|Ph.D Student||Golumbic Yaela|
|Subject||Public Participation in Air Quality Research:|
Theory and Practice
|Department||Department of Education in Science and Technology||Supervisors||Professor Ayelet Baram-Tsabari|
|Professor Barak Fishbain|
|Full Thesis text|
Involvement of volunteers in scientific research is a broad definition often used to describe citizen science. It includes global and local initiatives, which emphasize co-creation of knowledge. While citizen science holds a promise for transformative effects for both researchers and participants, these processes have not been demonstrated by most citizen science projects. Previous studies describe citizen science as influenced by two theoretical models of science communication - Public Understanding of Science (PUS), and Public Engagement with Science (PES), which respectfully emphasize educational and social objectives. Yet, while citizen science and science communication have many mutual goals, the relationship between the two fields is not well studied.
This PhD project examines citizen science through the theoretical framework of science communication, and explores the integration of both PES and PUS in citizen science practice. These models focus on the study of scientists' and project participants' motivations, interests, concerns and outcomes in their involvement in citizen science projects. Six research questions guided this study examining citizen science environments, engagement, learning processes and outcomes from multiple perspectives.
The research field is the citizen science initiative Sensing the Air, for monitoring air quality in the local environment. Over a period of two years, the activities of scientists (N=10) and participants in the project (52 school students, 24 sensor holders, 100 online users, and over 100 lecture attendees) were documented, and their motivations and styles of participation were identified. The research approach applied was a mixed methods approach, and methods used included interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, reports and log data from the project website.
Findings suggest that the actions of each group were directed by their motivation and goals for the project. Scientists were motivated mostly by their interest in promoting scientific research and obtaining prestigious funding. Therefore, their actions focused on scientific analysis and broad distribution of sensors with little or no communication with project participants. Participants were motivated by their desire to understand local air quality, focusing their participation on answering their day-to-day concerns. A user-centered-design process, applied in this study indicated that considering participants needs within the platform is essential for their retention. Given these needs are met, and the data is presented in an accessible fashion, survey results suggest that non-expert can understand and utilize scientific information about air quality.
Many elements of science communication were expressed and implemented within Sensing the Air. These include dissemination activities in light of PUS model as well as dialogue and participation activities in light of the PES model.
Finding suggest that citizen science should cater to diverse audiences by incorporating multiple opportunities for engagement that benefit all stakeholders. Lending an analogy from the field of ecology, design of citizen science projects should aspire to create mutualistic interactions between stakeholders, in which each group benefits. Such interactions could further promote citizen science and participation, creating a working model for citizen science, considering all parties' needs, interests, and desired outcomes. This study identifies these interactions and outlines the path for facilitating them.