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:
- seawater quality
- water management
- flood preparation/prevention
- seafloor observations
- river quality and wildlife
- bees in cities to monitor the urban environment,
- gamification to motivate bird watchers
- monitoring jellyfish on beaches
- BioBlitzes for wildlife censuses
- tackling mosquito infestations
- using art to visualise waste and raise awareness
- getting the public and artists to cooperate in exploring biotechnology
- mapping local activities
- complex systems and human behaviour experiments
- civic crowdfunding
- social rehabilitation of former drug users through testing potato varieties and uses
Read more about citizen science in the European Commission.