On May 3rd and 4th, members of the T6 research team attended the European Science Engagement Conference 2023, held at Eurac Research Headquarters in Bolzano (Italy). The conference welcomed scholars, researchers, policy-makers, and communities interested in the identification of new pathways to address the many complex challenges of our times. 

Since we live in an interconnected ecosystem, there is the need to co-develop new partnerships, skills, and methodologies through the involvement of citizens and all relevant stakeholders. Therefore, T6 researchers chaired a panel aimed at stimulating the discussion on the link between Citizen Science (CS) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The panel focused on the main challenges and the key activities in empowering stakeholder dialogue for effective policy making. This research question holds significant importance within IMPETUS, a Horizon Europe funded project in which T6 is a partner.  

Recent studies suggest that, even though CS has enormous potential to contribute to the SDGs, it is a method that is currently underused (Fraisl et al. 2020). There are many challenges indeed that need to be addressed:

  1. difference in scale between CS initiatives and SDG indicators;
  2. lack of awareness and understanding among citizens;
  3. need to dialogue with policy-makers and National Statistical Offices (NSOs).

CS initiatives should take into account all these aspects to define the way in which they can contribute to the SDGs by effectively supporting policy-making. 

Starting from this point, a world café session was held at the European Science Engagement Conference 2023. This activity consisted of an open discussion among participants to co-designing and streamlining the stakeholder engagement process. In particular, two groups were formed that debated alternately on two different questions: (1) “How to make SDGs relevant to CS projects, science educators and/or science communicators?”; (2) “How to make SDGs relevant to policy-makers?”Both the groups provided highly interesting feedback, expanding the actual discussion on SDGs, citizen engagement, and policy-making.

For what concerns the first question, several challenges have been identified in line with those defined in the literature. Specifically, a “disconnection” between SDGs and citizens was highlighted by most of the participants. Some of the SDGs are considered too broad to be understood, and the employed terminology does not support their understanding. Thus, there is the extreme need of communicating the urgency that is behind the SDGs, incorporating their “symbols” in our daily life activities. People should be able to see that SDG targets and indicators are close to what they do, and related to something they can know how to face.

Regarding the second question, other insightful comments were made. Firstly, there is a possible issue of inconsistency among data across countries, and for this reason policy-makers need to re-adapt the SDG Framework based on data availability. Secondly, many policy actors may not know the SDGs in a detailed way, i.e., how they are defined and measured. Finally, collaboration between different governmental levels needs to be ensured to avoid misaligned priorities. Thus, it became evident that there is the necessity of presenting a flexible framework to policy-makers. This framework should possibly be designed with a tailored bottom-up approach that places the dialogue with citizens at the core of their activities, and provides it with the right recognition, by leveraging on the increased quality of life that derives from the participation in CS projects. 

In conclusion, there is still much work to be done in this regard. Despite the numerous difficulties and challenges, we have the opportunity to start co-designing it all together.

Fraisl, D., Campbell, J., See, L., Wehn, U., Wardlaw, J., Gold, M., Moorthy, I., Arias, R., Piera, J., Oliver, J.L., Masó, J. (2020). Mapping citizen science contributions to the UN sustainable development goals. Sustainability Science, 15: 1735-1751, DOI https://doi.org/10.1007/s11625-020-00833-7.

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