Global Perspectives on Citizen Social Science

Edited by Kersti Wissenbach =-=-= DOI 10.5281/zenodo.7636973 =-=-= The CoAct project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement No. 873048. =-=-=

CSS Global Perspectives

This CoAct co-publication brings together voices from around the globe to unpack what CSS needs to account for to be truly inclusive. Voices from diverse contexts share what science should look like when accounting for multiple voices, needs, and traditions worldwide.

In a ten months process, we are collecting blog post-style contributions from around the world organized along five key topics. In November, we will compile all voices in an open publication format.

Two years ago, we came together with a group of *Open *Citizen *Social Science (OCSS) experts from all around the world -from remote and urban settings, from striving and challenging contexts- and asked ourselves, What do Open Science and Citizen Social Science have in common? What can we learn from each other? And why should we collaborate? Deriving from the many conversations we had with the Open Citizen Social Science community, including many of you, we identified five crucial topics to bring forward in this compilation through contributions from everyone who seeks to share their approaches, best practices, failures and essential lessons learned from across the world.

Learn more at -> CSS Global Perspectives ⋆ CoAct (

The CoAct project has received funding from the European Union´s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 873048

Locally driven protocols and local traditions in Science

“The first way of openness is to depart from the perspective of the people we work with and not to perceive our perspectives as expert knowledge. We need to understand, learn, and depart from local perspectives and practices, adopting together the protocol local communities will use. Those protocols will differ from those in the lab or the walls of academia, but the direction shall be to learn from them. Part of this is to embrace mythology and ritual as an integrative part of the participatory methodology. We need to take care of this contextualized knowledge wherever, and with whomever, we are working. This includes connecting ancient science (mythology) and contemporary science. “ Deriving questions → What is required to reframe the mainstream understanding of expertise and adopt protocols of local communities as common practice? How can local traditions, such as rituals and mythology, be embraced as a central component of CSS methodology?

Locally driven protocols and local traditions in Science

Locally driven protocols and local traditions in the Open Citizen Social Sciences

On April 21, 2022, GIG hosted the first out of five hangouts addressing pressing issues to enable inclusive, bottom-up practices in the most diverse contexts worldwide. The given topics have been identified throughout a series of conversation formats. In addition, as we are heading towards a co-created publication aiming to capture the critical understanding of inclusive Citizen Social Science from a gloCal perspective, we provide a space for questions and discussion around one of the topics each month. 

The first way of openness is to depart from the perspective of the people we work with and not to perceive our perspectives as expert knowledge. We need to understand, learn, and start from local views and practices, adopting the protocol local communities will use together. Those protocols will differ from lab or academia walls, but we shall learn from them, including embracing mythology and ritual as an integrative part of the participatory methodology. Finally, we need to take care of this contextualised knowledge wherever, and with whomever we are working. This includes connecting ancient science (mythology) and contemporary methods (science).

Thus, our discussion circulated two driving questions:

  1. What is required to reframe the mainstream understanding of expertise and adopt protocols of local communities as standard practice?
  2. How can local traditions, such as rituals and mythology, be embraced as a central component of the Citizen Social Science (CSS) methodology?

We discussed fascinating local practices derived from regional traditions, rituals, and mythology with a small group of community practitioners from Colombia, Cameroon, Singapore, Brazil, and Spain. This exists from a present understanding that ‘research environments’ are not accessible to many of us by default. We need to understand that entering other people’s territories should require permission, and this permission is also necessary to create together. 

Lilian Chamorro, from APC-Colnodo, shared some of her practices with us in Colombia. The central learning here was recognising that different localities have different ways of communicating their knowledge. As a result, identifying local communication traditions and rituals as a fundamental point of departure in CSS practices would be an essential step. Liberating us from mainstream interpretations of science but acknowledging science as language, thus as one way to interpret the world, pushes us to understand that languages differ in different contexts. Consequently, we can only learn and analyse using the lens of those who own these languages, such as their traditions, rituals, etc. Acknowledging that mainstream science is just one type of knowledge creation out of many, such as traditions and rituals, multiplies how we can see and understand the world. 

Nadine Mowoh from MboaLabs Bio-Innovation Hub emphasised that ancient, local, and heritage practices are the foundation of modern science. Moreover, while ancient science is already developed and practised over long periods, modern science is constantly under development. Therefore, embracing local rituals and traditions as foundational and departing elements in contemporary science can only strengthen and have a legitimate effect. Through the departure from local knowledge and respective practices, foregrounding regional science is a way to seize power. People understand that they have potential and assets in their direct proximities by using local traditions as much as locally existing and commonly used ingredients or resources. It is about adapting methods to local resources and traditions, not vice versa. 

