped build a community of scientists and citizen scientists who are working together to contribute to scientific research in Europe in many different fields,’ he says. ‘In the long run, it has fostered a more robust relationship of mutual trust and listening between scientists and citizens, an indispensable element for the future of European research.’

Additional benefits

The project’s benefits do not end there. All too often, men have dominated scientific research, and Haklay is proud that the project’s partners have encouraged better gender representation among researchers.

“We have engaged a higher proportion of women – 51 % on average across all our events – than is typical in science projects,” he says.

Since its inception in June 2016, DITOS has achieved impressive outreach numbers. Haklay says that 400 000 people have engaged with the project face-to-face through 624 events in 17 countries. An additional 3.3 million have engaged online.

Some events have included a mobile scientific laboratory, the “Science Bus”, which offers scientific projects for adults and children. It includes lessons on how to make your own yoghurt, sunscreen, bacteria detector, or even your own mobile phone battery charger all while learning about the scientific principles behind them. These tools bring science into remote school classes, fostering social inclusion and interest in science.

DITOS has also engaged directly with governments, holding 25 events with over 1 000 policymakers across Europe. As part of such work, it has published policy briefs on the synergies between citizen science and open science, citizen involvement in biotechnological innovation and responsible practices, and the promotion of cross-border research and collaboration for biodiversity conservation.

Looking ahead, DITOS will hold a pan-EU forum in Brussels in April 2019. Its participants will include high-level policymakers from across the EU. Beyond bringing citizens and scientists together, the project’s overarching aim is to ensure that Europe becomes a leader in engaging people with science.

DITOS’ partners include SMEs, universities, science galleries, museums, arts organisations, and NGOs. Although the project is scheduled to come to a close in May 2019, Haklay believes that its benefits will last for years.

Project details

  • Project acronym: DITOS
  • Participants: United Kingdom (Coordinator), Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Slovenia, Poland, Switzerland, Austria
  • Project N°: 709443
  • Total costs: € 3 935 075
  • EU contribution: € 3 498 953
  • Duration: June 2016 to May 2019

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