Human-Computer Interaction Institute
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University


Citizen Sciences Publics: Nurturing Science Practice
Outside of Prodfessional Settings through HCI and Design

Stacey Kuznetsov

August 2014

Ph.D. Thesis


Keywords: NA

Citizen science broadly refers to the tools, methods, and practices by which people participate in science outside of professional settings. Over the past few decades, breakthroughs in DIY (do it yourself) methods, low-cost technologies, and social media platforms have given rise to many citizen science communities, engaging in science practice in new and often unexpected ways. These range from collecting and analyzing environmental data with off-the-shelf sensors, to communicating professional research to policy makers or members of the general public, or experimenting with biology concepts in art studios, garages, and hackspaces.

My dissertation examines citizen science initiatives as collective efforts to construct knowledge and address issues. I frame this space in terms of publics–groups of people who come together around shared concerns and work towards changing the status quo. In the context of citizen science, these concerns may revolve around some of the greatest challenges of our lives: healthcare, environmental pollution , food production, climate change, or the mechanisms by which professional science operates. Citizen science efforts impact these issues, whether by legitimizing new forms of science making, influencing health and environmental policy, shifting public opinion, or transforming professional science agendas.

I present four areas where Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and design can productively engage with citizen science publics. In short, these are: 1) expressing matters of concern; 2) gathering local and expert knowledge; 3) making hybrid systems; and 4) impacting science practice in and out of professional settings. I contribute to HCI by presenting functional systems, among them place-based sensors and DIY platforms for expressing concerns, and hybrid sensing systems that incorporate organic, analog, and digital materials. More broadly, I draw on ethnographically-oriented fieldwork and methods from critical making and speculative and reflective design to examine the mechanisms by which citizen science publics operate. By understanding the conditions@ndash;technological and social–that expand science practice beyond professional settings, I offer touchpoints where HCI and design research can be applied to enable grassroots innovation to occur.

189 pages

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