Co-created citizen science for community action

  • Jade Gunnell

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    ‘Co-created citizen science for community action’ explores how co-created approaches to citizen science practice can be utilised to support communities to take action on the issues that matter to them. Co-created citizen science is the participation of citizens in the whole of the research process, from question identification through to dissemination of findings, and is conceptualised in contrast to contributory citizen science where citizens only participate in the data collection stage of the research process (Bonney et al. 2009; Shirk et al. 2012). This research project looked to address two aims; firstly, to present the diversity of co-created practice in citizen science, and by so doing uncover the way in which the concept of co-creation manifests itself in research process, as well as developing an understanding of the dimensions which affect the collaboration that takes place. And secondly, to examine the link between the nature of co-created practice in research and the subsequent outcomes of the projects, in order to understand how co-created methodologies influence the ability to deliver action outcomes for communities. In order to deliver these two aims two research questions were pursued; 1) How does the concept of co-creation manifest in citizen science projects? 2) What is the link between the co-created citizen science process and the ability to deliver action outcomes for the communities that participate?

    Five case studies were compiled through the collection of narrative interviews, collecting personal stories from project managers, scientists and citizens who had participated in citizen science projects. Case studies all represented projects which were co-created in nature and aimed to deliver action for communities. Projects included a large carnivore conflict mitigation programme in a ranching community, a freshwater health monitoring project on a suburban waterway, a social science investigation into a communities’ relationships with their private water supplies, a wolverine population ecology assessment with fur trappers, and a project collecting noise pollution data in a city plaza with historic well-being issues associated with high levels of noise. The in-depth interview data was thematically analysed, using an inductive approach, and developed five rich, unique and multifarious case studies. Each case study offers different insights towards the two research questions, but collectively demonstrate a huge diversity in the way that co-creation is adopted in research processes. All five projects had some positive impact for communities in the shape of action and change, although some communities were more satisfied than others in the outcomes of the projects.

    Most significantly, the findings of the case studies question the traditional roles of scientists and citizen scientists in research processes, and highlight the central importance of the role of a project manager in delivering co-created citizen science processes. The case studies also bring into focus two often overlooked concepts in citizen science practice; concepts of governance and concepts of service. Examining the relationship between the concepts of governance and service, develops the first contribution to knowledge of this thesis, that of a ‘Mutuality Saltire’, which maps projects based on their relational dynamics and invites a reflection regarding how mutual the relationship between professionals and citizens is, in these processes. The case studies also reveal the limitations of science in problem solving for communities, demonstrating that where action objectives are pursued a much broader range of social, political and economic factors have to be navigated in order to create change. Here instead, it is the process of co-creation which is most significant in delivering action for communities. This leads the thesis to the second contribution to knowledge, that of ‘3 pathways of co-creation to action’ which suggests three different relationships between co-created processes and action outcomes. Finally, this thesis suggests that rather than adopting the contributions to knowledge as further typologies of citizen science practice, the contributions can instead be used as tools of deliberation when planning how action outcomes might be achieved. They can also be used to reflect on the impact and influence of different relational dynamics on the process of co-creation itself.
    Date of Award2021
    Original languageEnglish
    SponsorsEngineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
    SupervisorMel Woods (Supervisor), Shaleph O'Neill (Supervisor) & Ioan Fazey (Supervisor)


    • Citizen science
    • Co-creation
    • Community
    • Participatory research
    • Action
    • Action Research

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