Funding SSH Citizen Science Projects
“Civic engagement” is a buzzword these days when it comes to policy making in Europe, and it’s also found its way into the world of research – often through the term “citizen science.” “Citizen Science” is frequently used as an umbrella term to describe research that engages, or could even be initiated by, interested members of the community who do not normally do research as part of their profession. There are many ways to engage “citizens” in research, resulting in a diverse range of methodologies and terminology used within “citizen science” – especially terms found in SSH research (e.g. Participatory Research, Collaborative Research, Participatory Action Research, etc.). Regardless of the methodology and terminology used, when civic society engages with research, both society and research benefit from the innovative solutions and methodologies that emerge. (Recommended reading: “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice” journal; “Citizen Science: Innovation in open science, society and policy”; and “The Science of Citizen Science.”
Because of its mission to give value and visibility to SSH research and to enable society to benefit from research, the OPERAS research infrastructure includes a “research for society” category within its menu of services for the SSH research community. Already existing under this category of services is the Hypotheses.org blogging/”open electronic notebook” platform, which is a “multi-purpose communication tool that researchers can use in the different dimensions of their work” (Dacos and Mounier, 2010) to reach, not only their peers, but also a broad audience beyond the scientific community. An additional future (end of 2023) OPERAS service is in development through the COESO project: VERA (Virtual Ecosystem for Research Activation) will a be virtual platform where “engaged stakeholders” such as NGO or associations members, artists, journalists and professionals and practitioners from a variety of fields, together with academic researchers in the SSH disciplines, can find each other, collaborate on projects together, and discover funding opportunities.
Funding entities, through their decisions and implementations related to funding streams, have significant power to influence research. Crucially, it is not only the research topics they focus on that impact the research world, but also the way they communicate their calls for funding to the public (they have to be effective to attract the right applicants). COESO is a 3-year project, and one facet of the project focuses on funding. COESO is working to connect VERA to relevant funding databases/platforms (such as FundIt), where funding for SSH citizen science and participatory research can be found. In preparation for this task, COESO is first exploring two related issues:
1) What funding opportunities currently exist that clearly include/encourage a variety of citizen science/participatory research methodologies; how can these opportunities be increased?
2) Are the existing calls for funding opportunities reaching the intended audience, especially those in the SSH disciplines? Specifically, does the terminology used in the funding calls match the terminology that SSH citizen science projects employ?
The funding advocacy work within the project began by carrying out a Landscape study on Citizen Science funding, led by COESO partner Ibercivis and published in July 2021. Through the interviews and surveys conducted in the Landscape study, individual funders and recipients of funding shared their experiences. This exploratory report describes the citizen science funding landscape for social sciences and humanities and is based on an analysis of 105 funding entities around Europe. The full database of funders (Funding entities of citizen science activities on social sciences and humanities topics) collected through this research project is available to the public and can be further updated. From this knowledge base, the COESO team developed and published a Funding Advocacy Action Plan in October 2021 identifying actions that funders and potential funding recipients can each implement to increase their chances of finding each other – and to bring important research for society to life. In May and June 2022, COESO partners Ibercivis and European Citizen Science Association (ESCA) coordinated with OPERAS national nodes (for the workshops in France and Germany) to bring together groups of national funders in Germany, Spain, France and Italy and stimulate conversation to tap into their collective knowledge on the topic. The Institut français du monde associatif in France, and the University of Turin in Italy contributed to the workshops in their countries. The COESO team integrated the information gathered from these workshops into a policy brief with suggestions for structural changes to encourage more funding opportunities for SSH citizen science projects and facilitate better funding matching. In fall 2022, COESO will host a final workshop with international funders to spur the conversation further.
In its short lifetime, COESO hopes to stimulate more funding opportunities for SSH citizen science – funding opportunities that will be searchable through a plugin on the VERA platform and will ultimately contribute to connecting research and society in order to innovatively and skillfully approach society’s challenges.