Civic monitoring as a proactive form of public engagement

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Submitted by Anna Berti Suman on

Civic monitoring as a proactive form of public engagement

The Sensing for Justice (SensJus) project researches the potential of grassroots-driven environmental monitoring, i.e. Citizen Sensing, as a source of evidence in environmental justice litigation, and as a tool for environmental mediation in extra-judicial setting.

In 2019, a ground-breaking case was adjudicated in Texas, U.S., where fishers managed to prove corporate wrongdoings based on citizen-gathered evidence (CGE). This case inspired us to search for similar cases also in the EU, where communities affected by corporate injustices can claim them in court based on CGE. The Sensing for Justice (SENSJUS) project was launched to research the potential of grassroots-driven environmental monitoring as a source of evidence. The three key aims of the projects were:

  • First, to explore what is the potential of introducing CGE in environmental litigation across EU courts. We also aimed to identify which barriers need to be removed for CGE to enter the court arena. 
  • Second, we investigated whether CGE could also facilitate alternative dispute resolution, promoting environmental mediation and avoiding conflict escalation. 
  • Third, we assessed how the use of CGE could be legitimized on the basis of existing and new rights, for example on the basis of the right of every human to contribute to the formation of environmental evidence. This recognition would foster a sense of civic responsibility and promote more widespread environmental literacy.

Our research addressed an urgent need for multi- and interdisciplinary research to understand emerging possibilities of the practice at a legal and judicial level. The project combined review of cases from secondary sources with ethnography (for example, on several sites of inquiry such as in a study on oil contamination and another study on river pollution), and aimed at engaging interested communities, using experimental research and communication methods and making all resources produced openly accessible. The project’s activities have been performed together with the communities and practitioners that are directly involved in collecting CGE, allowing their questions, imaginaries and stakes to shape our approaches, for example through visual and story-telling approaches (like in the graphic novel “Story of a civic sentinel” and in the theatrical performance “Terramara”).

SensJus expanded existing knowledge on citizen science and enacted change in the study of civic monitoring and broader citizen science, both from a substantial point of view (see a summary of key results in a policy brief) and from the methodological angle, by embracing participatory art-based research.  Our activities and results benefitted especially very local, small-scale and low-budget civic monitoring initiatives. They found in our work usable tools, advice and guidance, but also visibility when such initiatives are selected as case studies. Furthermore, people that are not yet engaged in an environmental monitoring initiative, are inspired to take responsibility for nature and become new sentinels, building on our results and accessible learning materials.

Interested to read more about the SENSJUS project?

About the Author
Anna Berti Suman is Research Fellow at Luiss School of Law, Rome, within ‘LabGov - the Laboratory for the Governance of the City as a Commons’, with the mission to explore the law as an enabling tool for accelerating responses to climate change, biodiversity loss and water scarcity.