Guest commentary: Connect.Collaborate.Create. conference for promoting citizen science and fostering ethical participatory approaches to research funding

Amid the busy schedules, we all seem to have these days, the decision to accept the kind invitation from COESO and PRO-Ethics project coordinators to actively participate at their joint conference organized at Campus Condorcet in Paris, between 19-21 October was probably the best one I have made over the past months. The conference span over three days and involved intense discussions and interactive sessions on citizen science and participatory approaches with special focus on the social sciences and humanities. The participatory approach was embraced early on as conference organizers chose the road less traveled by asking participants (practitioners, funders and supporters of participatory research) to submit their ideas and subsequently explore how these could fit with those of others in creating sessions. This was an innovative approach which resulted in an event with diverse, yet inter-linked sessions that shed light on different aspects of participatory research and gave voice to a wide range of stakeholders.

During the plenary panels and sessions, lively discussion took place around the meaning and spirit of open science, the beauty of citizen science found in the diversity and interaction of disciplines, participation and engagement as a democratic right. Citizen science as agreed by participants contributes to excellent science which in turn raises questions around the involvement of stakeholders and their engagement in a meaningful way. In terms of the latter, it was highlighted that it is important to explain to non-traditional stakeholders what their participation entails (in terms of time invested, skills required, etc.). At the same it was agreed that it is equally important to acknowledge the ethical considerations that need to be considered in the processes of both engaging stakeholders and in funding citizen science projects.

The panel I had the honor of chairing focused on the opportunities and responsibilities in stakeholder participation in R&I and citizen science from a policy perspective. While the panel brought together a diverse group of experts, they all agreed on and emphasized the need for political commitment in addressing current limitations and in making citizen science sustainable, as well as the need for a cultural shift regarding the way in which the scientific activity is conducted. Discussions also brought to the spotlight the re-evaluation of funding as this is currently channeled towards traditional science and the need to align it with an open, collaborative and citizen-inclusive framework.

The presentation of the pilot projects and the speed searching activity allowed participants to learn more about many interesting projects, but also to connect and explore potential future collaborations. The practical activities during the sessions gave participants the chance to delve into the challenges that arise when engaging with vulnerable groups, and discuss issues of trust, ethical considerations and funding of citizen science projects.

Another hands-on session was dedicated to one of COESO’s core output: the VERA (Virtual Ecosystem for Research Activation) platform which is also one of OPERAS dedicated services. VERA supports participatory research practices in SSH by allowing users to discover potential partners, to define and co-design activities and to co-create new knowledge. If you haven’t created your profile yet, I urge you to do so!

While I deeply regret to have missed the Dancing Philosophy session (and finally getting to meet Lupino who I have been following closely on twitter) I was able to learn more about a topic that is not familiar to me: that is how participatory approaches can inspire new formats for communicating science, something that led me to explore further the work of Sphera network.

Among the highlights of the conference was the visit to the Humathèque. The tour allowed us to explore a building with a unique architecture and learn about the ways in which a library can serve as a place for experimentation and innovation open and accessible to everyone (both within and most importantly outside the university community).

On a more personal level, the conference was a great opportunity to meet (in person!) with friends and colleagues from all over Europe and to make new friends too. According to the conference organisers, this is not the end, but a new beginning, so we look forward to embarking with them on new adventures in promoting citizen science and participatory approaches! So, as the French would say: “A bientôt”!

By Marina Angelaki
Marina is assistant professor of social policy at the University of Peloponnese and member of the COESO advisory board.

Photos Emilia Da Silva Rosario - Ereb Studio
Published: 23.11.2023