Using Citizen Science approaches to ask questions about Covid-19
ACT (Action against COVID Transmission) Nairobi is a knowledge exchange project based in the Sustainability and Environment research theme. It utilises a number of different creative methodologies to explore issues around COVID-19, including cellphilming, music, puppetry and visual arts. In this blog, we look at the citizen science workstream focused on the development of relevant public health messages for community sensitisation.
Citizen science is science partly or wholly done by people who are not full-time scientists. Sometimes this is because the non-scientists can get more places, or know stuff scientists don’t know - like some conservation projects, with ordinary people surveying the birds, insects or plants in their gardens or surrounding area.
We know that the community co-researchers from ACT Nairobi (Action against Covid Transmission Nairobi) in Mukuru know more about the settlement and people’s experiences there than many of the project staff. We wanted to know what questions they and their community had about COVID-19, and if we could help them find the answers.
We talked to community champions about the kinds of questions people could have about COVID-19 -
- There are questions scientists can already answer, like “What is the best way to wash your hands to kill the virus?”
- There are questions where the answers are not known by anyone, but where small scale research in Mukuru could find them out, like, “What proportion of people in Mukuru have access to a mask, and facilities to wash it?”
- There are questions where the answers are not known by anyone, and where it would take large-scale research to find them out. Like, “Can people become reinfected with Coronavirus?”
There are a lot of scientists around the world trying to answer the third sort of question, and we aren’t going to be able to contribute much. For now, we focussed on the first kind of question. But we hope to be able to do something about the second kind of question in the near future, in a follow up project. A little more on that later.
For now, we looked at the questions that scientists do know answers to already. We worked with the community co-researchers to think of as many questions as they could, first in a Zoom meeting with breakout groups, and then in discussions in Facebook and WhatsApp groups. This iterative process meant that we were able to get more in depth questions, and not just the first ones that came to mind. We then got a scientist from the Centre for Virus Research, in Glasgow, Scotland, to come and talk to the ACT Nairobi team of lung health champions on Zoom. Dr Shirin Ashraf is an expert in emerging infections and virus discovery, particularly in Africa, and she was fantastic at answering the group’s questions, and this was a fascinating hour.
Dr Ashraf was able to add more answers later by email, and the group are able to continue discussing questions in the Facebook and WhatsApp groups. Team members have turned some of the questions and answers into memes, to share on social media, to help inform local communities. Cressida Bowyer, Sayyidah Salam, Louis Netter, Matt Smith and Erika Hughes are the UoP ACT research team. External collaborators include Sarah West (University of York), Miranda Loh (Institute of Occupational Medicine) and Sophia Collins (a public engagement specialist), and a team of lung health champions and co-researchers from the informal settlement of Mukuru, Nairobi, Kenya where the project is based.
We hope that soon, perhaps in a follow up project, we’ll be able to take a closer look at some 2nd type questions. Everyone has a part to play in keeping people safe from the virus, so research looking what local communities know about the virus, what else they want to know, and how best to spread accurate information about the virus, could play a vital role in taking action against Covid.
We'll be looking for funding to help us answer more of our questions, so if you want to help, please get in touch with us via firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org