Enhancing the Responsible and Sustainable Expansion of the Science Shop Ecosystem in Europe

Case study: Ibercivis Foundation

This case study is part of a set of case studies developed by SciShops to investigate different models of science shops and community-based participatory research.

The Ibercivis Foundation is a non-profit organisation based in the city of Zaragoza in Spain. Formally established in 2008, it has developed expertise in citizen science running numerous projects involving participatory methodologies in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders.

 

Background

I

bercivis evolved out of a pilot initiative in 2005 to create a volunteer computing platform run by the Institute for Biocomputation and Physics of Complex Systems, Zaragoza Town Hall and the Fusion National Laboratory at CIEMAT. The initiative became national and, following agreements with a number of partners, was formalised as a national Foundation in 2008. Its founders include the University of Zaragoza, CSIS, CIEMAT, the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness and local governments.

Although its background has been in e-science, involving supercomputing and high level infrastructure, it quickly broadened its focus to wider participatory engagement and citizen science. It is a very practice-orientated organisation and has no specific disciplinary focus but tries to balance a holistic vision with different models.

In 2016, Ibercivis set up the Observatory of Citizen Science in Spain, www.ciencia-ciudadana.es, co-funded by the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology. Its aim is to monitor and map the growth of citizen science initiatives in Spain.

The Ibercivis team

Business model and organisation

The number of staff employed by Ibercivis fluctuates between 1.5 and 5, depending on available resources. These staff are responsible for the operational management of the organisation, including coordination, finance, dissemination, engagement, events, software development, infrastructure maintenance as well as data and web services. Staff are based in offices at the University of Zaragoza.

The Foundation has a legal Board that approves the budget and programme of activities, consisting of public administrations, including regional and city governmental representatives, as well as the University of Zaragoza and the two largest research institutions in Spain, CSIS (the Spanish National Research Council) and CIEMAT (Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas). This provides Ibercivis with a large network of collaborators and as a result close relationships with policy makers, researchers and community organisations. Working with large research institutions also gives Ibercivis access to thousands of researchers and both CSIS and CIEMA are closely involved in dissemination work.

Many of the researchers that are involved in Ibercivis’ projects work as volunteers or are employed at organisations that collaborate with them. They also have a number of volunteers, including teachers, and other active supporters, that are very engaged in their work.

Ibercivis receives an annual fixed budget of 60,000 Euros from the Spanish Ministry for Innovation, Competitiveness and Industry.  Additional funding comes from providing citizen science consultancy services as well as actively applying for funding through competitive European national and regional project calls. Occasionally, funding is applied for under the umbrella of collaborating partners such as the University of Zaragoza. Further, there is a donations page on the website and they have tested crowdfunding in the past with limited success.

Ibercivis also has a Scientific Advisory Board consisting of external advisors from scientific and community organisations as well as a Citizen Advisory Board. Both boards have not been so active over the past couple of years and they are hoping to revitalise them.

The research process and relationship with stakeholders

Part of Ibercivis’ role is staying at the forefront of citizen science, investigating new areas, and testing new methodologies and models. For example, current topics include biotechnology, bio hacking and do-it-yourself-science. Some of the research projects are ideas that Ibercivis develops itself and then finds appropriate partners to collaborate with to get the projects off the ground.

Other projects are initiated by external researchers that come to them with ideas and Ibercivis helps to formulate these ideas into projects. This process is open to both professional and amateur scientists. Many of the professional researchers have access to project funding, however, in the case of citizens, Ibercivis helps to put together the necessary funding.

Partnerships are key to the success of the projects. Engagement with community organisations provides access to citizens to participate in the projects. Citizens are mainly motivated to participate in a project for educational purposes, to be part of something, and to contribute to the common good.

In addition, dissemination is viewed as very important and media partners are actively sought to support dissemination activities and communicate participation opportunities to citizens. For example, the Observatory currently has an agreement with an online newspaper to publish news, calls for action, discussions about ethics etc.

Examples of research projects

OdourCollect[1] is a project that enables citizens suffering from regular odour nuisance to report their complaints to relevant stakeholders using an app. The idea came from a government researcher (not in academia) and received European Commission funding following a successful pilot.

Ibercivis has also set up ten open citizen science labs, public spaces where anyone with an interest in science can develop their own scientific projects together with support from transdisciplinary teams within the scientific community. The project received a two million Euro grant from the University of Zaragoza. Three quarters of the grant was spent on super computers, and for the remaining quarter, Ibercivis sought the views of citizens, such as members of hacker and maker communities and researchers to identify what was required. Each of the laboratories has a different focus, such as robotics, multimedia, computing, photonics.

