The workshop, organised in the framework of the European Citizen Science Association’s (ECSA) annual conference in Geneva on June 6th seemed to fill a gap for many experts and organisations. The event attracted a lot of interest from researchers, academia and NGOs active in the field, with 37 signing up to join the citizen science-food waste network or the event, either online or in person.

Food waste is an issue of global concern – SDG 12.3 focuses on food loss and waste. Rachel Pateman works on citizen science at SEI York and said, “The workshop was inspired by the fact that there is a real opportunity to raise awareness of food waste problems and solutions as well as generating a better understanding of causes of food waste by using citizen science as an approach.”

This is currently an area of untapped potential, underlined by the literature review that was put together as a preparation for the workshop. “We found literature on only 12 projects that combined citizen science and food waste concepts. A number of other projects were identified during the workshop with the help of participants, but there is a real opportunity to add to research combining citizen science and food waste,” Emilie Hobbs from SEI York noted.

Citizen science – food waste workshop discussion at the Think Tank Hub in Geneva (located in the World Meteorological Organisation building).

The workshop provided a space for experts interested in combining citizen science and food waste concepts to come up with potential research ideas. Some examples of initial ideas included:

  • The co-creation of food waste research between citizens, scientists and other stakeholders. This bottom-up approach would involve finding research questions of real interest to citizens. This approach, in which different parties also work together to design methods, collect and analyse data and disseminate research findings, has the potential for a deep engagement of citizens and the opportunity for communities to work together to find solutions, resulting in long term change.
  • How does food waste related behaviour change in response to life changes? Ideas were discussed around how to measure food waste in the household and how these measurements could be related to changes in people’s lives, such as having children, leaving home or becoming a single-person household. The discussion included how this data could then be used to inform campaigns and decision-making as well as to advise retailers to help avoid food waste at the shopping stage.

These research ideas will be further developed in the coming months to create a concept note for research.

An element of the workshop that worked particularly well was the combination of online and in-person participation – online participants commented that they felt fully engaged in the workshop, and the in-person participants felt that having online participants there considerably enhanced discussions.

In addition to continuing work on a possible future project in the field, an outcome from the work has also been the SEI-led creation of a network of citizen science-food waste enthusiasts and experts. “Prior to the workshop we had lots of feedback from people who wanted to let us know that this kind of a network is important and they would appreciate being in touch and exchanging information on the topic,” Evelin Piirsalu from SEI Tallinn commented. “Food waste is undoubtedly something that concerns us all and various organisations are also looking for ways to expand their reach in combatting food waste. Using citizen science approaches could be one way of doing this,” Piirsalu added.

The workshop also demonstrated that there are many different visions and different approaches to citizen science. Therefore, participants agreed that the seminar discussions which included also elaborations on citizen science approaches were very eye-opening and interesting to widen one’s views on what citizen science entails.