An important part of our work within the School of Education, is to ensure our research is informed and used by the people who live in the communities around us. Citizen Science is a way of designing research, traditionally science-based research, that involves the general public or ‘citizens’ as contributors and collaborators in the project. We would like to open up these methods to make them applicable and accessible to the disciplines of social sciences and humanities as viable research tools.
There are various methods that we can use to carry out these enquiries but there are also many barriers and challenges that typically hinder academic researchers in universities from engaging the general public with Citizen Science. One of these is small participation rates and participation which is biased towards white, middle-aged and higher income people (Defra, 2015).
We are holding a series of participatory workshops through which we aim to better understand how to engage researchers such as the Plastics Collaboratory research community with Citizen Inquiry methodologies and to begin building their capacity to design and promote such approaches with the public.
Although this small-scale study will focus on the issue of plastic waste and public engagement, the findings and recommendations will be applicable to a much wider cross section of the research community. It is our intention that the project will result in the development of resources, strategies and recommendations that will enable other academics to build their research capacity to engage with the public whilst also enhancing our knowledge and understanding about how to engage with difficult or hard to reach communities.
Digital technologies, such as mobile phones, often play a significant part in the process of using Citizen Inquiry and this project will explore the effectiveness of online citizen inquiry tools such as the Open University designed ‘Nquire’ programme, in engaging groups that are seen as hard to reach and traditionally reluctant to engage in citizen science, such as young people.
The primary aim of the project is to explore how to convince academic researchers that Citizen Science is worthwhile and can add value to their research. We contend that Citizen Inquiry with its greater participatory approach, is more likely to achieve this, through for example, helping researchers to design more effective research questions that focus on issues of greater value to the public.
The project will investigate the barriers that traditionally researchers from engaging more with the public in the research process itself and we will also work with public stakeholder groups such as Hull City Council and local community based initiatives to identify those factors that may be inhibiting such groups from working more closely with the research community at the University of Hull.