Citizen Social Science, a new approach where citizens lead in formulating policies over policymakers, can catalyze transformative change and be the key to effective climate action.
Dr. Andrew Kythreotis Cardiff University and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research suggests in his viewpoint piece that bridging citizens, scientists, and governments through citizen social science increases recognition of human needs that would help reconfigure formal climate policy-making.
Governments have struggled to limit global temperatures below 2C, the goal set out by the Paris Agreement. Current country pledges on reducing emissions will lead to 3C to 3.5C increase in global temperature.
Citizens change their behaviours if issues are framed around their values, more local and tangible concerns, and if they believe that they can make a difference.
“Climate policies have been traditionally and predominantly top-down, limiting citizen agency in driving policy change and influencing citizen behaviour. This also disregards their concerns, values, and goals for their communities, making policies ineffective,” Dr. Kythreotis said.
Ensuring that citizens play a more influential role in driving policies for adaptation and mitigation, can change this, he says.
“Citizen social science begins with citizens’ values — based on their moral, aesthetic, experiential, and spiritual knowledge concerns and aspirations — rather than policies being imposed on them,” Dr. Kythreotis added.
There are challenges to this approach, including the need for greater interaction between climate researchers and citizens, as it is important for citizens to understand the science-policy process. There is also a need to reconsider the role of gender and culture, as climate change will impact women and indigenous people more.
Another potential challenge includes conflict of interest where lobby groups could influence citizen social science to impose their agenda. This can be solved by ensuring there is a representative sample of the population in the process and respectfully vetting citizens’ backgrounds.
An uneven power relationship among scientists, politicians, and citizens also needs to be addressed, which can be done with resources and institutional support.
Citizen Social Science is also not a “one size fits all” framework. For example, farmers should not find themselves co-researching about urban transport and urban citizens should not find themselves working on agricultural issues. This is where bridging citizens with scientists and experts play an important role — helping citizens determine the type of knowledge that they seek to make decisions about and inform policy decisions.
The authors argue that these challenges are not insurmountable and citizen social science can catalyse change if citizens, scientists, and policymakers become more aligned. By working collaboratively, experts and citizens’ can produce alternative climate policies based on citizens’ values, knowledge, and experiences.
Link to the research paper here.