Post Heidi Ballard

Dispatch from Heidi Ballard

Where in the world is Heidi Ballard, you might wonder? I’ve been extra privileged to be spending my several months of sabbatical this spring learning and sharing about how community and citizen science is institutionalized, designed, implemented, and evaluated all over Europe…especially in the United Kingdom, Austria, and Denmark where I’ve been based for a few weeks or months each. Centers, departments, institutes, research groups, networks, platforms, associations, and other institutional units all over Europe are working on many of the same big issues and questions that drive us at the Center for Community and Citizen Science…some have been doing it as long as we have, some longer, many are more recently established. I am simply amazed to see how this field has expanded since 2009 when I first started connecting with a handful of others saying, “hey, this should be a field…”.  Not just in numbers of projects, people, and institutions working on how to engage and benefit people through participatory approaches to scientific research and monitoring, but expanded, in terms of the creativity, quality, and nuance with which folks are working on how to do this better. That is, how to do science, education, and community capacity-building better through CCS participation. We are all still using different terms, even in English, which remains an interesting topic of discussion in each setting. Here are some examples from the wonderful colleagues and groups I’ve visited with:

I’ve learned how Lucy Robinson and her Community Science team at the Natural History Museum in London, UK has gone nation-wide with their National Education Nature Parks project and (inconveniently similarly- titled) Urban Nature Project. They are engaging thousands of students, teachers, and schools, as well as community-based organizations, in not only collecting biodiversity and environmental data but also in doing the stewardship work of planting pollinator-friendly gardens, enhancing and “rewilding” habitats to promote biodiversity in areas they care about. I got to work with their team on how to support students and teachers to learn not just science content, but also to identify with the scientific community they become a part of, and take action with their new skills and knowledge (part of our “environmental science agency” framework. It’s so rewarding to see our framework being used in practice across whole programs!

I visited former post-docs on the completed LEARN CitSci projects to see them doing great things in their new jobs, Ana Benavides-Lahnstein in York, UK and Julia Lorke at Aachen University in Germany, making great strides in environmental and science education.

I met old friends and the next generation of researchers and project leaders at the European Citizen Science Association held in Vienna, Austria, where I further internalized the crazy complexities they confront in implementing European Union-funded CCS projects across a dozen countries in many dozens of languages (for just one project!). They are working to bring resources and expertise to countries that need it, and learning from local expertise and what needs to change to benefit their local contexts.

I’m looking forward to learning more from and contributing to the European Citizen Science, for which Muki Haklay and a consortium of people from all over Europe are bringing together all the training materials and courses for training project leaders and scientists in how to design and implement projects. 

I’ve learned how Daniel Doerler and Florian Hagle at BOKU in Vienna, Austria coordinate the Austrian Citizen Science Network to connect citizen science project leaders across Austria and also offer courses to university students that position CCS as just another tool and skill set they need for doing environmental research and monitoring, for whatever career they choose. 

I learned about how Rosy Mondardini and Melanie Brand at Citizen Science Zurich are working to build capacity of researchers to do CCS through one-on-one consulting and developing new trainings.

What have I brought to the table in all these places, you might ask?  Research evidence! It turns out that these folks working on various aspects of CCS all have at least one thing in common: they want to know what the evidence is for the impacts of their work for participants, whether it’s students or families or teachers or retired adults or community organizations or scientists…are people connecting to nature, are they learning and using science for their own ends as well as feeling they are contributing to issues they care about, are they taking actions to take better care of the planet? And what are we NOT doing well, what can we do better? So I get to provide that evidence, what do we know, what don’t we know, what are the methods to study or evaluate these questions, and what effective strategies do we have evidence for. I have been sharing our evidence of the science and environmental learning outcomes of participation in CCS, mostly for young people, but also for adults, through our own empirical research at the Center and through our literature reviews (check out our systematic literature review forthcoming in Environmental Education Research!).

I’ve been so excited to share the amazing resources for educators and CCS practitioners that current team (Peggy Harte! Ryan Meyer! Sarah Angulo!) and previous graduate students (Emily Harris! Colin Dixon! Chris Jadallah! Amanda Lindell! Erin Bird!) have helped create that are really and truly useful for people on the ground who need evidence-based guidance and strategies for engaging young people in science in ways that honor their lived experiences, interests and passions, and concern for their communities and nature, not just get them to collect good data and learn some science. This is the lesson I’m coming away with…that we at the Center have a lot to offer the practitioners of this field, and we’ve only scratched the surface, so I plan to work on transforming even more of our research into concrete tools and resources for educators, researchers, and project leaders that are truly discoverable and accessible! 

What’s up next?…Copenhagen! This includes collaborating with my gracious hosts, Rikke Magnussen at Aarlborg University (on her Green Ed Tech project, where students partner with local sustainability/green-design companies to do a kind of youth-focused collaborative green design to develop Education for Sustainable Developement competencies)…and Henriette Tolstrup Holmgaard (who uses an equity lens, particularly focused on gender, to study science identity with young people), and Marianne Achiam (who works on science communication in informal settings focused on sustainability-art-science connections), both at Science Education Department at University of Copenhagen. Also visiting Gitte Kragh at Aarhus University, who is involved in more huge European CS projects than I can count, including more4nature, which links CCS to big policy for wicked environmental problems like deforestation, pollution, and biodiversity loss….and digging in with the Citizen Science group at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen and their programs with high school students doing analysis for archaeology… whew! 

All along people have so graciously hosted me, shown me around their institutions and cities and landscapes, and local cuisine!  I’m so grateful to have had the chance to connect and share what I can here. And really look forward to sharing and connecting all these wonderful projects and people to our Center team of stellar post-docs and students, to keep all this progress moving forward! 

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