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Authors: Patricia Canto-Farachala, David Borgström, Alexandra Czeglédi, Philipp Hummer, Cathrine Marie Skovbo Winther & Nagore Valle

Handbook of Youth Social Citizen Science (Borgström, D., Canto-Farachala, P., Hagen, A. L., Norvoll, R., Rådmark, L. & Lorenzen, S.B. (Eds.). (2024). Handbook of Youth Citizen Social Science. Working with Young People and the Local Community for Social Change. Zenodo.

A Safe Space for Meaningful Dialogue

Creating the right conditions – both physically and socially – was identified as a communicative key to success by both researchers and youth.


The Physical Space – The Foundation for Dialogue

The first step is to find a physical space to meet in, preferably somewhere the young citizen social scientists know and feel comfortable. If possible, let the young people choose the location for the first few meetings. Once social barriers start coming down, you can be more creative in how, when and where you meet. Try to find natural learning environments like schools or universities, where everyone is mentally primed to learn and share knowledge from the get-go.


Building Trust and Rapport

A second step is to develop trust and rapport within the project group, in the You-Count case, between the young citizen social scientists and the academic researchers. Developing trust with youth requires a nuanced approach to dialogue and communication. Without it, meaningful co-creation is impossible. Firstly, it is crucial to listen actively, valuing the youths’ perspectives and creating a space in which their voices are heard and respected. Secondly, it is important to encourage open and honest discussions, validating young people’s experiences, ideas, and concerns. Thirdly, work on fostering transparent communication by explaining decisions, processes, and objectives clearly, ensuring the young co-researchers feel included and informed. Flexibility is key here, researchers must be willing to adapt plans based on the young co-researchers’ input, showing that youths’ contributions genuinely influence decision-making and outcomes.


Ditch the Lingo!

Another important thing for researchers to keep in mind is to ditch the lingo! Being part of a research project can be a daunting experience for citizens, especially when they are a young person, and it is easy to become overwhelmed by scientific terms and concepts. Using informal and even personal language is essential to enable understanding and active participation. By adapting their language and carrying themselves in an informal way, researchers help in creating an inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable participating.


Be Open to Different Ways of Doing Things

Engaging in meaningful dialogic communication means that all participants must step out of their comfort zone: young citizen scientists learn how to engage in scientific inquiry and researchers adapt to the youths’ lives and ways of doing. Seeking inspiration from participatory design processes is essential to open up new perspectives and to reach tacit and latent knowledge. Here are some different ways of engaging in dialogue with young people as citizen social scientists during the research process.


Open Formats and Posters for Data Collections

When doing data collecting through, for example, participatory observations, recording sessions or taking field notes in a book is not necessarily the best way to proceed, because young people can feel watched or pushed to say things they believe is what researchers want to hear. Instead it can bring positive notions to work with open formats where the youths’ words are noted onto a big piece of paper, so they can see that their thoughts are recognized.
Furthermore, the open formats create a tangible object that the youths can build upon, helping them remember earlier conversations or interactions.


Stimulating reflection – using the local environment as a dialogue tool

When working with youth it can be an advantage to invite them out into the local neighbourhood and talk about the challenges in the places where they experience them. Especially in educational settings where youth are often used to being inside of the classroom. When we facilitate a setting where youths can investigate the local environment, and are able to have a dialogue around their experiences, it has the potential to stimulate reflection and create new conversations about the area. A lot of the cases have used the opportunity to go outside and let the young coresearchers show and tell, either through photos or making them interact directly with the environment.

This has brought other perspectives to the table. One thing is all the tacit knowledge that is hidden in certain areas in a neighbourhood that only the youths carry, another thing is that the local environment can exploit new possibilities as well. In sum, going outside, rather than relying solely on indoor settings, such as classrooms or universities is a good way to stimulate knowledge sharing. Learning is also fueled by trying out creative research tools like open field notes for data collection, walkalongs with policymakers in the park instead of conducting interviews and or movies or photo exhibitions to communicate with local stakeholders and other young people in the community.


Combine In-Person and Virtual Dialogic Communication Wisely

While in-person dialogue, where participants can pick up on body language and non-verbal cues, fosters deeper understanding and helps in building personal connections and trust among participants, dialogue can also take place in virtual settings. Using collaborative digital tools, like white boards, in different stages of the research process for gamification and co-learning can work well. Do not, however, overestimate the potential and usefulness of these tools. Digital fatigue exists, even among younger generations!
The choice between in-person and virtual meetings depends on the specific needs and goals of the research project and the activity in question, as well as the preferences of the participants. A hybrid approach combining both formats strategically to leverage the benefits of both, was adopted in YouCount. Don’t forget that some participants may have no access to or capabilities to use technological tools. In these cases, analogue posters, pamphlets, and brochures can replace social media posts and online collaborative tools.


