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Cultivating citizen science for all

By Stephanie Chesser, Michelle M. Porter & Anthony G. Tuckett

Cultivating citizen science for all: Ethical considerations for research projects involving diverse and marginalized populations is a critical appraisal and offers practical advice on the ethical considerations for citizen science projects involving diverse and marginalized populations. Our take-home message is two-fold: (1) explaining how the citizen science community can conduct research in ways that value inclusivity, adaptability, sensitivity, safety, and reciprocity; and (2) explaining why researchers designing citizen science projects ought scaffold every aspect of their research according to The Golden Rule. With this in mind, we have argued that citizen scientist volunteers are better positioned to be treated authentically and never as a mere means to an end. Ultimately, we contend that by implementing these recommendations, citizen science projects will be well-placed—from an ethical perspective—to achieve meaningful community engagement.

We put forward an argument for several ethical research considerations that we feel are necessary for citizen science projects wanting to involve individuals from traditionally marginalized groups (e.g. older people). To do this we first describe the notion of ethics in the context of citizen science research and some of the approaches professional researchers may choose to incorporate into projects to help ensure that citizen scientists are able to participate in meaningful and non-harmful ways. Finally, weaving together examples from published citizen science research in the human and health sciences along with current recommended standards for conducting citizen science, we suggest that projects with marginalized populations attend to five specific research elements: inclusivity, adaptability, sensitivity, safety, and reciprocity.

Our work is an international collaboration. It is a collaboration that has spanned four (4) years, but it is a manuscript that has required 18 months of dedicated thinking, writing and unwavering perseverance to have it come into print. We would say though, that when you know you have a manuscript with a useful message, it is worth pushing on and to never give up. It is a paper of two integrated parts – the backbone of the work is the five (5) elements around which we have wrapped the muscular core- an applied ethics approach encapsulated by the Golden Rule.

MP is the link between AT and SC, though AT and SC have never met. MP and AT met four years ago at a large, multidisciplinary, international meeting exploring the application of an approach to citizen science specifically in the health context. All three of us work with and are committed to the well-being of older people. SC and MP work closely together on a daily basis and co-created the ‘backbone’ whilst AT bought the applied ethics ‘muscularity’.  The writing and redrafting was very much an iterative process – questioning and challenging ideas and the clarity of meaning.  SC and MP nicely kept AT on task and his frustrations tempered. We were never writing a philosophical thesis. In the beginning and for the duration SC pushed the work on, whilst in the latter and final strides, AT got the manuscript over the line! In the thinking-writing nexus, we were also able to capitalise on the academic workload variations between north and south hemispheres so that as one of us got overwhelmed, fed-up or fatigued, the other stepped up to the plate. The writing team was a perfect fit.

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