The Social Function of Citizen Science: Developing Researchers, Developing Citizens

The Social Function of Citizen Science: Developing Researchers, Developing Citizens

Luis Arnoldo Ordóñez Vela (Fundación InterConectados, Venezuela), Enrico Bocciolesi (eCampus University, Italy), Giovanna Lombardi (Universidad Central de Venezuela, Venezuela) and Robin M. Urquhart (Independent Researcher, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0962-2.ch005
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This chapter focuses on the risk that, when citizen science is introduced in social environments different from those in the Global North where it originated, it may be subject to the error of providing the right answer to the wrong question. To avoid this type of errors, it is necessary to train those who participate in citizen-science studies: citizens as well as researchers. Otherwise, we may encounter new forms of scientific dependence that benefit knowledge accumulation and policy decision-making in the Global North, without contributing to the quality of life of those who carry out the studies. This chapter analyzes the relationship between civic development, citizen science and ways of implementing research conclusions through public policies, given the characteristics of political and citizen participation in the Global South. Here, the introduction of citizen science is seen as an opportunity to construct a more inclusive and participatory society, and to reduce the risk of returning to paternalistic, passivity-inducing and purely instrumental approaches to development.
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It is ironic indeed that the UK Government is credited with providing 'good quality, accessible and accurate health information on Ebola' for its own UK population, while making no mention of what is much more important: the chaotic situation of information and education in countries affected by Ebola. (Neil Pakenham-Walsh, 2016, HIFA, personal communication)

The Global South in general, and Latin America in particular, are scientifically interesting but poverty-ridden regions (España, 2004). It is not surprising that Latin America suffers from endemic forms of a series of social problems. The information needed for defining appropriate public policies to address issues ranging from poverty, authoritarianism and lack of education, to educating the population in citizenship, may be generated by research. But complex problems can only be studied and analyzed in complex ways. In this respect, Citizen Science has much to contribute: it can contribute information that is useful for defining social policies while increasing social capital and engagement in the communities where it is applied.

Any intervention in a “developing region” must take “development discourse” into consideration: this encompasses the

…set of techniques and power-knowledge relationships (that) has been operating in different ways in the Third World ever since Development was defined as “a response to the problematization of poverty that took place in the years following World War II, and not a natural process of knowledge accumulation that gradually uncovers problems and deals with them; as such, development must be seen as a historical construct that provides a space in which poor countries are known, specified and intervened in” (Escobar, 1995:44-45in Aguilar, 2010).

With this in mind, the problem that will be addressed in this chapter is how to develop Citizen Science in the Global South in such a way as to help develop citizenship. This implies two things: developing collaborative scientists on the one hand and collaborative citizens on the other. These are difficult tasks since the authoritarian past in the Global South has led to scientists and university teachers being perceived as members of the ruling elite, so they have an uneasy relationship with the communities where the “citizens” are to be recruited for Citizen Science.



The intention of this book, Citizen Science in Modern Research, is to generate discussion of this new discipline, Citizen Science, in order to formalize it in its early stages. This would lead to better cooperation among citizen-science initiatives, allow participants to address topics which are seldom explored, and lead to an examination of the ways in which Citizen Science relates to other sciences. It is expected that the book will provide inspiration to researchers who have designed tools for specific uses to seek new uses for them and to realize theirpotential for social innovation (bold type is the authors’).

Many definitions of Citizen Science emphasize its potential for social innovation, for example, projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions (Cornell Lab of Ornithology); through Citizen Science, people share and contribute to data monitoring and collection programs. Usually this participation is done as an unpaid volunteer (National Geographic): it can contribute to collaborative local environmental management, build community capacity, develop scientific literacy and increase citizen stewardship (Kerry Riddell); it can create a nexus between science and education …and …expand …public engagement.(Newman et al. 2012). The truth is that neither citizen participation in volunteer activities nor the consequences of such participation for community development should be taken for granted (Hyatt, 2001). On the one hand,

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