Lisbon citizens are quite aware of urban species. Thus, we engaged with citizens on more complex aspects of biodiversity: its importance for how nature provides benefits to humans (ecosystem services) and how humans experience biodiversity, in two parallel activities. On one side, we consulted teachers on the topics of biodiversity and sustainability in school curricula and activities in urban green areas of Lisbon. On the other side, we engaged citizens on urban biodiversity and other aspects beyond species richness, namely how ecosystems benefit human health and wellbeing as well as urban sustainability.
When and Where
Teachers from primary to secondary schools (1st to 12th grades), teaching in public and private schools located in the municipality of Lisbon.
As far as the second stream of work is concerned, a series of activities were implemented: a world cafe (to collect citizens' perspectives on biodiversity), followed by an open conference where the perspectives collected were addressed through talks. Participants were able to ask questions, and afterwards a citizen science app to engage citizens in exploring ecosystem services was tested. The choice of the questions for the world café was made together with Bibliotecas de Lisboa, to ensure that topics of sustainability and biodiversity were addressed in an accessible way. Afterwards, a joint analysis of citizens' responses allowed us to select some topics to further explore and addressed during the talks. Users made a test on their green spaces and then provided feedback, whether by directly interacting online or by using an online survey.
The remaining citizens, about 90 citizens joined the process. It was clear from the interactions had during the world-cafe, and especially during the evaluation of the app, that citizens quickly become aware that biodiversity is more than species richness and that habitat structure is a key characteristic. This, however, only emerged during our interactions, not from the isolated use of the citizen science app. After the world cafe and the workshop the Bibliotecas de Lisboa launched a participatory project call, aimed at producing furniture pieces for the future Biblioteca da Estrela, inspired and/or able to promote sustainability in the park.
For the second activity, one important lesson learnt concerns the focus of the activity. Initially aimed at making citizens aware of the importance of habitat structure to the provision of ecosystem services, we soon realized that this message was not clear, with groups from the world cafe choosing to focus, instead, on issues on which citizens related with more (e.g. garbage, pollution, trees). We, then, moved the focus to include these concerns under the framework of sustainability, which ended up becoming the general topic of the following workshop.
The citizen science app aimed at providing citizens with the knowledge to engage with the more complex concept of habitat structure and ecosystem services. Another important lesson learned was one related to the use of such citizen science application. Firstly, all citizens that used the app after our explanations were entirely capable of understanding its use and quantifying habitat structure using the app interface, which was a simplified version of sampling done during ecological research. This was especially rewarding for the team that developed the app. However, all citizens also reported that they missed a way of relating more closely to the results. This was because the app only returned to its user a “thank you” and a map of the sampled locations. We acknowledge the need to implement a feature in the app that would return some interpretation of the results, making the process more relatable to the user. However, the scientific approaches that connect habitat structure to ecosystem services are an ongoing field of scientific work, and thus that feature will only be possible to implement in the future. We consider that the app can surely be used as part of future citizen science projects. However, it should either focus on citizens that already value science or be used with permanent support from scientists.
Partnering with Lisbon Libraries was a key added value to the second activity. The libraries' connections with local communities allow us to reach social groups normally not easily involved in processes led by the university.
For citizens involved in the second activity, we learned that engaging with citizens requires focusing first on a relatable topic: notions of ecosystem services and habitat structure are not easily relatable and are, indeed, complex concepts, which require an interpretation of reality which was not immediately accessible. Moreover, we learned that while app-based citizen science is easily understandable after receiving guidance, the inability to make the app results more understandable to a non-expert was a major obstacle to meaningful engagement with the general public. Regarding partnering with Lisbon Libraries, a lesson learned was that this partnership was considered very positive and to be further pursued by both partners.
ii.) when the leading organization of the citizen engagement project is the university, another partner, with strong roots in the community (e.g. Lisbon Libraries), should be involved;
iii) complex topics (e.g. ecosystem services) require progressive disclosure of information to become an object of engagement.