A new family is born – Join CoAct´s *Open*Citizen*Social*Science community

A new family is born – Join CoAct´s *Open*Citizen*Social*Science community

Global Innovation Gathering (GIG) | Feb. 12th, 2021.

What do the Open Science and the Citizen Social Science have in common? What can we learn from each other? And why should we collaborate?

As a community being engaged in both spaces, e.g. through GIG’s role in the Citizen Social Science Horizon 2020 project CoAct and as the many GIG actors being involved in the Open Science community, such as Africa Osh and the African Makerspace Network, we were keen to explore those common grounds in the *Open*Citizen*Social*Science Meetup we hosted during DOTS.

DOTS, GIG´s annual convention of innovators from around the world, which took place on December 10 and 11, 2020, offered a great opportunity to kick off such a conversation and light the spark for future collaborations. You can watch the full video here.

To kick off the Meetup some members of GIG’s Open Science and Citizen Science communities gave us a sneak preview into their inspiring work with their communities. It was also an opportunity for us to present CoAct to our community.

CoAct – Co-designing citizen social science for collective action, is one of the Horizon 2020 in which GIG is collaborating with civil society and academic partners from Spain, Argentina, UK, Austria, and Germany. CoAct is proposing a new understanding of Citizen Social Science as participatory research co-designed and directly driven by citizen groups sharing a social concern, in which they become co-researchers in processes commonly dominated by academic researchers. GIG is contributing to this project with its incredibly diverse community of makers and participatory experts from all around the globe. Some of our members introduced their local work at the beginning of the meetup:

Mboa Lab in Cameroon is a biotech makerspace located in a rural community. Their approach of open science is three-dimensional: a) openness to publication and data, b) openness to society, and c) openness to excluded knowledge and epistemology, expressed in their biotech lab, their citizen science work around topics such as food security, Environment and Climate Change, or Open Science Hardware, as well as their Open Education scheme. Mboa lab Founder Dr. Thomas Hervé Mboa Nkoudou, postdoctoral researcher with the University of Ottawa, decided to return into the lab since seeing more potential for strong impact than from within academia. Mboa Lab hosts university students as interns, to study in the bio lab and learn the maker approach to science.

The HiveBiolab in Ghana is a DIY Biohacking Space, doing science with a bottom-up approach. It is part of the Open Bioeconomy Lab of Cambridge University, whilst being fully independent in its operations and agenda. The lab is addressing a concrete need, the lack of access to enzymes for doing biotech research and diagnostics in Africa. It is driven by its mission to harness power of digital fabrication to advance maker culture in biology for community and public good. At the moment, the lab is also developing simpler molecular tests that count for African infectious diseases and can be easily deployed on community levels in African contexts, low cost and without the requirement of expert diagnostic expertise. The lab is also training scientists of various Ghanaian universities on how to use an open science approach in their work.

Vilsquare in Nigeria strives to achieve digital transformation in different communities across Nigeria and all Africa, through use of open science technologies and methodologies. Their biggest success so far is Voltschool, a digital stem education scaled across 9 countries, which has helped over 7,000 kids learn effectively from home. Voltschool is powered by an offline server that can be implemented in rural areas and accessed by phones, computers, etc. without internet. It is currently implemented in rural Liberia, through collaborations with local radio stations.

After such great inspiration, we opened up to a lively conversation driven by our core questions, how to connect conversations on open science between the natural and the social science communities and how to exchange methodologies and support each others work.

Here are our main takeaways:

*The first way of openness is to depart from the perspective of the people we work with and not to perceive our own perspectives as expert knowledge. We need to understand, learn, and depart from local perspectives and practices, adopting together the protocol local communities will use. Those protocols will differ from those in the lab or in the walls of academia but the direction shall be to learn from them.

*We should acknowledge the constant interaction of science and ‘livinghood’. Taking care of others, enacting rituals, making remedies. Is Citizen Social Science about bringing science back to its original ‘owners’? Do we have to admit that science is social in is essence and has always been? An example is traditional medicine, which was open source before being comprised by the industries.

*We need to embrace mythology and ritual as integrative part of the participatory methodology. We need to take care of this contextualized knowledge wherever and with whomever we are working. This includes connecting ancient science (mythology) and contemporary science. In the peace building and reconciliation processes of the Dreamspace Academy in Sri Lanka scientific affiliation are found to religious concepts in the communities, such as the flow of energy. When working with remote dairy farmers, Mboa Lab Cameroon is matching traditional methods with their lab’s scientific approach in order to identify what the differences would be and what would the lab’s scientific fermentation approach add.

*Talking from an African scientist context, our role as social scientists has to be being the ‘pacemaker’, in order to establish good connections between our own mythology and the western knowledge learned in school and academia. The biggest challenge for African scientists, who have been trained in western institutions, is to liberate themselves from western instructions in order to be able to understand what people locally are saying and seeing. How can we approach this for western scientists trained in western institutions?

*It is important to differentiate levels of participation, acknowledge that participation in international collaboration is often characterized by false representation since it is like a black box if people on the ground do not have access to the real knowledge of the project. We need to work towards opening this blackbox in order to truly speak about participation with people from the margins.

*We need more advocacy for the ethics in Open Science (and we will need it for Citizen Social Science too) in order to foster better documentation of open science processes. We need to create protocols to account for the voices from all those communities rooted in oral traditions in this process. The end goal of a participatory process needs to be the community and what needs to be done for them to get impact as defined by them.


Since this fascinating conversation is only just the beginning, we are launching the *Open *Citizen *Social Science chat group on Signal.

We take those thought provoking inputs as the stepping stone for further conversations. Thus, we invite you to join and engage in this new community space!

How to join?

Join our signal group using the following link: bit.ly/2NtDeCW

Once you join the signal group please introduce yourself with a) name, b) affiliated organisation or network if applicable, and c) a little note on your motivation to join this group. Only members who introduce themselves will be able to stay in the group.

We are looking forward to shaping a Citizen Social Science approach with you!