Citizen science initiatives, and scientific studies in general, are often done using traditional techniques. Researchers typically send questionnaires to target respondents by email or post and expect to receive enough of them back in kind. Processing of data can be challenging and the quality of results may be compromised depending on the motivation and sincerity of survey respondents. To overcome these deficiencies in conducting research concerning food integrity, BeYou designed an innovative digital Citizen Science Initiative (CSI). The CSI engages ordinary citizens as active and willing participants in efforts to understand and improve the state of food integrity.
Apiumhub client, BeYou, a startup in digital health (Barcelona), AZTI Technology Centre (Basque Country), Queen’s University of Belfast, and Aarhus University (Denmark) have created a consortium project under ‘EIT Food’ to create a Citizen Science Initiative to encourage citizens to take an active role to improve food integrity.
“Citizen Science occurs when volunteers in the general public help to conduct scientific research to generate science-based knowledge that contributes to understanding and transforming the system.”
Emma Ek – Product Manager – BeYou
BeYou has designed a pioneering approach to recruit and engage citizens by inviting them to become amateur scientists to fight the food integrity challenge in Spain and the UK, participate in interactive food trust experiments and connect directly with scientists to contribute to a better and more transparent food system. Emma goes on to say:
“Adopting a design thinking approach, BeYou used gamification algorithms, social community elements, modern design and the latest development techniques to transform and digitalise the Citizen Science Initiative.”
The Citizen Science Initiatives were launched in the UK and Spain in 2020 and consisted of two different challenges: To study the authenticity of basmati rice sold in the UK, and the growth of listeria monocytogenes in room temperature ready-to-eat-food in Spain. Through the initiative the goal was to engage and involve country citizens in food research, inspiring citizens to become change agents as amateur scientists in the transition towards an inclusive and trusted food system based on science.
Citizens who participated accessed the initiative through the BeYou platform, a mobile application available for both iOS and Android users. On the app participants would join a ‘challenge’, transforming a scientific study into an interactive, gamified, and user-centric experiment.
For the UK challenge, citizens were asked to purchase a small pack of Basmati rice from their local supermarket and then ship it to Queen’s University of Belfast where all rice samples would get analysed. For the Spanish challenge, the objective was to purchase packs of ready-to-eat food sold at room temperature to be analysed by AZTI Technology Centre. Emma explains:
“The strategy was to strengthen the communication between the most trusted source of information (science), and society, giving citizens the opportunity to interact directly with the scientists, creating a valuable digital and interactive scientific community.”
The initiative was promoted on social media platforms, and collaborated with food and nutrition influencers. A total of 481 participants showed interest to join the initiative, but as the initiative had limited spots available we had 88 participants from the UK and 122 participants from Spain. In total, we received over 300 food samples to study and analyse.
The CSI was met with a lot of positive feedback from the citizens participating in the project, promising a positive future for similar initiatives. The demand for transparency when it comes to food is something that we’ve seen participants are valuing highly. Citizens have expressed that they find it innovative and exciting to participate in scientific studies by using an accessible mobile application where they can have direct contact with the scientists.
The Citizen Science food integrity experiment was a successful proof of concept encouraging food manufacturing companies, universities and research institutes to adopt sophisticated mobile digital tools to enhance the user experience and involvement of citizens in food research in the transition towards a trusted and transparent food system. This initiative can help open the door to adopting sophisticated digital tools when engaging citizens in future studies.