Harnessing the power of citizen science for prevention

Project title: Engaging the public in the wider conversation about prevention in Australia

Start date: April 2020
Estimated end date: March 2023

What is the issue?

Engaging the public in research and decision making in prevention is crucial if the public health community is to achieve equitable, feasible and acceptable solutions to the complex health challenges we face.

The value of public engagement is increasingly recognised within health research policy and practice. For example, the National Health and Medical Research Council states that, “appropriate consumer involvement in research should be encouraged and facilitated by research institutions and researchers”, and public engagement is a key pillar of health agencies’ strategies in Australia and internationally.

Citizen science, broadly defined as public participation and collaboration in scientific research, is increasingly gaining traction in public health due to its potential to gain new perspectives on problems and solutions, monitor policy and program implementation, obtain difficult to access data, and mobilise support for action to improve health.

However, little is known about how policy and practice stakeholders in Australia perceive citizen science approaches in prevention, whether and how they value data collected by community members, to what extent these approaches can be used by policy and practice stakeholders to address the needs of their organisations, and what resources and support stakeholders require to enable citizen science to be integrated within their work. Also, little is known about whether and why members of the public engage in citizen science projects in prevention or how to foster engagement and maximise the impact of these approaches.

How is the project addressing the issue?

This is a co-produced research project in which researchers will support policy and practice partners to develop and implement citizen science projects in their own contexts. This will enable partners to develop practical experience and expertise in citizen science approaches and become champions for this approach, paving this way for others to follow.

Using a case study approach, the project team will work with the partners to undertake a comprehensive evaluation of the citizen science projects to explore the feasibility and impacts of policy and practice stakeholder-led citizen science approaches in prevention, with the goal of supporting the use of citizen science approaches by policy and practice stakeholders in prevention.

Through literature reviews and interviews with key stakeholders in prevention and beyond, the project will also explore familiarity with and perceptions of citizen science approaches and the intersections between citizen science and other approaches to public engagement in the development and implementation of policy.

What are the expected outcomes?

The key outcomes from this project for policy and practice stakeholders in chronic disease prevention include:

  • Improved understanding of the perceived value and impact of citizen science in prevention
  • Understanding of feasibility of citizen science approaches
  • Tailored resources to support policy and practice stakeholders
  • Increased capacity of stakeholders to develop and implement citizen science projects.

Relevance for practice

This project will build awareness and capacity in citizen science approaches among policy and practice stakeholders across Australia through hands-on experience and tailored resources.

Case study evaluations will demonstrate the impact and value of citizen science approaches across a range of issues and contexts in prevention, as well as highlighting key challenges and learnings, further paving the way for policy and practice stakeholders to develop citizen science projects for their own purposes.

The insights gained throughout this project will inform the development of resources to support the delivery of citizen science projects in chronic disease prevention.

Project leads

Dr Samantha Rowbotham, University of Sydney

Dr Yvonne Laird, University of Sydney

Project team

Professor Ben Smith, University of Sydney

Leah Marks (PhD candidate and Research Assistant), University of Sydney

Pippy Walker (Senior Research Officer), University of Sydney

Project partners

Professor Katina D’Onise, Wellbeing SA

Katherine Pontifex, Wellbeing SA

Emma Saleeba, VicHealth

Dr Karen Turner, VicHealth

Karen Wardle, South Western Sydney Local Health District

Kate Garvey, Tasmanian Department of Health

Dr Kim Jose, University of Tasmania

This project is funded by the NHMRC, Australian Government Department of Health, ACT Health, Cancer Council Australia, NSW Ministry of Health, South Australian Department for Health and Wellbeing, Tasmanian Department of Health, and VicHealth.

August 2020
  • The project team have:
    • Finalised the project protocol and submitted for Higher Research Education Council review
    • Held first project team meeting with partners
  • All four individual citizen science projects are progressing with project planning, with one project already underway.
June 2020
  • The project has confirmed citizen science projects with four policy and practice partners:
    • VicHealth
    • Wellbeing SA
    • Tasmanian Department of Health
    • South Western Sydney Local Health District.
October 2020
February 2021
  • Survey participation e-flyer: The project team is seeking reflections on how and why policy and practice stakeholders engage with the public.

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Citizen science in prevention newsletter

The citizen science in prevention newsletter provides regular updates on how this citizen science project is progressing as well as more general information around other types of citizen science projects, resources, events, and our community of practice. To receive the project’s newsletter, click here.

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Community of Practice for Citizen Science in Prevention

Click here to join our Citizen Science in Prevention Community of Practice

Our Community of Practice (CoP) for Citizen Science in Prevention brings together people from research, policy, practice, and the community who have an interest in citizen science approaches in prevention.

The CoP provides a forum to share knowledge, ideas, and resources, and discuss challenges and strategies to support the design, delivery and evaluation of citizen science projects. The CoP meets online bimonthly, with alternating workshops for partners involved in this project and guest speaker sessions. Guest speaker sessions are open to all stakeholders interested in citizen science approaches in prevention.

To join our Community of Practice (CoP) for Citizen Science in Prevention, click here.

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Publications and presentations coming soon.