A sense of community is at the heart of citizen science - a flash back to corona times

Oct 05, 2021

Yes, all fine here. Strange how soon I am getting used to this situation
The Netherlands in lockdown isn’t that bad

Perhaps you have heard people say similar things? My first response was to start laughing, hysterically… There are numerous reasons why the above isn’t the case for me, but mostly I think it has to do with how small my world had become. Just as for everyone else in the global community, life had changed drastically for me during the #CoronaCrisis. My entire world was my 56 square meter house, and with good weather, my garden. And of course, the online cloud. What would I do without the cloud?

I was not lonely, as I live together with my boyfriend, and half of the week also with his daughter. Friends, family, and colleagues, I spoke to via phone calls, Teams, Zoom, Jitsi, WhatsApp, and so on. But I felt caged and although online communication is better than none, I missed the community around me. Yes, you can have a great online community, but that's not enough. Online should enhance, not replace personal presence in communities. You cannot touch people, cannot read body language, cannot share food and drinks, cannot do things together, and so on.

And in this period, I felt even more strongly that my work related to citizen science is also dependent on communities and meeting one another. To research things together, to practice citizen science, you need a community. You need to give people the sense of community you get when you become part of such a community, which is difficult to do online. Citizen science is therefore often defined as community-based observatories. A sense of community gives people a feeling of belonging, and that the other members in the community feel they matter and that their needs will be met through their commitment to join forces.

The #CoronaCrisis has initiated many citizen science platforms and initiatives to promote all the citizen science projects that you can join from home, or outside in nature with the children that are not going to school now. Others, like some of my projects as well, were trying to change some of their CS projects into an online or home version. We also saw how the #CoronaCrisis inspired new citizen science research altogether to help tackle the Covid19 pandemic. You could also start gaming to help find a cure for Corona, such as via the game Fold-it where you can start your own Corona puzzle. Iedereenwetenschapper.nl is an organization based in the Netherlands and Belgium that shares many citizen science projects that you can join, one of which was Fold-it.

To organize citizen science projects, it is easier to motivate the individual to join a community, a community that has similar interests and goals concerning a specific topic, and that wants to reach the same goals. Communities need a certain center of activity or interest, a focal point, a hub.
A hub as a center for citizen science activities, projects or research, is certainly not a new idea. Universities with science shops do it all the time. Scistarter.org (an online community dedicated to improving the citizen science experience for project managers and participants) has sought hubs around the world to initiate their CS projects. In this blog, and in this podcast, they give examples of how public libraries can serve as community hubs for citizen science. Ecological citizen science projects focus mainly around nature organizations with many volunteers, like the IVN here in the Netherlands for plastic monitoring.

I myself see a lot of potential in museums, and in my case, water museums. That is why I became a member of the Global Network of Water Museums Network. Together with them I hope to invite and include water museums all over the world in sharing or starting new citizen science water data collection projects. The aim is also to develop relevant citizen science projects together with water museums that fit their community's needs.

A great example of a citizen science project that I am involved in, and that shows and embodies this sense of community, is the #DrinkableRivers initiative. With Drinkable Rivers, we are building a great community, among others to take measurements around hubs. These hubs are Science Shops, Water Museums, nature organizations, waterboards, fisher communities, etc.

Unfortunately, most of these hubs were closed during corona. No common hikes, meetings, or gatherings could be organized. No visitors to community centers and museums were allowed. Because of the crisis, we organized a Drinkable Rivers online meeting of 2 hours, instead of a Drinkable Rivers face-to-face meeting that was planned for the whole afternoon. We made do, we had to. But we missed the direct connection we could have made when meeting each other.


I missed it so much, that the moment it was possible again, I joined one of the Drinkable Rivers hubs near to me. See this short video I made (around mid-June 2021). 

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