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How inclusive is citizen science in India?

The upcoming CitSci India conference will address concerns over diversity, inclusion in citizen science initiatives and data ownership

People gather for bird watching in Bengaluru. 
People gather for bird watching in Bengaluru.  (Ravi Viswanathan/ citsci-india.org)

Come Monday, environmental enthusiasts, researchers and naturalists across the country will gather to discuss the various aspects of citizen science in India. Following the overwhelming participation last year, the second edition of the four day online conference will take place between Sept 13 and 16. 

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Considering how citizen science has gained immense momentum in the last few years, the conference will not only create a platform for citizen scientists and researchers to share their knowledge but also talk about key concerns while democratizing the process gather environmental and ecological data. 

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Organized by the Biodiversity Collective, a network of institutions and individuals promoting biodiversity science and conservation in India, the conference will showcase to various citizen science projects taking place across the country. This year, however, the key talks will lean towards enabling diversity and inclusion, and ownership and equity in citizen science data. 

Not taking these concerns, which came up during conversation with participants, two working groups, comprising people from different backgrounds including researchers, were formed to work on them, in April this year. While one group will present the draft toolkit for citizen science data – basically, focusing on maintaining integrity of the data -, the other will put forth draft white paper on diversity and inclusion in citizen science in the country. 

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“Since these are still in draft stage, the groups will present their thoughts and, in turn, take into account participants’ feedback in the final recommendations,” said Prof Shannon Olsson, who is one of the organizing committee members and chemical ecologist at National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS). 

This year’s keynote speakers are veteran ecologist Madhav Gadgil, who will talk about engaging people in documenting and managing biodiversity. Lisa Ramussen, professor of philosophy and graduate director at University of North Carolina, will touch upon considering ethical issues in citizen science. Keeping with the inclusion theme, the other two speakers are citizen scientists – Barefoot Ecologists comprising a group of women villagers living inside Mudumalai and Sathyamangalam tiger reserve, and teachers and students who are part of SeasonWatch that looks at impact of seasons on plants and trees – who will share their experiences. 

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Among the projects, the diversity can be noticed. Although majority of the projects focused on birds and insects, Dr Olssen noted that few initiatives are looking at marine organisms and plants as well. “That’s great to see as these are often overlooked or less studied even otherwise. I believe, the conference will provide a stimulating environment as it’s open to everyone regardless of age, region,” she said. 

 

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