Topic: Exploring the potential of citizen social science for the co-production of knowledge on food and nature conservation issues
Keywords: Participatory Action Research; community-based research; greenspace; community food growing
Embedded in discourses of citizen science, open science and transdisciplinarity, citizen social science has been developing in meaning and prevalence over the last few years. In similar ways as for citizen natural science, there are hopes that citizen social science enables access to more data and/or data that is difficult to access by conventional scientific means. In addition, the approach is meant to bring science closer to the public and facilitate understanding of the sciences in wider society. However, most of the debate is still at the conceptual level, with strong calls for more empirical insight.
We argue that citizen social science can be more than this if we understand it as co-produced between professional and citizen researchers, from the early design stages through to knowledge sharing. We also suggest that citizen social science might be different from Participatory Action Research (PAR), which usually involves activist researchers driven by a strong motivation for change.
Here, we critically examine the opportunities and challenges of citizen social science approaches applied to questions around nature conservation and community food growing. First, we ask what the promise and potential of citizen social science may be, if we define it as distinct from PAR. Second, we examine if this promise held in the application to two small-scale, qualitative research projects in Scotland, one of them dealing with anti-social behaviour in local wildlife reserves, the other one addressing issues around community gardening and the sharing of produce.
Drawing on our observations, field notes and reflective discussions between citizen and professional researchers, we ask if involving citizen researchers does indeed (as we would hope) allow for a different and potentially more powerful representation of community voices than conventional research. We unpack the complexities around such expectations, using the very different trajectories of the two projects as an illustration. To conclude, we identify and discuss the dilemmas that result from such ambitions for the practice of knowledge co-production with citizen researchers.