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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.