DigiChamps Support Southampton Citizen Science!

Author: Thomas Davidson 
People’s Panel logo/Southampton City Council ©2015

Recently we became involved within the Southampton Citizen Science Project (People’s Panel), facilitating new methods of digital engagement for participants to become involved within the project whilst providing a platform for feedback and communication between citizen scientists to allow ideas to be shared and hopefully increase collaboration across a variety of ideas. Currently, the project has a core group of approximately 40 participants – each experts in their own right due to their knowledge as Citizens of Southampton. Through providing training in research methods and encouraging communication between the citizen scientists, the project aims to provide a far more detailed and ultimately useful set of data than could be gathered via more conventional methods. As a whole, the project is described as a new way of communicating between citizens and Southampton City Council about the services that local government provide. Citizens act as the researchers who discover information and feed it back to the council so that they can improve the way that they offer services to everyone.

Currently, the project is meeting to investigate recycling – looking into how recycling across Southampton can be improved, and why Southampton as an area has one of the lowest rates of recycling nationally. To attempt to investigate this, the participants have met twice so far and are at the stage of isolating research methods and questions they believe would be the best way of collecting valuable data for analysing and examining allowing the end goal to be met. Many methodologies are being considered, with some examples including the possibility of short interviews, surveys and taking recycling data after certain areas are exposed to advertisement prompting recycling.

Part of the Southampton Citizen Science Project is to increase digital engagement with citizens, which is why we are utilising new and innovative methods to collect and collate feedback from participants. Within out most recent session, we were able to borrow several iPads from the University for use in the session. When asked to provide a platform for feedback, which will be simple and easy for the citizen scientists to use, we decided to use Socrative. This is an application originally designed for a teacher and student type environment, which we adapted for use within the session. Each of the iPads were assigned to a table, with every participant on each table able to answer the question that appeared on the iPad. Through the use of a central device, the questions could be changed at will through the session, with all the responses then recorded and saved– allowing us to produce a generalised report on the session that held all the responses to the questions asked.

After asking the citizen scientists how they found using the iPads, all had positive comments – some examples including that they were ‘easy to use’ and ‘helpful’. The general consensus was that they provided a good way for each table to feedback regarding the questions posed to them – and then the facilitator of the session could access all of the responses to feedback to the group as a whole and answer any issues raised. Between this and the Facebook group set up to allow discussion regarding related content, we are confident that the citizen scientists will be able to engage with one another – prompting discussion and allowing ideas to be easily shared.

The Southampton Citizen Science Project is a very exciting opportunity to become involved in, reaching out to potentially all citizens of Southampton across all demographics. The future of the project in researching and collecting new valuable data will be well worth paying attention to – and all involved are looking forward to taking it further.

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