Those reflections help us reframe the mainstream understanding of expertise and adopt protocols of local communities as standard practice. Accessing a research territory through the traditions and needs of the environment and its inhabitants, and thriving through locally existing resources, triggers a power redistribution. This way, we can enable co-creation through a framing of science that acknowledges all knowledge forms, ancient and modern, equally valuable. 

Locally driven protocols and local traditions in Science

Decentralising Science – Locally driven validation protocols in MboaLab Cameroon

by Nadine Mowoh, MboaLab Cameroon

Scientific methods are repeatable by definition and validated for accuracy, specificity, reproducibility and robustness – meaning the same steps must be followed to predict future results. They also follow a systematic and standardised methodology based on evidence.

In the context of local protocols, such as traditional rituals, used by local communities or by citizens who may not have the academic or scientific knowledge, or even the scientific terms, to explain the reason behind a specific result generated by these methods, it is still true that most of their traditionally used methods are robust and when repeated or several experiments are carried out, they produce the same results. This makes them transferable, and one can argue that traditional practices shall be considered solid scientific methods. However, there is the possibility of modification and standardisation in the future to make them more acceptable in the educational or scientific context. A practical example is the case of a yoghurt production workshop in Mboalab. Listening to locals share their production methods. One would hardly hear a scientific explanation of the control of the fermentation process and the Bacteria responsible for this. Still, the end product is yoghurt which is consumable, and this same method has been used for generations to feed families.

Although theoretical scientific methods are strongly encouraged for the sake of standardisation of procedures, they have a limitation of applicability- requiring advanced skills and equipment and the means through which knowledge is obtained and shared. This contradicts local methods, whose implementation and validation do not require specific skills. They are easily comprehensible as they use perspectives of the local population and their relevance. Also, while scientific methods are easily understood and applicable by formally trained persons, local methods are quickly adopted, relatable and transferable in the local context because they are directly rooted in the local cultures of doing and communication.

Community visits in MboaLab Cameroon

To successfully implement scientific methods, local protocols are inevitable as the locals generate these protocols to meet their specific needs and suit their context. This has shown to be a precondition to engaging local communities in critical making and building together entirely. Furthermore, by recognising science assets of local practices, it becomes possible to “decentralise” it and develop a framework within which all knowledge systems are shared. It is worth understanding that these local protocols are the foundation of modern science and possess confidential information, some of which have been recovered, enriched, extended and refined, while others have remained unchanged for generations. One of the reasons for the latter is that they require specialised tools and skills to implement, making their conversion into modern science a challenge. Another critical factor is these methods' cultural and spiritual significance in people's lives, as some are considered ancestral heritage that can not be modified or tampered with.

An example is the medical use of the “Quinine tree”, as it is known by the locals in most parts of Cameroon to be effective in treating Malaria. The reason that the methods used for preparing and consuming this tree bark are not systematic or standardised is by no means the absence of proper tools or skills (human and material) to extract, analyse and identify its active components. The lack of such methods is due to the community’s belief that this “medicine” is more effective in its “raw state” and would be made less effective if transformed into some “white tablets” by scientists or “westerners”.

Considering all these factors, Mboalab Biotech in Cameroon specifically recruits the local populations and community-based researchers. Community-based researchers are non-academic or certified researchers and local stakeholders who make health decisions for the community, gather data by sharing social and cultural experiences, and consider the diversity of their communities' views and beliefs. This is done through workshops, including practical hackathons and critical-making sessions together with academic scientists of Mboalab. These ideas are fitted into the laboratory and modern science context through processes like verification, validation, and testing for robustness led by academic scientists. By doing so, we ensure that the voices of the underrepresented can be heard and better understood by institutional actors, such as government authorities. Applying these processes, local concerns are easily converted into scientific and modern methods that can be deployed within the communities without disregarding anyone’s beliefs or cultural heritage. This approach also allows for togetherness and oneness between the academia or certified scientists and the locals whose methods are based on observation but who have to be equally engaged in decision-making processes on science policies, e.g. concerning local health situations, to ensure a democratic approach in which everyone has a say. This equal engagement creates a feeling of voice and matter, resulting in trust and active engagement from the community members.


