As an ecologist trained in the auspices of academia, I’ve had the great fortune of traveling to magical places for my research. However, one particular field season had a greater impact on my career than any other. It was the year when I left the comfortable bubble of my scientific team and began putting considerable effort into interacting with the community in which we were working – our hosts.
What really surprised me was that just about everybody with whom I spoke had a negative image of us – the researchers. There were several reasons, but the overarching theme was a feeling of a lack of tangible benefits to the community from the research taking place and a lack of effort on our part to interact with the community. Meanwhile we (the researchers) benefited by publishing theses and scientific papers in foreign, esoteric and inaccessible publications.
Of course this was just one story and I can give accounts of many, many researchers that bring tremendous value to the communities in which they work – but this experience led me to the importance of what I would later learn is called Citizen Science. Luckily, the beginnings of the Citizen Science Association were just under way and I was able to make a career out of engaging community volunteers in academic research that provides tangible benefits to the communities where I work.
Citizen science is all about community involvement in research and the Association is hoping to work with communities at an even deeper level. So, when we began planning the Citizen Science 2015 Conference and Gathering, we immediately formed a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, made up of thoughtful, reflective and intentional thinkers, to come up with ways to move the discussion of inclusion in science forward.
Through my interactions with this group I realized that Citizen Science means so much more than engaging community volunteers in research – in fact it was pointed out that the words “engaging community volunteers” already sets up a power dynamic where researchers or practitioners are calling the shots. While this aspect of Citizen Science has worthwhile applications, it is still not always an equal partnership.
At the Citizen Science Association Conference in San Jose, the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group will host a discussion and listening session about how the Association can move towards better democratization of science – where all audiences and affiliations have the opportunity to become equal partners in the process of science. I hope you can join us as we discuss ideas and thoughts that can lead to practices and policies for the Association to move towards true democratization. Our Association can and should lead the way in building trust and mutual benefit between all potential stakeholders in Citizen Science and we look forward to working with you all to take these steps.
—Tim Vargo is the Manager of Research and Citizen Science at the Urban Ecology Center in Milwaukee, WI and the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group Chair for Citizen Science 2015