Widening Participation and Keeping it Dialogic

Hybrid forms of communication at the meso level (combining dialogic and one-way communication) must be encouraged in citizen science projects since they offer the potential to widen the participation scope without losing dialogue’s transformation potential. At the meso level dialogue cannot have the same intensity as in the micro level but must try to keep participatory communication’s dialogic essence. The meso level can develop in websites and the social media, blog posts, apps, and all types of virtual platforms and meetings, like webinars. Also in books, journals and magazines and in spaces where moment in time dialogues take place, such as conferences and seminars. The communication team in YouCount took inspiration in Responsible Research Communication (Canto-Farachala et al., 2021) to think about our main communication tools and platforms at the meso level. How can we make them dialogic? This concern was present from the start of the project for some researchers: One way of incentivizing dialogue is by inviting people to continue a conversation presenting social media posts that already incorporate some sort of dialogue among participants. For example, our “Meet YouCount’s Early Career Researchers!” campaign introduced young co-researchers and asked them to share their view on how science could be more inclusive. Their answers raised much interest since they are young researchers exploring innovative ways of doing research. Also, each issue of the YouCount Newsletter presented young co-researchers reflecting on how they were experiencing their participation in the project. Webinars are great examples of spaces where all the dimensions of responsible research communication can be considered. In a series of knowledge-sharing webinars conducted by YouCount early in the project we learned important lessons, among them that we needed to use more humour! (Murray et al., 2023).


Disseminating Information and Findings to Key Audiences

At the macro level dialogue is no longer possible and communication adopts a oneway approach. Press releases, speeches, newspaper articles, newsletters and podcasts make up this level. These activities are more likely to develop at the local level and target local audiences. Other communication tools like blog posts and social media have an inherent dialogical dimension but as mentioned earlier they need an important investment in time and resources to keep them alive. However, they are also important tools to disseminate project results and to bring the voice and “flavour” of the cases to an international audience. Social media can be used to broadcast news, stories, and information about events and publications, to identify new stakeholders and build networks. It is a great way to link up with other projects doing citizen science and citizen social science and to keep updated on their latest developments. In this sense, social media can act as a link between what is happening in the project at the local level and global trends and activities. Remember that each social network works best with a particular audience and that content can’t always be used in the same way in the different channels. Moreover, consider data ethics, ownership/country of origin and effects of user tracking. Most social networks are based on user surveillance and data monetization, and as is well known, can have a wide range of negative effects on participants’ mental well-being, especially for younger people. A great source of content for our social media channels in YouCount was our Blog. It was conceived of as a space to share stories from the project. The ideas for the first posts were devised by the communication team in collaboration with researchers and dealt with general aspects of the project and how we were dealing with them. Later, when the local research teams settled, the stories began flowing more easily and the blog became a logbook that includes interviews with members and stakeholders, chronicles of events taking place in different locations, and the voice of young citizen scientists.
Note that the most creative and innovative communication activities are taking place at the case level. YouCount featured participatory science fiction films, documentaries, photo exhibitions and museum installations, among others. Communication tools at the project level must do a good job at making these initiatives known among an international audience. Last, and by no means least.
Citizen Social Science projects need thorough documentation, which can be demanding and difficult to follow through. Every time that you share anything in writing, audio or video (or in all at the same time!) you are documenting your project and can go back to these materials for many different purposes.
Moreover, disseminating early results on an ongoing basis contributes to your project’s commitments to Open Science.


How to write a great post for a research blog:


  1. Think about your audience.
  2. Write one post per topic.
  3. Structure your information well.
  4. Think on an attractive title.
  5. Provide added value.
  6. Add multimedia elements, always backed by GDPR rules.
  7. Synthesize.
  8. Try to be brief.
  9. Include hyperlinks.
  10. Call for interaction.
  11. Use keywords.
  12. Check your spelling.



Canto-Farachala, P., Norvoll, R., Brattbakk, I., & Budryte, P. (2023). Participatory communication and citizen social science: Lessons learned and new ethical and political challenges. Etica & Politica / Ethics & Politics, XXV, 2023, 2, pp. 129-151

Canto-Farachala, P., & Larrea, M. (2022). Rethinking the communication of action research: Can we make it dialogic? Action Research, 20(2), 199-218.

Lorenz, L. (2020). Addressing diversity in science communication through citizen social science JCOM 19(04), A04.

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