I’ve just got back from the States, where Muki and I attended the Citizen Science Association Conference 2017 in St Paul, Minnesota. It was a huge conference, taking over the top floor of the St Paul RiverCenter, a huge building opposite the Science Museum of Minnesota (which I strongly recommend visiting if you are nearby), and according to their website 444 presentations of various types were given!
I had written the abstract for mine last autumn, and it was some good training from Muki and Artemis: open your abstract with a problem, such as a knowledge gap or a lack of representation somewhere, and go on to introduce how you or your department is researching or solving it. Doing It Together Science aims to amplify “wide and deep participation” in citizen science across Europe, but one of the research areas going on behind the scenes is the Logic Model. (This is neither a model nor especially logical, but more of a very detailed map of the entire process of your project: inputs, activities, outputs and impacts – the last of which should go well beyond the project’s own lifetime.) Artemis is working on this.
My first draft of the presentation focussed far too much on the actual barriers (time, money, confidence, location, and most of all access) and how to solve them. I was very kindly redirected by Muki, and this became a valuable new exercise for me: not presenting as myself, or telling my own story as I have always done at conferences before, but presenting research undertaken in my department. The next draft brought the Logic Model into the spotlight, and illustrated it in various ways, including how barriers can be removed.
The slides for the presentation can be found here:
A few notes on some of the slides:
- Wide public engagement means a large number of people; deep public engagement means towards the top of the escalator;
- You’ll notice that the “types of events” are arranged into four boxes. This is in fact a “same/different” table for time and place: the events in the top left box take place in the same place at the same time;
- DITOS has many target audiences but this presentation (being only 10 minutes) could only focus on the first one, the general public;
- The “escalator” model, which Muki has written about in more detail here, shows smaller and smaller numbers of people who are involved in more difficult, detailed or bottom-up citizen science: DITOS’ aim is to allow people to “move” up or down, depending on their preference and situation;
- “Alice on the escalator” begins with me before I discovered citizen science and was merely a voracious popular science reader: it documents my journey from being a passive consumer to an active participant over a period of about 10 years – and then not even being primarily a citizen scientist any more, but a researcher. (I thought it sad that there were not more citizen scientists themselves presenting at the conference. There is definitely nothing like a conference to demonstrate how many privileges academic researchers have in comparison, from paid-for food and flights to networking opportunities);
- Each “target audience” will have its own Logic Model;
- The Logic Model allowed us to identify a gap in our own activities: while data collection is obviously taking place – on both participants and science being done – there is not yet a plan for what to do with it. Mapping out every step of DITOS allowed us to locate and address this problem early on;
- The last slide but one illustrates two examples (of, we hope, hundreds) of journeys people might make “up” the escalator as a result of DITOS’ activities.
It is much more challenging to present a piece of research than to simply tell an exciting story! I heard many terrific talks – my favourite was about Fireballs in the Sky. I now have about 100 stickers, umpteen pens, many hurriedly scribbled notebook pages and a huge number of happy memories of conversations about other citizen science projects. I heard about people taking schoolchildren who had barely ever been outside to study nature, a man with a rare disease who pulled together all the academic research on it in the world in order to study and manage it, and how interested nonscientists become in rigour when testing Flint water when they are given the opportunity to understand scientific protocols. My personal dislike of competition in science was thoroughly challenged by EyesOnALZ‘s story of the huge success of groups trying to beat each other in tracking stalled blood vessels. And my eagerness to collaborate with or write for other projects really needs to be brought under control, unless citizen scientists can discover time travel.
I left in a whirlwind of pieces of paper and am very grateful for the opportunity to have gone on to the archives of Princeton University, New Jersey, to do some research of my own – but that’s another story.