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  • Anthony Boxshall

The six (6) ingredients you need for citizen science co-design

Updated: Oct 9



I was privileged to work with a community in the Latrobe Valley in Victoria late in 2016 to co-design a new air monitoring network that will be built over the next 18 months. It was an enlightening, exciting and serious process. We collectively designed a future network that came in under budget and covered off on the needs of the community as well as air quality experts. As a piece of citizen science it was a very fulfilling and successful start to a 2 year implementation project. I would thoroughly recommend citizen science co-design for you and to help you decide when and where to use it, here are six (6) ingredients that i think are essential to make your citizen science co-design work.


1. A compelling scientific challenge

There needs to be a real scientific challenge, issue or problem for you and your co-designers to get your teeth into. Without a genuine problem to solve, you co-design will be window dressing. In my experience the more complex science problems just need more time to work through rather than a sense that the community won’t be able to work with you to co-design a solution.


2. An engaged community

Having a group of stakeholders with buy-in is essential. As most co-design is with a community it is crucial that you work with people to actively engage on the scientific challenge and why the community might have interest. If the challenge is one that the community has raised with you, all the better! 


3. Energy & time

You need to work at the pace of your co-designers. Often they will have a large diversity of skills, knowledge and experience and you may think you know more. In the scheme of things, it's likely you don't. I’ve learned to deeply respect the capacity of the community to engage with complex scientific issues. Take the time and energy your co-designers need.


4. Be clear about the real resources available

It will cost dollars and time to do this. Don’t start without knowing that you have it. I’m not completely sure that I’d use a co-design process to build a business case (however I’m happy to be wrong about that). More importantly once you come up with a co-designed solution you will need to implement it. Be up front from the start with your co-designers about your (and their!) budget.


5. A mandate

If you work in an organisation, you must ensure that you have a strong mandate from people right at the top of your organisation. Co-design is excellent and "organisationally safe" but sometimes it takes you places you might not go if you weren’t co-designing. You will need organisational mandate to follow these paths. Surprises or risk aversion can halt you before a result. Stopping a co-design process for this reason will do untold damage to your relationship with your co-designers.


6. A genuine commitment to follow through

If you spend time with your community and you co-design your science you must honour it - in scope, budget and timelines. If you have co-designed well, you have built trust so actively work to keep it. You need to deliver as promised.

There are likely other elements you will need, however I found these fundamental to have before starting. Please let me know your experience.

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