As the COVID-19 pandemic brought face-to-face scientific research to a screeching halt, analysts scrambled to find an alternative. Citizen science offered a solution. With portable, accessible and low-cost software increasingly available, projects like WeCount have brought the public to the forefront of mobility studies. The first WeCount Policy Brief builds upon its citizen methodology, focusing on the shift from face-to-face to hybrid interactions, and how the citizen-science concept can help to tackle challenges brought about by COVID-19.
Online citizen science poses many challenges, mainly related to keeping those involved engaged and creating effective multi-stakeholder dialogue. Concurrently, a hybrid citizen-science engagement approach has the potential to reach bigger audiences. In times of a pandemic, such actions can help to lead by example to the reduction of trips and carbon emissions, using an in-house solution ensuring that citizens engage in science while being safe.
WeCount has been at the forefront of this challenge. Over the last months, the project has combined offline tools with online training workshops familiarising participants with the technology, supplemented by face-to-face or online meetings to analyse and act upon the data, ensuring maximum inclusivity.
The question remains as to whether citizens can provide insights to policy-making through citizens science, allowing for a bottom-up, participatory approach, that reflects citizen expectations in urban mobility planning. WeCount’s experience results in a resounding yes. As such, WeCount’s first Policy Brief puts forth the following policy recommendations:
- Citizen Science should be one of the cornerstones behind co-creation processes both for policy-making and research and innovation initiatives,
- Citizen Science engagement methodologies can serve as an additional tool to assist the development of Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans (SUMPs), for a more inclusive, citizen-centred, policy-making process,
- Hybrid strategies with limited face-to-face interaction in combination with online events can replace classical citizen engagement activities such as workshops,
- WeCount’s potential to assist in providing data for urban mobility planning, particularly at the local level, is highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Two of WeCount’s pilots are underway in Belgium (Leuven) and Spain (Madrid & Barcelona), involving around 400 households. Citizens were given sensors to be mounted in their household’s windows to quantify local road transport and the speed of cars, large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. In the last quarter of 2020, the pilot cases in Dublin, Cardiff and Ljubljana will start their roll-out. The project will generate scientific knowledge in the field of mobility and environmental pollution and inform future decision-making contributing to the development of co-designed, informed solutions to tackle a variety of road transport challenges.
WeCount operates under the Research and Innovation Actions funding scheme, as facilitated by Horizon 2020 and the ‘Science with and for Society’ programme, both of which aim to increase society’s appetite for innovation and encourage collaboration within the transport policy research community as it works to build better local transport systems together. WeCount will run until November 2021. This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 872743.
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Claudia Ribeiro, Project Officer at POLIS Network – email@example.com
Balazs Nemeth, Project Officer at POLIS Network – firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Photo provided by WeCount
Article first published first at the WeCount website on 14 September 2020