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Enabling interaction and engagement to pursue behaviour change in Citizen Science initiatives

Conference contribution
Authors Karin Ekman
Alexandra Weilenmann
Published in CitSci2019
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Applied Information Technology (GU)
Language en
Subject categories Learning


Some Citizen Science (CS) initiatives wish to contribute to behavioral change, e.g. transformative lifestyle changes and community or civic action (Shirk et al., 2012; Phillips et al., 2018). At the same time, social media give individuals the opportunity to find others seeking the same common goals and to mobilize support or movement against injustices or for policy change as collective action. The collective action space model (Flannigan et al, 2006) focus on modes of interaction and engagement when describing how collective action is emerging and how it varies with new possibilities of engagement. Using personal interaction and entrepreneurial engagement to promote action, in this case as behavioral change, is well in line with the findings by e.g. Jordan et al. (2011) and Ballard and Belsky (2010). By applying contemporary CS frameworks on participation and outcomes combined with research on collective action, we examine how an environmental monitoring and internet-of-things project with public and private partners is reasoning about activities and potential behavioral outcomes. We used qualitative methods to study the planning of passive environmental sensing of particulate matter through citizen science practices. Data was collected through participant observation and transcripts of recorded meetings were analyzed using thematic analysis. Preliminary findings on participant activity in the associated social media community were also used. In this study, we demonstrate how project members reason about interactions, engagement and behavioral outcomes (as defined by Phillips et al., 2018)in the planning process. The project goals are to be a testbed for sensors and to contribute to better public health through informed decisions and changing everyday travel behaviors. We describe how the project organize for having a relationship with the participants through a written agreement to achieve desired outcomes and impacts. They talk about e.g. data quality, protocols and are also preparing for participants acting in their community on elevated levels of particulate matter. The activities and outputs of the project are strictly technical, and do not promote behavioral change. Still, the use of a social media community could open up for participants to interact and engage further, but we found that the participants only engaged in line with the activities promoted by the project (e.g organizing own workshops to build more sensors and engaging in peer support). Little to no evidence of transformative lifestyle changes or community or civic action were found. We discuss these findings in relation to contemporary frameworks by examining how the expected participant interactions and engagement align with the behavioral outcomes discussed when planning the project. Since participants do not seem to act outside of what is afforded them by the project, we argue that the activities designed by projects needs to promote behavioral change in order for the participants to take positive action accordingly (other than protocol activities or the like). We suggest that there is a need to define and elaborate on expected participant interactions and engagement in the careful planning and monitoring of behavioral outcomes in order to enhance the possibilities to reach them.

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