Aqua[2] is a project that is investigating the quality of drinking water. An experiment involved a network of 100 schools across the whole of Spain. 10,000 analysis kits were distributed to pupils to enable them to measure the water quality in their own homes in terms of e.g. chlorine, pHm, flavour and smell. The data is openly available and presented in the form of map.

Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI)

Ibercivis embraces RRI principles in its daily work. Some examples include:

  • Open access is mandatory, wherever possible, and Ibercivis publishes everything, such as data, methodologies and results with the aim of making it accessible and for open use.
  • There is a strong focus on dissemination to all stakeholders, including the general public, often using media partners to share information as well as create debate about issues relating to citizen science.
  • Public engagement and involvement is also key to their activities. Their approach is to bring science to the people and incorporate it into their daily lives. They continually test new and innovative formats, which have previously included activities at musical festivals and in the city streets.
  • In the governance of its projects, they often include citizen boards for consultation and evaluation purposes.

Ibercivis’ Executive Director, Fermín Serrano, was also coordinator of a working group for the European Citizen Science Association investigating the links between RRI and citizen science. This involved investigating how responsible citizen science is and how citizen science practitioners can make their activities more responsible.

Impact and evaluation

Ibercivis is very practice-orientated and often does not have time to fully evaluate its projects. Evaluation is carried out if required, for example as part of EU-funded projects. Questionnaires are also distributed before or after certain events or to teachers to complete with their pupils before, during, and after projects.

Analyses of the economic impact of citizen science have also been carried out to use as evidence for the National Ministry of Science. These types of analyses, which have been done for a number of projects are very complicated and time-consuming and include evaluating the value of media coverage. For example, a 3000 Euro project that involved distributing 1000 strawberry plants to households in Zaragoza to investigate air quality, resulted in around 80,000 Euros worth of media coverage, during a period of six months.

Success factors

Having the support of a wide range of stakeholders, including national and local policy makers as well as large research institutes is very important. Being a small organisation gives Ibercivis a large degree of freedom. This allows them to be agile and makes them accessible to everyone. Having a broad focus also gives them a lot of flexibility in the type of work that they undertake.

Ibercivis tries to be as innovative as possible and they are constantly testing new ideas, working with unexpected people in unexpected places, and investigating new areas. Ibercivis has built up a good reputation based on trust. The Foundation now has a lot of experience in citizen science, has run many successful projects and also tries to learn from failures. This makes the process of setting up new partnerships and recruiting volunteers a lot easier for them.

They manage to successfully balance top down and bottom up approaches, for example balancing European needs with those of local government, and carrying out grass roots activity alongside scientific policy making.

Challenges

An overall challenge is to make citizen science more global and engage more people and researchers in citizen science.

Operationally, they would like to improve the quality of data through the projects but are currently limited due to staff resources.

Sometimes they encounter legal vagaries, for example in law relating to crowd computing and the storage of private data.

Future development

Ibercivis hopes to work more directly with citizens (rather than using intermediaries) and is currently seeking funding for a new project that will work directly with community neighbourhoods on real problems. Patients are also a group that they have not had much engagement with yet. They will continue to take advantage of new technologies, explore new models as well as continue working with holistic vision.

They want citizen science expertise to be better coordinated at a national level and seek ways to coordinate different players, resources and services. They continue to work towards the vision of having citizen science labs in every city, where citizens can access scientific equipment and work together. 

Forthcoming international projects include a H2020 project to create the International Odour Observatory, which Ibercivis Foundation is coordinating. They will also participate in the EC tender to monitor environmental citizen science projects.

Ibercivis will also create a local observatory of citizen science in Zaragoza, Spain.

Citizen science and science shops

Opportunities for science shops include:

  • Using citizen science as a methodology for conducting research in science shops
  • Utilising the power of social media and online platforms to engage wider audiences.
  • Developing partnerships with e.g. citizen science and maker labs to take research out of universities more into the community, and allow citizens to get more involved.

Contact details

Website: http://www.ibercivis.com/

Contact Person: Fermin Serrano, Executive Director

Email: fermin@bifi.es

Links

[1] https://odourcollect.socientize.eu/#!/

[2] https://aqua.ibercivis.es/#!/