Giving citizens a greater role in science can deliver the vision of "science for the people, by the people" for Europe.

Published 22 May 2015
Updated 22 May 2015

Recently I attended the 2nd Barcelona Citizen Science Day organised as part of the city's Science Festival. The programme was full and varied and in itself a great example of the wonderful world of do-it-yourself, hands-on, accessible, practical science. A huge variety of projects (see below) was delivered with enthusiasm, passion, and energy!

The day was rounded off with a presentation by Public Lab who showed how a bit of technical ingenuity like cheap cameras on kites and balloons can be used to keep governments and large businesses more honest and accountable – for example, data they collected is being used in court cases against BP for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

But what was most striking is the empowerment that these Citizen Science projects give individuals to do things for themselves – to take measures to monitor, protect or improve their urban or rural environment; to indulge their curiosity or passions; to improve their finances; to work with others; to do good while having serious fun.

On a more personal note, I found the event energising and inspirational and could see the potential value in what we do and promote. To use that old, tired but true phrase, we really can help others to help themselves. And it's not about us bestowing paternalistic wisdom or public largesse on the poor befuddled masses; they know what they need to do and they are already doing it in many cases.  What we can do is to assist in making it happen; provide safeguards where necessary (e.g. on data ownership, privacy and protection)… and then get out of their way!

If you want to have a deeper look, here are some of the many projects presented on a great variety of themes:

Water

Wildlife

Climate

Arts

Public health

Human

A nice booklet capturing them is available and there's aslo a summary in Catalan only.

Read more about citizen science in the European Commission.

Twitter: @john_magan  and  @ICTscienceEU