A scientist’s opinion : Interview with Rosa Arias about citizen science

Interview with Rosa Arias, CEO of Science for Change, coordinator for the NEWSERA project, which aims to use citizen science to improve science communication.

How is citizen science developing as a field?

Rosa Arias ESMH ScientistRosa Arias: I hope it will become bigger and bigger. It’s receiving quite a lot of support by the European Commission, and at the national level in several countries across Europe there are more and more networks of citizen science practitioners.
There are projects with thousands of users, for instance, especially in the biodiversity field, which is the first one that started with citizen science. So, it depends on the initiative, but some of them are really successful. It depends on how long you have been doing the project and your resources because it’s very hard to start as a science project from scratch when you don’t have a community of practice yet.

Why did you want to study science communication in the context of citizen science?

Rosa Arias: We always need to adapt the language to the target audience, as well as the communication strategies for how to reach them. Usually, in many citizen science projects, you are not communication expert, or you don’t have the time or the resources to do that in a proper way. It’s key for engagement because you need to get to these people, especially citizens, because if they are not reporting then you won’t have the data and you won’t have a project.

Another thing that happens is spontaneous communication from the stakeholders already engaged. For example, citizens, when you manage to engage them, become like science communicators themselves. They use their own means, their social networks, to start talking about the project, and they start spreading the word. They may be using informal channels or different ways of communicating that are also very interesting because they are reaching other citizens. So we want to understand this spontaneous communication that happens also once you have stakeholders involved in the project.

What do you hope will be the outputs from NEWSERA?

Rosa Arias: The final outcome of the project will be blueprints for the different target audiences to communicate better with them in citizen science projects, so other citizen science practitioners can adopt some of the strategies that we will be defining in the project.

What are the big challenges that you will need to overcome?

Rosa Arias: We did a trial in our kick-off meeting in Barcelona and put together different communities for the first time. It was very interesting because it was obvious that the citizen science practitioners don’t know how to even reach journalists, which is something very basic. We don’t know who we need to talk to if we want to promote the project, for example. It was also obvious that the science communicator communities didn’t know about citizen science projects or that they can gather interesting stories from them. So this is the challenge – to generate these dialogues because they have common interests and needs.

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