I will be defending my thesis on Monday. In preparation for this I had a mock viva (which seems an appropriate name given how mocked I came out feeling!). The lengthiest and most bruising discussion we had concerned the methodological approach I used. How do you assess the quality of an Action Research project? On what basis would you contend that the Action Research approach you performed was effective? I am now in the postdoctoral world of citizen science and find myself asking similar questions. What defines the success of a citizen science project?
For my doctoral research, I had the privilege to engage with an organisation for such a long time and follow their journey. It was important to me throughout that I did not abuse this privilege and that all parties benefited from the collaboration at all times. Practically, I did this by reflecting on the research questions at regular intervals, obtaining the perspective and permission of all parties before performing any study, and interviewing both colleagues and customers to elicit their opinions, what they had learned, what they felt the legacy of my studies would be (which of course time is only beginning to tell). Ultimately, the organisation benefited from an increased visibility of usability work, empowerment of their employees and customers and previously unimaginable linkages between separate teams. In addition, the university can celebrate numerous publications and connections that the collaboration created, not to mention how it furthered my own career and professional development.
Compared with Action Research, these lines are slightly more blurred within citizen science projects because participation is voluntary. However loosely written, my doctoral research had contractual, legal foundations. Citizen Science projects take similar, but looser, approaches and, for example, provide participants with updates on the project, generate volumes of (arguably) scientifically interesting data, whilst also educating (often all) stakeholders in the project on the issue at hand. I am excited by the potential of the iMars project and look forward to contributing to its success, however its definition evolves.