After several such workshops and experience-sharing seminars, it was realised that the local communities with no essential scientific background or skills were more ready to share their experiences and learn better amongst themselves and “community researchers”. Community researchers are people from the communities who have acquired formal education but have not attained certifications nor possess the required skills and equipment to practise in formal institutions or carry out independent research. The local communities see and understand them often since they share the same heritage and culture. These local stakeholders are now considered intermediaries, whereas academic scientists who come into the communities are perceived as “strangers”, and people are reluctant to share their ancient knowledge and local protocols.

It is interesting to find out that even though most of these local protocols are carried out as routine with no significant scientific reason, they hold a substantial value in the lives of the populations. With the help of intermediaries and the use of these local protocols and essential knowledge and terms, scientific methods can be made more applicable in the local context or by the locals, and a highly decentralised knowledge-learning and sharing framework can be employed not discriminate but is inclusive.

The Ownership of Science

“We should acknowledge the constant interaction of science and ‘living hood’. We are taking care of others, enacting rituals, and making remedies. Is Citizen Social Science about bringing science back to its original ‘owners’? Do we have to admit that science is social and has always been? An example is traditional medicine, which was open source before being compromised by the industries.” Deriving question → What role should/can Citizen Social Science play in bringing science back to its ‘original owners’?

The Ownership of Science

Diversifying the ownership of science – lessons from our 3rd community hangout


Picture credits: Takiwasi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Kersti Ruth Wissenbach, June 2022

On May 19, 2022, GIG hosted the first out of five hangouts addressing pressing issues to enable inclusive, bottom-up Citizen Social Science practices in the most diverse contexts. The topics have been identified throughout a series of conversation formats with makers, citizen [social] scientists and activists worldwide. As we are heading towards a co-created publication aiming to capture the critical understanding of inclusive Citizen Social Science from a gloCal perspective, these hangouts also provide a space for questions and discussion around one of the topics each month.

This time we discussed the Ownership of Science with an inspiring group of participants from Kenya, Cameroon, Singapore, Brazil, and Spain. We wanted to investigate what role Citizen Social Science can or should play in bringing Science back to its "original owners".

The lively discussion departed from the observation that science is commonly perceived as a product of European academia. European thought, however, constitutes a massive gap in traditional knowledge. One fundamental difference is the approach to knowledge creation and processing. Participants from African and SEA contexts pointed out that the European academic system is driven mainly by competition. In contrast, other knowledge forms, science in other contexts, are not based on the comparison, resulting in different cultures of science.

Nonetheless, traditional approaches are usually compared with Western approaches. In SEA, e.g., with an upheld reference to the latter as ´real science´, we see that the validation of science relates to a dominating culture of practice rather than the roots of specific knowledge and the original practices thereof. Observations from Kenya and surrounding African countries stressed that these dynamics maintain the colonisation of science, which is still enforced in academic institutions. This includes decisions on what is funded, the remaining advantage to publishing in western journals to be accepted, and your research to be validated.

Another aspect of this validation culture, driven by comparison, relates to people´s publishing records. Measuring how often and where one is published reinforces the biased recognition of which methods are accepted. Change is underway as open access journals and alternative archives have entered the scenery, opening the competitive fortress of academic publishing races to ´count as a scientist. However, language, writing styles, accessibility of findings for those who should benefit on the ground, and awareness about and feeling of agency to contribute remain significant exclusion factors. Open-access journals resolve the remaining European idea of what is considered science alone.

Driving conversations gradually include more diverse voices, as seen in Open Science or Citizen Social Science contexts. However, fundamental questions concerning power dynamics should not happen in isolation but in different environments driven by academic and non-academic scientific communities. But here we run into the dilemma of recognising all these other actors as actual scientists to have an eye-level discourse.

Participants shared their experiences of increased civic involvement to increase inclusion in science. For instance, in Singapore, participatory design approaches to developing public spaces are increasingly becoming standard practice, seeking to make the outcomes more relevant to the people it intends to serve. Train stations have route planning signs and locality maps next to each station, which is currently being redesigned, including residents of the neighbourhoods. Whilst usually, such redesigns would be done by highly paid professionals, this process has now been opened up and co-designed. As a result, signs now mark the entry sides of each building, making things much easier for people in wheelchairs, for example. These practices are new to the Southeast Asian context. However, these practices are consultation based thus do not tackle the gaps mentioned above when it comes to shifting the ownership of science.

