Communities are not just 'data gatherers'!

WWF Netherlands and the IUCN National Committee of the Netherlands organized a three-day workshop on Citizen Science in The Hague in early July 2019. The workshop brought together  representatives from civil society, science and government to learn from interesting cases studies, unpack prominent themes related to citizen science and share experiences.

I had the pleasure to facilitate two sessions on what WWF termed the session as true engagement of citizens in evidence generation . We deliberated on the following:

  1. do we mean by community

2. what is our common understanding of participation? 

We concluded that those affected by the issue should be involved from start to the end of the process. People own the process if they are intrinsically motivated. People also want to take action if they feel that the are contributing to a larger good ( from local to global). Similar insights from academic research. Presenters elaborated on different degrees and range of participation of citizens and communities from contribution to co-creation like Dr Rosy from  Citizen Science centre Zurich. 

who are key stakeholders in community science/evidence generation? Academia, community, municipality, evaluation team, international organisations like WWF, civil society, media,  business, student volunteer

Challenges of 'true engagement'

  • Lose internal motivation; Keeping communities enthusiastic can be a challenge, continuous benefits or motivation for entire period
  • Original goal/interest might change - organisations or communities
  • Power imbalance amongst stakeholders
  • Projects are time bound and community engagement or buy in can take sometimes time
  • How to have sustainability
  • How to get those group of people in the communities who are not interested for instance one participant who is working on engaging communities in gardens said that those do not have gardens did not attend the meetings. We discussed and felt that such people need to be connected to a larger vision.
  • How to reach out to your targets? What medium to use? When visiting them personally is hard due to their schedules
  • How to bring all relevant stakeholders together- leave no one out
  • Conflict of interest in communities

Thanks to all contributors to the discussion . I only have names of those who left their names  on the chart ( sorry missing others)- Alex (WWF Hongkong), Daniel Couceiro,  Daniel Phiri, Hidde Hofhuis, Janneke van Oirschot, Joep van Belkom,   Marlina Rachman, Nurmala Nurdin, Rosy Mondardini, Samuel Ivanda, Sophie von Bernus,  Veronica Ibarnegaray. One picture courtesy Veronica.

Constellation's ownership process- I also shared how I have combined Constellation's SALT process in IDS Systemic Participatory Action research process in a large project in India.

Personal insights: Again confirmed that communities need to 'own' the entire process from design to advocacy.  Communities can not only use data for holding government responsible and lobbying but also for their own use.  for instance understand the pollution levels in their river, level of immunization in their neighbourhood and also track how they as a community are responding and what is the result of their actions.

As we all work towards SDGs, there are several data gaps and here is where community can address the gap. There is constant questioning of 'quality' of data produced by communities. I learned that research shows that quality of data generated by communities is high standard as they are very close to the issue of study. Also there was a lot of discussion on what kind of data do we need from communities. It may not be kind of data in academic publications.

Why the title- I have seen that in most community science or participatory evaluation or participatory action research the involvement of community is limited to data collection using 'participatory tools'. That for me is a very limited role. Employing communities just to get better quality data. Participation can and should be much more in true spirit. People collecting data for their use. 

A nice end to the event! At the end of the event, we had a voting on how to engage communities facilitated by facilitator par excellence Erik Peekel. 

Thanks to Gunilla, Elke and Samuel for thinking through and session support.

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Comment by Bono Sen on August 28, 2019 at 5:13pm

Thank you for sharing your experience Rituu. Lots of good insights here.
From where I am, if communities are seen as data gatherers - that is progress. In my world, communities are nothing but data sources. I am trying to move them up the data ladder :-)

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