A research project on citizen science in 2020: reflections on the last round of proposals, and a way forward

RezNet regulars know that we care deeply about citizen science (CS), and have already submitted two H2020 proposals on the subject, in 2018 and 2019. In this post, I want to reflect on where we are and propose how to move forward.

Strengths and weaknesses of EPICS according to the evaluation results

  • Excellence: 3.5 out of 5.
  • Impact: 4 out of 5.
  • Implementation: 4.5 out of 5.

@marina and I discussed the evaluation at some depth. Our conclusion:

Strengths

  1. Everything related to ethnography was appreciated: relevant, novel, innovative, achievable, clear etc.
  2. The radical participatory approach was appreciated.
  3. The connection to industry (via Glimps, a contribution by @winnieponcelet) was a strong point. So was the participation of Coubnter Culture Labs (via @ramykim), that was correctly recognized as a good example of international cooperation.
  4. The workplan and management structure (advisory board, ethics manager, risk manager etc.) were considered fully adequate.

Weaknesses and mitigation

  1. We failed to address the issue of how EPICS incentivizes career scientists to participate in CS projects. This was completely a mistake. We actually do have a mechanism for it (“funders like participatory science, so if you learn to do it you stand to get more and better grants, publish more etc.”), but treated this rather as an open question that EPICS would address. It probably cost us a full point, because it is quoted as a shortcoming both in excellence and in impact. Mitigation: for each objective of the call, write some confident language that our project will achieve it, not will find out how to achieve it.
  2. We failed to target existing CS projects. In our defense, we could not get the partner we wanted (European CS Association) and had to fall back to a Greek org that was not up to the task. Mitigation: invest on consortium building early on.
  3. Our plan for stakeholder involvement had a hole: policy makers. Again, we tried to build in the partnership a “Gent cluster”, with Glimps (industry), U Gent (academia) and the city or the Flemish government (policy makers), but we were told public sector partner would not come on board within the timeline that we had. Mitigation: invest on consortium building early on. Local clusters are a good idea, I think.
  4. Dissemination was not convincing (but communication was). Mitigation: if I, a non-academic, am to act as the PO, we need someone who is an academic to flank me, and to take responsibility for dissemination. After all, almost all reviewers are academics, and they can tell a careful, informed approach to dissemination from my casual “oh, well, there’s plenty of conferences, we’ll go to some of those”.
  5. Innovation management was not discussed, though the exploitation paths are clear. Mitigation: there is no innovation in EPICS (in the sense of an artifact, since Open Ethnographer and Graphryder already exist, and we have no mandate for spending serious money on more software). So, we simply need to state this.
  6. The risks involved in combining CS with ethnography “are not fully considered”. This is considered a minor shortcoming. Mitigation: spend some extra time on ethical risks.

What next?

Citizen science is going to be a hot topic in the next and final round of Horizon 2020 calls. The calls themselves will be published in December 2019, but the work programme lists several topics around citizen science. We believe that there is a space for resubmitting an improved version of EPICS, and that we should do so. We would capitalize on the work already done, and – if successful – create value for our community.

A good fit is sub-topic A of topic SwafS-27-2020. Its impact is supposed to be:

Development of new scientific knowledge and/or innovations with/by citizen scientists. Evaluation evidence concerning the societal, democratic and economic costs and benefits of citizen science. Consortia should choose a basket of indicators to measure the impact of their work. In particular, consortia are expected to contribute to one or more of the MoRRI indicators (for instance PE1 to PE10) and to the Sustainable Development Goals.

Seems about right. EPICS is an ethnography about citizen science, that is itself a citizen science project. “Evaluation” happens in the highly participatory way of ethnography.

To go about it, however, I would reform the consortium.

  • Include one “local cluster” (industry or SME + academia + public sector, all from the same territory). We could try again with Gent (my preference – no elections this year, so maybe we get more attention), or try to build Milan.
  • Rationalize academic presence. In EPICS we had three academic partners (U Aalborg, U Gent and POLIMI). Each of them was there for a reason, but there were two problems. One was limited involvement of senior staff (with the exception of @akmunk), which resulted in a not-too-strong approach to dissemination. The other was that there was crowding in the ethno area, with EDGE, T6, U Gent and U Aalborg all involved. And yes, we explained it fairly well and there were no complaints, but we do get a more complex work plan and the need to spread resources out. SxafS-27-2020 works with cuts of 2M EUR, so we will need to shrink the EPICS budget by 0.5M. In general, I would like to have one or two fewer partners, 7 or 8 instead of 9.
  • If we cannot get a high-level partner from the CS scene, we should probably not bother with a low-level one.

I would start from:

  • Lisbon Council as coordinator
  • T6 for the MORRI stuff
  • Glimps and CCL for hands-on citizen science
  • City of Gent or Flemish govt for policy
  • EDGE for SSNA
  • U Aalborg as academic ethno partner
  • U Gent as academic design partner. Alternative: POLIMI, provided we can get to work with a more senior person.

A couple of the partners would be new (even U Gent, as Chiara has left. But maybe Winnie knows someone in the design department.

What do you think? Are we covering all bases?

Other citizen science 2020 topics

  • SwafS-27 has a second subtopic called Frugal Innovation. If Open Insulin is still on, I would recommend @dfko, Ramy and Winnie to look into it. I am not sure there is much room for direct EDGE involvement, though.
  • SwafS-23, 29 and 30 are all about ethics, accountability and integrity. We are in principle interested in working on those issues. We perceive a huge problem of research accountability and data integrity in the humanities. I would love to discuss this issue with @markomanka and Antonella, and see if we come up with something.
  • SwafS-31 is an “open” topic. I would like to propose a very radical experiment of deeply collaborative, decentralized citizen ethnography – a “lean and mean” version of our old RECODE project, with some resources committed on developing a tool that really supports collaboration. I see a role for @akmunk, and of course @amelia. This, however, is a small project, 1M.

Who wants to collaborate?

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Count me in!

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