A brand new version of the CitieS-Health Toolkit, an online guide for the design and development of participatory studies in environmental epidemiology, will be launched during the ECSA Conference 2020. We talked with Valeria Righi, Researcher at Ideas for Change and promoter of this initiative, in order to know all the details about the project. 


What is the objective of the CitieS-Health Toolkit and how it can inspire citizen science professionals?

The CitieS-Health Toolkit is an open, online and interactive initiative that aims to help anyone interested in learning and experimenting with citizen science to engage communities to tackle issues of common concerns and deploy actions for making our world a better place to live in. The tools are meant to guide people from crowdsourcing, exploring and defining environmental and health issues that affect their communities, until implementing bottom-up actions that drive changes. The Toolkit provides examples and resources for identifying a common problem, design a citizens-driven research study, and proactively collect data to provide evidence that informs actions. 


It is not the first repository of this type that we have heard of. What makes it different?

I dare say that there are four elements that make this toolkit different from the rest. First, it focuses on citizen science projects that tackle problems affecting people’s daily lives. That is why many tools available in the toolkit are related to the identification of a citizens’ mattern of concern, which is the starting point of the kind of citizen science projects we want to promote. Some of the issues proposed are air pollution, noise, odour, traffic, lack of green spaces, and health. 

Second, it is interactive. Unlike previous toolkits that are presented in a book format, the CitieS-Health toolkit aims to provide a customised and interactive experience, allowing anyone to choose the tools that are relevant depending on the type of activity they want to develop and the goals they aim to meet. For this reason, there is a section where you can filter the tools according to your interests. Third, it is collaborative. We seek to gather tools from other citizen science projects, beyond the CitieS-Health pilots. Finally, we hope to become a reference for those citizen science practitioners who are seeking for creative ideas on how to engage citizens. We believe that too often citizen participation is taken for granted and not enough effort is put on ensuring that citizens are engaged in a meaningful and enjoyable way. For instance, we often ask them to attend endless events, use apps with poor usability and UX, or follow tedious and enigmatic instructions. 


Is it only focused on environmental epidemiology?

The Toolkit was born in the heart of the CitieS-Health project, so environmental epidemiology has been crucial to its development. However, our goal is to expand it beyond this field. Nowadays citizen science is being applied to a broad range of scientific fields. Although we understand that some tools may be specific to a given discipline, citizen engagement is common to all of them. We believe that many strategies and lessons learned in one discipline are still relevant for others.

For this reason, we want to encourage citizen science practitioners from all fields of study to share stories, knowledge and learnings acquired during the development of their projects to create a shared knowledge space that makes this research area better. We have created a specific section on the website through which anyone who works on participatory projects can suggest new ways to engage citizens in science. We want to spark creativity in citizen science, inspire and be inspired by others.


How is the Toolkit organised?

The Toolkit is organised around the CitieS-Health engagement framework. The latter covers four main phases, identification, co-design, deployment and action. For each of this phase, the framework highlights three expected outcomes, which help envision what needs to be done. Each of the tools proposed contributes to achieve a given outcome. For instance, there are tools that can help you identify a citizens’ concern, others that provide guidance on how to guide conversations with citizens around aspects of the project governance, and others that can give you inspiration on how to carry out a data collection campaign.

Finally, we are working on a chatbot to help users go through the contents. Stay tuned, we will release more information soon.


When is the new version of the Toolkit going to be available?

A brand new version will be released during the ECSA Conference, including new contents and improved UX. Nevertheless, the Toolkit will be in continuous improvement. We like to learn as we work, so this is going to be an alive project.


The Toolkit is an online project, but do you plan to develop a physical version?

We sure do! We have already created the Citizen Science Play Kit, a set of bite-sized cards that can be used to learn more about the different tools and tips offered in the Toolkit. This version is aimed to be used in workshops, events and schools, to spark curiosity among participants and involve them in designing the overall engagement strategy of a citizen science project. This version will be presented for the first time at the Mitforschen! The Citizen Science Festival! on the 14-15th of October.

The Citizen Science Play Kit will be available for download in the toolkit web page.