Give citizen science what it deserves

8 July 2022

The height of the pollen season has passed, and if you lived in Barcelona you might have had an easier time managing your allergies. In fact, thanks to a citizen science initiative run by the city in collaboration with the students of two schools, residents can access information on the Planttes app and get suggestions on the least allergy-inducing route to take.

Barcelona also collaborates with schools on another citizen science project: Riunet. Students have to analyse the elements of contamination or waste in and around the two city rivers. “Projects like these help us involve people to care for the planet. They can act on climate change and other significant challenges the city faces,” says Júlia Miralles, Delegate for Science and University at the Barcelona City Council.

Barriers to citizen science driving policies

However, it’s difficult for actors not directly involved in citizen science projects to see their value. “The administration and the scientific sector don’t take them as seriously as they should,” says Miralles.

For example, the scientific community sees them as dissemination projects helping people to familiarise themselves with research processes. “But they don’t consider them ‘proper’ science, so the results are not usually used for research publications,” notes Miralles. Something similar happens within the administration, which often does not consider the data coming from citizen science projects rigorous enough to support policies.

“You don’t need to be a prominent expert on an issue to do something interesting within a research project,” argues Miralles. “Your experience with a problem can make you an expert in one. Science is not just a very complex knowledge held by the intellectual elite. It should be an exciting tool to improve our ways of living.”

Barcelona’s citizen science policy

People using the Planttes app
Students collecting water for the Riunet project
Students looking at water for the Riunet project

Convinced of the power of citizen science, Barcelona created its specialised office in 2012. “Our local science policy is broad and goes from promoting scientific culture, for example, through the Festival of Science or the Biennial of City and Science, to reinforcing our relationship with science centres, for example, by applying together for research projects on European challenges,” explains Miralles.

Part of their work on citizen science also focuses on digital inclusion. “Some parts of the world are talking about ‘community science’ to shift the focus from individual citizens to communities,” adds Miralles.

For example, the city expanded this year’s Festival of Science to different areas in Barcelona, therefore, reaching different audiences. “One of the objectives of local science policy should be to make science accessible to everyone and make it easy and fun. And citizen science projects can do this,” says Miralles.

CitiMeasure, testing improvements to citizen science

Promoting behavioural change, policy-making and digital inclusion through citizen science initiatives is exactly what CitiMeasure is getting ready to test. The project has developed three instruments that will help cities achieve these goals and give citizen science the recognition it deserves. And Barcelona is one of the project pilots.

The team will run a training series that includes presenting and discussing the Behaviour and Policy Guidelines and the Guidelines on Competencies for Digital Inclusion to different audiences, including city council staff, public administration officers, and representatives of citizen science projects.


Wilma Dragonetti Eurocities Writer