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Civil society

Harnessing the power of citizen science to climate action

Global citizens join forces to transform public spaces into dynamic arenas for citizen-led sustainable solutions.

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Imagine waking up to the sound of heavy rain pounding against your window. You turn on the news to hear about another flood wreaking havoc on nearby communities. Only this time it's your own neighbors that are affected. As you glance out the window, you see the waters creeping closer to your doorstep, a stark reminder of the fragility of your safety and the vulnerability of your community.

It’s a scenario that’s becoming all too familiar as climate-related hazards like flooding, heatwaves, and storms become more frequent and severe. 

But how do these hazards impact our daily lives, and what can we do about them?

In the sweltering heat of a summer's day, amidst the gridlocked streets and the haze of exhaust fumes, the reality of climate change hits home. It's a problem that demands urgent action, yet many feel powerless and overwhelmed by the scale of the problem.  

Fortunately, at this critical point in time, there are climate change projects out there that not only provide guidance but also inspire us to become active agents of change.
Enter I-CHANGE, an innovation action project launched in November 2021 with a bold mission: to demonstrate that citizen science initiatives can drive behavioral change among individuals. 

Over its 3.5-year lifespan, I-CHANGE aims to empower citizens to become active participants in combating climate change by fostering a deeper understanding of its impacts and promoting sustainable behaviors.

For I-CHANGE, the world is a large living laboratory

Many people think major breakthroughs in science only happen within the four walls of prestigious university laboratories. But that’s increasingly not the case. Sure, some do occur in labs, but another, equally significant, part takes place in the wider world—and you can be part of it. 

It’s all about seeing the world as a vast laboratory, teeming with opportunities for scientific exploration and innovation. In this dynamic landscape, Living Labs emerge as crucial hubs of experimentation, uniting researchers, citizens, businesses, and policymakers to test ideas in real-world settings.

Living labs are spaces where researchers, citizens, private companies and institutions collaboratively explore ideas and test active participatory science as a mechanism to solve social challenges related to climate change, pollution and health. I-CHANGE PROJECT

The I-CHANGE project has put this idea into practice in six cities in Europe, one in Israel and one in Africa, addressing the different challenges posed by climate change in each area:

Netherlands (Amsterdam)

Researches climate change effects indoors to mitigate health risks during heatwaves in urban areas.

Italy (Bologna)

Collects environmental data, trains, and fosters informed governance for disaster prevention, particularly floods and landslides.

Italy (Genoa)

Collects environmental data, trains, and fosters informed governance for disaster prevention, particularly floods and landslides.

Israel (Jerusalem)

Focuses on resilience strategies to extreme weather events, leveraging unique climate characteristics like high rainfall and solar insolation.

Spain (Barcelona)

Seeks adaptive solutions for hot summers and heavy rainfalls, vulnerable to flash floods due to climate change.

Ireland (Dublin)

University collaborates with schools to promote active travel, using traffic and air quality monitoring for sustainable solutions.

Belgium (Hasselt)

Develops eco-friendly mobility solutions to address transportation challenges and reduce emissions in dispersed urban areas.

Burkina Faso (Ouagadougou)

Addresses waste management issues, insufficient collection, recycling, and flood risks to promote sustainable urban agriculture and green spaces.

By democratizing access to environmental data, I-CHANGE breaks down barriers and empowers individuals from all walks of life to take meaningful action.

Image Credite: I-CHANGE project

1+1 = more than 2: The collective power of citizen science

The I-CHANGE project has made significant strides in empowering citizens to participate in citizen science initiatives, with over 850 individuals attending its citizen science activities to date

Through these actions, both students and adults have been engaged to evaluate the social impacts, particularly the shifts in lifestyle towards sustainability, within the I-CHANGE Living Labs. The project's primary objective has been to gauge the influence of involved individuals in citizen science activities as catalysts for authentic transitions to sustainable behaviors.

These campaigns not only contribute valuable data for research but also foster a sense of community and shared purpose. With upcoming initiatives like a climate-focused board game and an “avoided footprint” app, there are countless opportunities for individuals to engage in the fight against climate change—at home, at work, and in their communities.

Addressing environmental challenges

But knowledge alone isn't enough–we also need to process and know how to use information. In a world brimming with data, it's crucial to build platforms that help the public understand how their contribution to science translates into tangible tools to take charge of the matter.

That's precisely what "Citizen 4 Science" offers. It’s a dashboard that serves as a guide accessible to anyone, helping make sense of the data collected by citizen scientists.

Each theme in the dashboard reflects the issues affecting every community in the various Living Labs of I-CHANGE. How can we reduce pollution near schools? What can we do to shield ourselves from heat waves? How can we identify approaching storms and ensure the safety of our loved ones?

But not everything has to be so serious when it comes to driving change. Having fun with friends and family is another way to learn, which is why the "Citizen 4 Science" platform is developing a board game. Its main aim is "to collaboratively design a strategy for lowering temperatures and effectively reducing the risk of hazards.” Along the way, players can pool resources for climate change adaptation measures they collectively endorse.

As we march towards a future shaped by the climate emergency, we need to remember that each small step, each experiment conducted in our daily lives, brings us closer to creating a more sustainable and resilient world for generations ahead

Together, as citizen scientists, we wield the power to reshape our local and global landscapes to confront the environmental challenges ahead. And it's in our collaborative efforts, spanning from everyday individuals to decision-makers, authorities, and academia, where true transformation can flourish.

  I-CHANGE is implemented by 16 organisations from 12 countries (Belgium, Burkina Faso, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, Ireland, Israel, Spain, Slovakia, The Netherlands and the United Kingdom), presenting a mixture of universities and research centres, small and medium enterprises, a think tank as well as an international body.    

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Author: Gabriela Aceitón Cortés

Author: Gabriela Aceitón Cortés

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Social communicator specialized in science and environmental journalism, I am motivated to disseminate knowledge generated in research projects to society.

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