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As a new report, the FSA publishes its first step in exploring the innovative method of citizen science and its application to FSA research areas

By Mr Shamim Quadir(Senior Communications Officer), Published

A new report, Citizen Science and Food: A Review, sets out how the method of ‘Citizen Science' has been applied to research priorities of the Food Standards Agency (FSA), the government department responsible for protecting public health in relation to food in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Commissioned by the FSA, and led by Dr Christian Reynolds of the Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London in collaboration with York University, and Queen’s University Belfast, the review is the first part of a project to explore how the FSA can involve the people and communities it serves in building the evidence on which policy decision are made.

There is no one size fits all definition, but citizen science projects essentially involve engaging with communities and asking them to be part of the project, either through engaging them in data collection or through other ways of co-creation. For participants, citizen science offers learning opportunities, the satisfaction of contributing to scientific evidence and the potential to influence policy. It can also provide researchers with data which: is high in volume, has wide geographical spread, and is relatively quick to deploy and that could not be accessed any other way.

It lends itself well to evidence-based policy development and has been endorsed by the European Commission for Research, Science and Innovation as a key part of their Science With And For Society work programme (SWAFS 2020).

As part of its commitment to exploring innovative methods and their application to priority research areas, the FSA is keen to explore what it can do. The report demonstrates that the research community are already undertaking numerous pieces of research that align with FSA evidence needs, with fascinating examples from UK and global communities, where participants have collected data on topics ranging from food preparation in the home to levels of chemical contaminant in foods.

Over the past decade the use and popularity of citizen science has seen substantial growth, attributable. in part. to web-based and mobile technology advancements. As well as making participation more appealing for some citizen scientists, such advancements have improved data collection and management. Citizen science can be responsive to emerging trends and issues and enable faster, evidence-informed reactions to events.

Dr Christian Reynolds.

Lead author of the report, Dr Christian Reynolds, Senior Lecturer, Centre for Food Policy, City, University of London said:

It is great to see the FSA leading on adopting and promoting innovative research methods like citizen science. The Centre for Food Policy is one of the leading research centres’ in the UK using citizen science. Since 2020, we have used citizen science to understand UK citizen’s reactions to COVID-19 and Brexit. With information gathered having been presented to parliament, and government departments.

Dr Rebecca Gillespie, Principal Social Science Research Officer at the FSA said:

"Citizen science can be applied across all the disciplines of our areas of research interest and places citizens at the heart of evidence-based policy development. I’m excited to lead this new programme of innovative and collaborative work at the FSA."

Citizen Science in a changing world

The last 12 months have demonstrated that we live in a changing, and often unpredictable world. As such, the science community may benefit from harnessing this method to explore the full social, economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 crisis as well as other challenges that our society may face in the future.

The report is the first step in the FSA’s plan for citizen science. It wants to build networks and harness the existing expertise within the research community.

The next step will be the launch of a joint funding call with UK Research and Innovation, a leading research funder in this area, to fund five pilot projects (with a duration of 6-9 months) that address FSA research interests.

The call will be launched on Thursday 18 March 2021 with details available on the UKRI funding finder from Thursday 11 March 2021.

Ahead of this time, if anyone would like to talk further about Citizen Science at the FSA please contact Dr Rebecca Gillespie.

Find out more

Download the report, Citizen Science and Food: A Review