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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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Using creative methods to research across difference

By Rachel Brooks

Although there is now a substantial literature on the use of creative methods within the social sciences, relatively little work has explored the value of such approaches to researching across difference, specifically. Our interest in this topic came about during a project we were working on (Eurostudents), which involved conducting a plasticine modelling exercise during focus groups with undergraduate students in six European countries. We were concerned that differences in academic culture might have a bearing on participants’ willingness to engage in the modelling, and perhaps also on the type of models produced. While our fears were, in the end, unfounded, we began to think more about the ways in which differences by nationality – but also by other social markers – may affect the use of creative methods. To this end, we organised a seminar, held in June 2018 at the University of Surrey and kindly funded by the IJSRM, to bring together scholars who were using such methods to research various aspects of difference, and reflect on the associated challenges and benefits.

The special issue of IJSRM, published recently, is based primarily on the papers given at this event. A number of authors tease out various practical and ethical issues that they encountered, which were brought into sharp relief because of the cross-national context (see those by Burningham et al. and Harman et al.). In other respects, however, contributors suggest that the use of creative methods can help to overcome some of the challenges of working across different countries. Chawla-Duggan et al., for example, contend that their use of filming helped to alleviate some of the linguistic barriers that emerged from working across four different countries. Moving on to examine other aspects of difference, Donnelly et al.’s contribution explores the extent to which a sense of intra-national geographical difference (here, discussed primarily with reference to the UK) affected educational decision-making, while Bernardi’s research (conducted cross-nationally) focusses on a group of children who are often positioned as different (by virtue of their autism), and Rainford’s contribution foregrounds institutional differences instead. Lažetić’s critical appraisal of website analyses focuses on both institutional and national differences, and outlines an agenda for further developing work in this area.

Together, the papers demonstrate how a wide range of creative methods (including filming of participants; analysis of visual material on public websites; photo elicitation; facilitation of art workshops and activities; Lego modelling; and geographical mapping) can bring new insights to researching across difference with respect to various substantive areas of enquiry including education, family, violence, youth studies, childhood studies and disability.

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Using Creative and Visual Methods to Research Across Difference

By Rachel Brooks

I am currently working on a research project that is exploring the different ways in which the higher education student is conceptualised across and within six European nations (see here for further details about the study). We are collecting data from a variety of sources including university websites, newspaper articles, policy texts, interviews with policymakers and higher education staff, and focus groups with students. To help stimulate discussion in the focus groups, we have asked students to use plasticine to make models of how they see themselves and how they think others see them. We have found this an effective means of making abstract concepts rather more tangible – but were initially concerned that such methods might be viewed rather differently in the countries in which we are conducting research (for example, would UK students, many of whom have become used to more participatory approaches within university classrooms, be more favourably disposed to plasticine modelling than their peers in Germany who may have had less exposure to such pedagogies?).

Our reading of the wider literature, when grappling with such issues, indicated that while increasing use is made of both creative and visual methods in social research, to date there has been very little discussion of the extent to which such methods can be used in comparative research. For this reason, we ran a seminar in June 2018 – kindly funded by the International Journal of Social Research Methodology – to explore some of the challenges of using these methods cross-nationally. In particular, we were keen to examine the different cultural associations that may be brought to bear in different national contexts, and how these are accounted for in research design, data collection and analysis. Indeed, a key aim of the seminar was to draw on the experiences of researchers working in these areas, to explore how such challenges can most effectively be addressed. We also wanted to look at approaches that used creative and visual methods to research across difference more generally – for example, across different social class groups within a single nation.

Overall, the day brought together many fascinating accounts of using creative and visual methods in these ways, and provided a forum for both academic staff and postgraduate students, with an interest in these approaches, to share ideas and experiences. Keynote talks were given by Agata Lisiak from Bard College in Berlin and Rita Chawla-Duggan from the University of Bath. Agata’s talk, entitled ‘A Tale of Two Cities: Notes on Creative Methods in Research on Migrant Mothering’ provided a fascinating account of her use of drawings with mothers who had migrated from Poland to Birmingham in the UK and Munich in Germany. She argued, convincingly, that creative methods can help to facilitate what Jennifer Robinson calls ‘a comparative imagination’ and open up new kinds of narrations about migrants’ everyday urban experiences, sense of belonging, and negotiations of motherhood ideologies. A film of Agata’s talk can be found here. Rita drew on her recent experience of conducting research in four different national contexts in her talk on ‘Using Visual Technology in Comparative Studies: Researching Young Children’s Perspectives on Fathers’. She maintained that the use of films (and some other types of visual technology) can help explicate young children’s perspectives of learning as it occurs through interactions with their fathers. However, she also raised a series of interesting questions about this particular methodological approach, such as how we define the boundaries of a visual case study, and how we make comparisons within and between such cases. An audio recording of Rita’s talk can be found here.

Alongside the two keynote addresses, the day included eleven other presentations – from researchers at a variety of different career stages – about how they had employed some form of creative or visual method to research across difference. These included the use of Lego figures (in Jon Rainford’s research on widening participation practices across different higher education institutions), a new visual mapping tool (in Michael Donnelly’s study of the geographic and social (im)mobilities of university students in the UK), art workshops (in Susana Campos and Vicki Harman’s work with female survivors of domestic violence in Portugal and England) and photo-elicitation techniques (in Kate Burningham and colleagues’ research within young people in seven different national contexts). Slides, films and audio-recordings from all the talks given during the day can be found here.

The seminar was successful in bringing together a community of researchers working on similar methodological issues, in different national contexts and at different career stages, and providing a forum for methodological dilemmas in this area to be discussed, and ways forward proposed. We also hope that it will make a contribution – through the special issue that we are in the process of putting together on the basis of the seminar contributions – to both advancing debates internationally about the use of creative and visual methods in comparative research and enhancing the profile of the use of creative and visual methods in such work.

Rachel Brooks, University of Surrey

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