Embracing citizen science to revitalise health and wellbeing via public spaces
- Ruth Jepson
- 25 October 2019
- Reform programme
Using community feedback to help reshape public spaces to improve health is one way of delivering Scotland’s public health priorities. Third sector and academia are currently looking at maximising the impact of research through a mix of lived experience and available data. Professor Ruth Jepson of the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) says projects like OurOutdoors can and do make a difference…
“Communities are increasingly demonstrating a collective will to improve their local and global environments. Campaigns such as climate control protests, social media, and community litter picks are notable examples of existing efforts.
Citizen science can be viewed as an extension of this community effort. It’s a research approach, widely used in the environmental sciences (but underutilised in public health) where members of the public are active collaborators in the research process.
In the best examples, citizens act as co-researchers by collecting, analysing and evaluating data and sharing results. This process can empower them to engage with decision makers and others to identify solutions (in this example, to improve access to, or features or, shared outdoor spaces).
This democratisation of both the science and policy process around outdoor shared space can:
- engage historically disenfranchised citizens, particularly in our most economically and socially deprived communities
- provide real time data on health-promoting or harming aspects of our environment
- empower communities to be active agents of change
- ultimately improve community health and reduce non-communicable diseases.
OurOutdoors is an example of an innovative public health citizen science programme, which is currently being developed and piloted in Edinburgh and the Lothians by researchers at the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) in partnership with Sustrans.
Initially supported by the Medical Research Council UK, OurOutdoors was developed with communities to enable citizens to:
- document health promoting qualities of shared outdoor spaces (for whom and in what circumstance)
- collaboratively identify and implement solutions to outdoor spaces in need of improvement
- support evaluation of interventions designed to improve outdoor spaces.
The project aims to engage citizens and policymakers using a range of approaches (e.g. mobile and web technology, citizen-led deliberative approaches) to rate and improve the quality of public outdoor spaces at local and national levels.
OurOutdoors needs further testing and piloting of both the tools (primarily an app or paper based survey), and methods of engaging citizens in the process to determine its full potential. However, we believe that citizen science can be powerful tool to address a range of public health issues in a democratic and collaborative manner, while also making a valuable contribution to delivering Scotland’s public health priorities.