The idea of citizen science has changed over time, and encompasses a lot of different modes of engagement. Allowing your personal computer’s slack cycle time to be used to run protein folding made people feel they were being useful to science, but not necessarily engaged. Becoming a research subject, or contributing to crowdsourcing might make them feel a part of research, but not necessarily as a subject, more as an object, a subordinate, albeit an essential subordinate, in the delivery of material to investigate someone else’s research questions, build someone else’s knowledge.
In response to this gap, a new paradigm is emerging: co-creation. Co-creation implies that not just the generation of research data, but of research questions, and research design, can be carried out in a collaborative manner between interested non-professional researchers and their professional counterparts. As such, this is one of the most challenging – and potentially rewarding – of Shirk’s five project models to deliver on.
As defined by the Accomplissh Project (Accomplissh stands for: “ACcelerate CO-creation by setting up a Multi-actor PLatform for Impact from Social Sciences and Humanities”), co-creation is based on the following: Often, traditional valorization approaches focus on linear processes: knowledge transfer from academia to society. Co-creation transcends such linear boundaries as it focuses on collaboration and co-production of knowledge and solutions across partners from the so-called Quadruple Helix network (industry, governments and societal partners).
Co-creation often occurs most readily in situations where groups of citizens, communities or civil society groups come forward with a question and recruit professional researchers to work with them and guide them. As such, the field of public history or public humanities is a rich one for co-created citizen science in the arts and humanities to emerge.
Storytelling is a powerful tool in the arsenal of arts and humanities researchers. In the Accomplissh project, the participating team from the University of Ghent spoke of the potential power of this approach in co-created research:
“Storytelling is a technique for enhancing communication skills for collaborative research forms and is delivered via workshops to researchers at the University of Ghent. The training in ‘storytelling’ enables researchers to be able to connect with people in a natural way and can be a tool by which communication can become more human and thoughtful.
The workshop facilitator explained:
“I call it meaningful encounters – you need to be authentic, but open minded and open to possibilities and opportunities in a respectful way. Not just I want something from you, but what can we do together? This is part and parcel of impact”
A powerful example of this in practice can be found in the methods of the project Theatre of Witness. The underlying method developed by Artistic Director Teya Sepinuck has been applied in a number of national and cultural contexts, but always with the goal of enabling marginal or fragile populations to develop a sense of empowerment with regards to their own personal histories through the development of storytelling techniques. http://www.theaterofwitness.org/about/
That said, co-creation in the arts and humanities has its challenges. In particular where personal identities and histories may be under, and where outcomes may not be easily evaluated in terms of a product or service, it is important to be clear about expectations from the outset, to negotiate shared meaning for key terms, to respect the tenets of shared authority
- Nature article on the importance of co-creation in research: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-06855-7
- Link to the Accomplissh project website: http://accomplissh.eu/, and specifically to their guide to co-creation: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/35d470_3136df3c786149e2ab78027fb0cc33f1.pdf