Thoughts and writings follow of an observer, and curious participant, in the Citizen Science Training School. From a local who did not have any strong preconception about what to expect in days to come. The meeting, was to start in -still sunny- Barcelona, from the morning of November the 20th until the 26th, during the very dry year which 2017 remains to this day.
The Training School:
A pleasant Monday morning. The reception of participants during the first day happened at a somewhat unusual location for a workshop (maybe less so, in a Citizen Science context). We met at a former alleyway, former car parking previously re-purposed from former factory ground. A heirloom from the industrial past of the city, taking a new shape, in a plot of land recently claimed back for the community. More than fifteen different citizen associations were collaborating in its re-shaping. Its name: Estació Ciutat. A place fostered in agreement with the Town Hall of Barcelona in the context of the exhibition After the End of the World, at the Contemporry Culture Centre of Barcelona (CCCB). A space to become (and hopefully remain) as an Environmental Health Clinic for the city.
People from many backgrounds met: architects and city planners, sociologists, biologists, artists, environmental scientists, science communicators, as well as COST representatives. Diverse, yet with a certain predominance of profiles from the social sciences. Culturewise, more than ten different nationalities gathered from Africa, America, Asia and Europe. A rich mixture of people, many of whom, involved yet in Citizen Science initiatives.
From the start at Estació Ciutat, time was nomadically spent during the week, shifting locations between "Estació Ciutat", the classrooms of Escola BAU (the nearby Design School), and other relevant locations close at hand (notably, the Domestic Data Streamers office, and the location of the Superblocks initiative, an ongoing, evolving experiment in urbanism aiming at taking back the streets for the citizens. Of course, times came also for visiting some local restaurants to the delight of our taste buds...
As a starting shot after the initial presentations, perhaps capturing part of the essence of the meeting: "Dear participants, we expect you to develop recipes to help citizens improve the environmental health of the city and its inhabitants." In other words, the gathered professionals were to create do-it-yourself guidelines and guidelines for facilitators-to-be. During the week, it was oftentimes stressed that we had full freedom to discuss and propose. All, bearing in mind to undertake tasks for the improvement of the city, the strengthening of the social fabric, the contribution to scientific literacy, or maybe the design of some novel approaches to CS. Five main areas of interest were proposed to work on: a) Biodiversity and Green Corridors, b) Water, c) Waste, d) Energy, and e) Mutualism.
During the creative process of formulating implementable proposals for CS, there was no short supply of ideas: the most challenging hurdle was to formulate the correct questions in a way to be realistically translated into action. And of course, also realistically addressable with our available resources. The dialectic process ensuing led to a cycle of iterations, and reformulations of our desires (some very attractive, yet not always possible) into feasible working blocks, eventually translating into specific formulations.
The several days of maturing, enriching, trimming, discarding and rebuilding the different proposals resulted, in the end, in three recipes which were delivered:
a) A proposed application to monitor the perception of the city, from the point of view of human senses (sight, hearing...), focusing particularly on the physical aspect of perceived city cleanliness. The different perception (and role) of the locals vs. the city visitors was considered.
b) An approach towards the mapping of sounds of the city: are we aware of the everyday sounds in our environment, do we know which are the most dominant...? Which make the city the most pleasant and livable? Which are the most unusual?
c) A protocol to establish a "pollinator corridor" or network, in which low-cost materials were used to grow a network of local pollinator-friendly plants, supporting these vulnerable yet very necessary creatures, without which many plants could not reproduce.
Very quickly the time ran short in supply, and the recipes created were to be put to the test. At the end of the working week, local citizens approached with curiosity to become supporters, scientists, and players in this Citizen Science experience.
The result of these seven days, took the physical form of the recipes created, as well as the more intangible yet pleasant gift of the interaction with diverse, yet like-minded peers. It may serve, yet again, for the kindling, as a starting point for new CS initiatives. The months to come will serve to refine the protocols, adapting them over time to make them more practical, more useful.
Evaluation of the experience:
From the very start, complete freedom was given to participants to propose, discuss and suggest. Whatever the input, it would be evaluated, and confronted with reality and available resources. The workshop evolved in a dialectic, very horizontal way, generating a relaxed sphere which favoured discussion and the raising of whatever concern, opinion or proposal. If anything, the a possible inconvenience from this approach could have been to contribute to a certain feeling of initial disorientation. Yet, confronting and overcoming it, with the non-conditioning support of the facilitators, may also have be a valuable part of the experience. In the end, a sense of satisfied accomplishment took shape, even more so when the initiative to be deployed became increasingly clear.
Even though this was only a speculation heard at a certain point of a certain night, it was suggested during those days that perhaps the meeting itself could be -in part- an experiment on the facilitation of laboratories of ideas: an experiment on how to enhance the productivity and creation process of a diverse, multidisciplinary group of experts of disparate fields. One could wonder, how to maximize the positive impact of such a meeting. Even more, how would or should one evaluate that impact? Would that impact be scientific, social, environmental or of another nature...?
What have been the endurable results of this seven-day encounter? Doubtlessly, the enriching experience for participants interacting with each other is one of them, as are the protocols created, and the imprint which will remain at Estació Ciutat for the future and the neighbourhood. Yet, also, the exploration of the dynamics during the creation process, which may allow to build on top of this experience. One could suggest, that the creativity processes relevant to CS could be effectively boosted by the use of certain Citizen Science recipes. A possible subject for future workshops?