The Citizens Science for Sustainability Project sought to generate a dialogue between citizens from Islington and professionals from the scientific communtiy, with a focus on environmental and sustainable technologies.
The Citizens Science for Sustainability (SuScit) Project was a unique attempt to provide local communities with a voice in the future of urban sustainability research. Funded under the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Sustainable Urban Environment’s Programme, the SuScit Project developed an innovative programme of action research and networking activities. They were designed to promote engagement and dialogue between the EPSRC research community, professional stakeholders and sustainability practitioners, and most importantly local citizens. In particular the focus was on socially and economically excluded citizens, such as older people, single parents, young people, and those from ethnic minority communities.
Developing a Community Led Agenda for Urban Sustainability Research
The challenge for the SuScit project was to design a bottom-up, public engagement and foresight process which brings citizens in dialogue with scientists, policy makers and professional stakeholders. This way, it was hoped the environmental and sustainability research needs of marginalised and excluded urban communities could be articulated.
In addressing this challenge a participatory process was established that:
• Recognised the inherently contested nature of sustainability, through providing an open and reflexive framing of the problem, and valuing local knowledge and expertise.
• Supported lay participants through the use of appropriate facilitation and engagement tools, and by recognising the differing roles and responsibilities of the various participant groups involved.
• Worked with and through the local community in order to build trust, promote engagement and maximise the value of the project’s outcomes to all those who participated.
Phases of Action Research:
• The SuScit process comprised a six-month programme of meetings, workshops and group activities, structured around five key phases: engagement and recruitment, exploring narratives and perceptions of urban sustainability amongst the participants, sharing local knowledge and expertise, visioning sustainable communities and a community led research agenda for local sustainability.
• The action research for the SuScit project was run through the local community centre in the Mildmay ward in Islington, North London. Islington is in many ways a vibrant, diverse and densely populated area, but also the sixth most deprived borough in the country facing significant social, economic and environmental challenges. Mildmay is one of the most deprived wards in Islington.
• The central idea of the programme was to explore community understandings of, and perceptions and aspirations for, urban sustainability in order to provide a basis for identifying relevant research needs and opportunities. This was reflected in the overall structure of the engagement process whereby local residents initially took the leading role in articulating community perspectives (and researchers and practitioners where encouraged to listen and reflect). In the later phases of the process, responsibility shifted to the researchers and practitioners to deliberate and respond to what they had learnt from the local community, by developing a research agenda for urban sustainability which reflected the issues raised.
• Members of the panels reported back in person on ideas for specific local projects and initiatives.
• Residents were provided with an opportunity to comment on and respond to the emerging research ideas.
• Practitioners emphasised the importance of listening to citizens and being open to new ideas in order to find a common ground for dialogue.
A short documentary about this case study can be viewed here.
This article was originally submitted by Jonas Egmose Mortensen but has since been adapted .
Citizens Science for Sustainability (SuScit) is based at BRESE - Brunel Research in Enterprise, Innovation, Sustainability and Ethics at Brunel University, in collaboration with Capacity Global. SuScit is an EPSRC funded initiative supported under the Sustainable Urban Environments (SUE) Programme (Grant Ref. EP/C541650/2: Principal Investigator, Prof. Malcolm Eames).
Jonas Egmose Mortensen: firstname.lastname@example.org
Gather individual pre-existing opinions
Generate new ideas (innovation)
Number of participants
Self selected participants attending as individuals (open access process)
Representatives of wider interest groups (stakeholders)
Level of awareness and interest
participants know about some aspects/can roughly articulate some interest
participants are well informed and can articulate their interests
Environment and climate change
Science and technology
Limit search to...
... face to face processes
Level of involvement
Children and young people
Ethnic minority groups