If we want to address the ownership of science and bring it back to its origins, we need to understand how to define science. If we see science as access to knowledge and understanding, we can better comprehend to whom science belongs. As expertise should not be tied down to particular groups, to the popular understanding of scientists, tearing down restrictions to access becomes a much more complex endeavour. Open access journals and involving citizens in research directly impacting their living environments can be seen as a first step, yet it instead invites in than shifting ownership. Finding ways to bring science back to its original owners becomes more manageable if we understand better why we know what we know and the origins of what we call science. The first enables us to seek evidence or explanations of what we observe around us, our living experiences, etc. The latter gives us an understanding of how things have been done before to explain the past to everything that happens.

For instance, visitors to Mboa lab in Cameroon who do not have science backgrounds show immense interest in their work in the lab. Understanding specific processes departs even from explaining the instruments used in the lab, such as light microscopes and how they work. Opening up barriers to scientific environments for direct civic learning constitutes one precondition to breaking with historically created power dynamics, thus, opening up science to more actors and gradually shifting ownership.

One approach is, therefore, the opening up of science, whilst another is to critically address the roots of knowledge and scientific practices to give recognition back to the original owners of these scientific practices and knowledge. But our conversation revealed various accounts of quite the contrary. Kenya has seen an active campaign against traditional medicine, arguing that being unable to predict precise doses causes dangers. The same observations came from Brazil, where authorities advised people not to take traditional medicine. Undoubtedly, the approaches to communicating about traditional medicine are different. For example, leaves on the street markets are sold with information on what they are for rather than their names. Adding information that specifies ways and doses of consumption would be a further step. In that sense, everything we do is science, but it surfaces once we have, or communicate, the method to systematize it. Without systemization, consumption can be harmful. A constructive approach, rather than forbidding, would be to collaborate with traditional practitioner communities to apply methods that specify the right ways and doses of consumption and enable the communities to sell their remedies in other markets.

If we perceive the systematization of practices as science, one driving question would be how we get people engaged in systematizing their practices. How do we adapt existing methods to what is made by local people and to local practices, rituals, and protocols? Engaging the owners of practices into systematization can also be seen as limiting or intruding ownership, as it somewhat presumes that people would want to systemize or that there is no other form of systematization in place that, yet again, does not suit the western idea of systematization. Overall, we need to come to terms with the fact that methodology also exists behind traditional practices, as to validation, robustness etc., as we can be sure that local communities would discontinue certain practices, such as the use of natural and traditional remedies, if they would not prove to be effective.

So what do all these observations leave us with? What role can or should Citizen Social Science play in bringing Science back to its "original owners"?

A critical question is if opening up science does have to mean diversifying, or let´s say re-diversifying, rather than seeking to broaden engagement within an existing scientific culture. We need to radically think beyond existing structures and imagine a future concept of science that consists of very different cultures of science, methodological schools, institutional and non-institutional conglomerates, and hybrids. This means we must come to terms with the methodology behind traditional practices such as validation, robustness, etc. We could be sure that local communities would discontinue certain practices, such as conventional remedies, if they were ineffective.

Perhaps  some crucial contributions *Citizen *Social Science can make are:

Ideally, this would mean getting into a conversation that respects the local methodologies and those for the specific scientific process. Other methodological perspectives that could benefit specific purposes can be suggested but only enacted if invited. It would be about the systematisation of practices reaching places it has not reached before without appropriating them, such as identifying doses of certain traditional herbs. Doing so is about aggregating the value of different forms of already existing science, including those practices that are not recognised by western frameworks of science.

Ownership should perhaps never become a practice of opening up a dominating western conceptualisation of science and adapting traditional practices to the existing model but embrace all different framings of science and leave it to the owners as to how they wish to share and open up. 

Advocating for the conditions to enable opening up on all these different scientific communities would become sth to strive for. Building on diversity can be seen as enforcing resilience! If we recognize the responsible individuals and communities, embracing their methodologies, languages, knowledge-sharing formats, etc., ownership can be claimed to have been established.

*Citizen *Social Science can become a driver to respect those practices and perhaps play an active role in supporting the creation and use of facilitating infrastructures, such as archiving, translations, a critical engagement with what participation and power mean in each collaborative process, and how to rigorously push for equal ownership opportunities for actors from diverse cultures of science in funding and programming schemes.

The Ownership of Science

Data generation as citizen science // A favela agenda to opening science

Gilberto Vieira [1]