Participatory science: how to put citizens at the center of the game in the long term

What if forest rangers work hand in hand with scientists in the future? ? In Switzerland, the Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) has recently turned its attention to these professional mediators, rangers, present in nature reserves. The organization encourages the latter with the help of leaflets, on which we can read Wanted (“Wanted”), to participate in a participatory science program aimed at better understanding the impact of climate change.

“We need more observers to refine our knowledge, so We try to advertise, explains Yann Vitasse, researcher at WSL. The study of phenology in forests requires great attention. In one of our projects, you have to pick ten trees and monitor them regularly. We are looking for more volunteers. “Ecologists are not the only ones who want to recruit. All over the world, actions involving citizens are being established, hence the need for support.

“In the 2000s, researchers had great doubts about the quality of data that non-experts can harvest. Today we see that this is enough and we can do science with these elements”, important A forum headed by Anne Dozires, director of Vigy-Nature, the National Museum of Natural History (MNHN), which studies the future of biodiversity on a French scale.

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Comment on medical images or scan the ocean floor

Suddenly, researchers are scaling up projects. “For interested citizens, it is an opportunity to quench their thirst for knowledge. Some even feel that they are part of an adventure while they stand in front of their screens sifting through images of the ocean floor. ” , notes François Hallier, CEO of the French Research Institute for the Exploitation of the Seas (Iframer). Thus, with classic fields devoted to the study of birds or meteorites that fell to Earth, it is now possible to share the computing power of our personal computers to simulate proteins and allow the emergence of treatments against certain diseases. still in the health sector, scientists are training citizens in the annotation of medical images to measure certain lesions and possibly facilitate the training of algorithms specializing in the detection of pathologies such as multiple sclerosis. provide. There is even a work focused on grammar sponsored by the Sorbonne University!

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“Participatory science has produced very interesting studies, but one of the challenges is maintaining the coupling between citizens and researchers over time. Generally speaking, they create a lot of excitement in the beginning, but then often breathless. It hurts,” warns François Houlier. Sometimes individuals do not feel involved enough or the publication of a study to which they have contributed is too late. For scientists, they have sometimes experienced delicate situations with associations that serve as an interface with volunteers.

“In order to animate and grow these communities, it will be necessary to invest in technology (software, sensors …) and human resources at the local level. But the means are not necessarily available”, regrets Asma Steinhauser, the coordinator of the program . Vigy-Terre in MNHN. “Some offers broke because they weren’t designed well enough. Their difficulty wasn’t contextual enough. Since then, we’ve tried to make the experience more fun by taking inspiration, for example, from video games. “, specifies Anne Dozieres.

However, some experts are arguing for more radical changes. “Instead of starting with the needs of scientists, we should develop projects according to the expectations of citizens,” suggests Sylvie Blengi, director of the GDR PARCS, a group of CNRS-funded researchers and civil society actors. This new approach, which is gaining ground in France, makes it possible to tackle major social issues such as the energy transition, but also more minor problems, such as the impact of introduced species in the city (eg: ring-necked parakeets). neighborhood scale.

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“The predecessor, Canadians, has shown that it works well, confirms Isabel Chuin, a researcher at CNRS and member of Tela Botanica’s Scientific and Technical Council. Of course, this does not solve all difficulties. Sometimes , we don’t have answers to questions. Questions that are asked of us.” But Sylvie Blengie is convinced: This reversal of approach that puts the citizen at the center of the game may well revolutionize research practices.


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