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Citizen Science opportunities in Slovakia

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The growth of citizen science (CS) is not uniform, even within Europe. While the CS concept is thriving in Western Europe, it is only starting to be recognized in post-socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. A comparison of Slovakia with its neighboring countries, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine (as neighboring post-socialist European countries) and Austria (as a nearby example of good practice regarding CS), shows some possible explanations of the lack of awareness of CS in Slovakia. Slovakia, with 5.5 million inhabitants, puts only 0.9 of its GDP into research and development expenditures (1), which is the lowest amount among neighboring countries that are in the EU (Poland 1.4 GDP, Hungary 1.6 GDP, the Czech Republic 2.0 GDP and Austria 3.2 GDP).  

Citizen science in Slovakia also has no representation in university curricula and rarely appears in the media. Although most CS projects deal with biology and the environment, only some of them refer to the term CS (mostly those participating in international cooperation). Furthermore, there is little awareness of CS in the local academic environment and the broader public. Everything mentioned above may be caused by a shorter existence of civil society, low support for science in general, lack of openness, and the language barrier (further research is needed). 

In the Web of Science, there are only 13 publications on citizen science topic co-authored by Slovak scientists (2). This illustrates low awareness of citizen science in the Slovak scholarly community compared to neighboring or other EU countries. However, scientific databases are not the only place where people can look for CS. For example, an Internet search reveals a relatively low number of results on citizen science (občianska veda) in the Slovak language (3).

In the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information, we develop activities in the field, such as awareness-raising and informative activities. We cooperate with the CS projects in Slovakia; talk about CS at local conferences and conferences abroad (e.g., Open Science Conference 2022, IATUL Annual Conference Miami 2022); speak on the topic with scientists and prepare webinars on CS with representatives of the Slovak projects (4).

We also created a course called "Začnime si s občianskou vedou" (Let's start with citizen science) on the eu-citizen.science platform (5) because we felt the need to develop an introductory course to spread the main ideas of CS in the Slovak language; there is a lot of material on CS in dominant European languages, but a minimum in Slovak. The training module introduces the concept of CS and its advantages for the scientific community and the public. At the same time, it provides participants with the basic terminology and insight into the importance of the connection between the scientific community and active citizens. We interviewed the representatives of 12 projects (6) from various disciplines:

  1. Current Images of Socialism – a project with elements of reflection and family history, engaging students (the Institute of Ethnology and Social Anthropology at the Slovak Academy of Sciences)
  2. City Nature Challenge Bratislava - local implementation of a global event organized by the Natural History Museum Los Angeles County and the California Academy of Sciences (the NGO "Stromosvet")
  3. "Hurá von s Pl@ntNetom" – an online course for teachers using Pl@ntnet, a mobile application for plant recognition (the NGO "Živica")
  4. Eco-educational program "Bocian" - White Stork (the School of Nature Protection in Varín)
  5. Drought monitoring (the Slovak Hydrometeorological Institute)
  6. Visitor - mapping non-native species with a mobile application (the Plant Science and Biodiversity Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences)
  7. Beagle - phenological observation with primary and secondary school students (the Slovak Environment Agency)
  8. The northernmost occurrence of the Aphid species Aphis nerii (the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Comenius University)
  9. School program "Enviróza" – mapping of environmental burden (the Slovak Environment Agency)
  10. The occurrence of the aesculapian snake in Bratislava (the Faculty of Natural Science at Comenius University).
  11. Winter waterbird census (the Slovak Ornithological Society - BirdLife Slovakia)
  12. Globe at night - light pollution (the Slovak Astronomical Society at the Slovak Academy of Sciences) 


Although the web pages of particular projects can be found, there is no national platform that would provide a common venue and help to increase the findability of citizen science projects in Slovakia. Big international projects or users with advanced English can benefit from the international platforms such as Scistarter, Zooniverse or eu-citizen.science, but smaller local projects in local languages can be hidden there. Citizen scientists, beginners, or stakeholders such as young students or senior citizens need the information about CS in their local language. Furthermore, there is no open education in a Slovak language for everyone interested in the topic and facilitation of networking between the participants, as can be seen in neighboring countries: Austria (citizen-science.at), the Czech Republic (citizenscience.cz), or recently in Hungary (jarokelokutato.hu). Therefore, as a next step, we propose creating a national CS platform as a venue for education and networking where all potential CS stakeholders will be able to find general information and discover the projects that are most relevant for them to join. The tasks of the National Open Science Strategy 2021-2028 include ensuring the visibility and recognition of the results of scientific and technical projects of citizen science in society; promoting the concept of citizen science by developing educational materials; engaging students in citizen science projects; building the network of cooperation and support for Slovak citizen science projects (7). 

Sources:

(1) OECD (2020): Gross domestic spending on R&D.

(2) Data gathered from Web of Science (June 2022)

(3) 2350 search results - data gathered from Google (June 2022)

(4) CS webinars (available in the Slovak language)

(5) Course Začnime si s občianskou vedou (Let's start with citizen science)

(6) CS projects in Slovakia (available in Slovak language)

(7) National Open Science Strategy 2021-2028


Acknowledgment:

The development of the course "Začnime si s občianskou vedou" was supported by a cascading grant from University College London (European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no. 824580).

Activities of the Open Science Support Department at the Slovak Centre of Scientific and Technical Information are supported by the NISPEZ IV (313011I407) project, European Regional Development Fund, Operational Programme Integrated Infrastructure.

This blog was written in cooperation with Zuzana Stožická and Gabriela Fišová.

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11 Aug 2022

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