When you think of citizen science, what do you think of? I know in my case, I think of people out (maybe with their kids) measuring snowfall, finding birds, or listening at night to hear different kind of insects in various environments.
And yes, that is all definitely citizen science. But citizen science can be, and should be, much more than that. After all, not everyone knows a lot about science, but everyone pays taxes, and those tax dollars go to fund much of the science performed in the US. And perhaps more importantly, the results of scientific innovation are around us every day, in the phones and computers we use, the food we eat, the medicines we take, the cars we drive and the houses we build, and the software involved in allowing you to read this post.
But if citizens are going to live with the benefits or potential consequences of science (as the vast majority of them will), it’s incredibly important to make sure that they are not only well informed about changes and advances in science and technology, but that they also, once informed on a topic, are able to communicate their own feelings about it, and influence the science policy decisions that could impact their lives.
That, Darlene Cavalier of Science Cheerleader* tells me, is the biggest long-term goal of her citizen science projects: to get people who are not already official scientists aware and commenting in an informed way to influence science policy and technology assessment.
“This “participatory technology assessment” has been talked about for years” Darlene said. “We felt it was time to develop an open model here in the U.S., drawing upon 15+ years of experience in other nations (namely the Danish Board of Technology). Those models often include: 1) carefully orchestrated, public deliberations focused on a particular policy matter; 2) evaluations of the methodologies used to both inform the citizen participants and extract their opinions; and, 3) dissemination of the outcomes to policy makers and other stakeholders. These activities require different skill sets and resources. It’s no surprise that the agency established, in part, to incorporate citizen input to complement expert analysis (the now defunct Congressional Office of Technology Assessment) was unable or unwilling to cultivate a culture of citizen engagement. It’s not easy!”
She’s right. The Office of Technology Assessment that Darlene mentioned was defunded in 1995, and while President Obama has attempted to promote citizen participation in science policy, forward movement has been slow. “There [are] always discussions about the need for “public engagement” in science and technology but we have not moved very far beyond the rhetoric” says David Rejeski, the Director of the Science & Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. ” The largest challenge we face is how to scale public engagement processes to national or international levels. The second challenge is how to position these exercises in front of public policy decisions.”
But technology isn’t waiting. And to that end, The Science Cheerleaders recently teamed up with the Museum of Science, Boston, the Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes of Arizona State University, the Loka Institute, and the Science and Technology Innovation Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars to form ECAST: Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology. Together, these organizations know how to get citizen participation, they know about technology assessment, and they know how to get results to those who work in policy.
And now, the ECAST group has finished their first large-scale pilot project.
Read full article here: http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/scicurious-brain/2013/01/07/citizen-science-citizen-policy/