The Citizen Social Science Research Methods programme based at the University of Manchester held an innovative forum about how citizen science can be used to tackle complex policy challenges as part of Policy Week.
The session was chaired by Liz Richardson of the University of Manchester and speakers included: Dr Sheena Cruickshank, Dr Kingsley Purdam, Dan Silver and Alex Albert of the University of Manchester, Alison Peacock and Colin Barson from the Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group, Dr Matt Ryan of the University of Southampton and Paulette Singer from Clitterhouse Farm Trust. The event provided the speakers five minutes each to give an overview of their project, findings and any associated challenges or successes they encountered whilst attempting to influence policy.
Citizen social science as described by Liz Richardson brings citizens and researchers closer together, and ranges from lay people collecting research data to citizens being involved in the research process. The participative session explored how the methodology might answer some of the big social questions that society faces.
Matt Ryan a self-described ‘methodology wonk’ began proceedings by describing his research collaboration with the Southampton City Council. Ryan raised interesting questions about the design of citizen science, and pondered if and how citizen conducted surveys are different to surveys a social scientist or city council would commission or design.
Sheena Cruickshank discussed her multidisciplinary research project based at the University of Manchester entitled #BritainBreathing, which is currently conducting research into allergies. She described how the project uses citizens as sensors to report on allergy symptoms via an online app.
Next, Colin Barson and Alison Peacock from the Greater Manchester Poverty Action Group introduced their qualitative research project in collaboration with the University of Manchester and the Church of England around updating research done by the 2014 Poverty Monitor. They described how interviews conducted by citizens have updated research to reflect times of austerity and importantly, capture people’s perceptions of poverty.
Dan Silver detailed his recent research in which residents of Salford documented their everyday lives through photography and storytelling. Silver discussed sending the complete book of photography to policymakers and press, and described how it has been hard to articulate the representativeness of his study to sceptical policymakers because of its qualitative nature.
Pauletta Singer spoke about the practice of listening to local residents to understand the issues they face, with the intention that all of the information uncovered is left within the community use by the community. Singer described the consultations and group meetings convened at West Hendon, in Barnet where the residents were unhappy about planned redevelopments and came together to press for a public enquiry.
Finally, Kingsley Purdam and Alex Albert spoke about their research projects at the University of Manchester using citizen science methods. Purdam described the pilot study conducted with the ILO to investigate street begging which utilised citizens on their commute to gather observational data. Whilst Albert spoke about her current research into historical examples of citizen social science and the Mass Observation Project conducted in the UK.
The closing question and answer session amalgamated comments and queries written onto giant, multi-coloured sticky notes which were crowdsourced throughout the session. Questions covered the ethics of citizen science, the processes around sharing any information gathered, the quality of the methods and how the size of the samples affected reliability.
The University of Manchester Citizen Social Science Research Method programme can be found on Twitter @CitSocScience.