The Ethics Canvas helps you structure ideas about the ethical implications of any project (so also your Citizen Observatory), allowing you to visualise them on the canvas and to resolve them. It was developed by the ADAPT Centre for Digital Content Technology and is itself based on the original Business Model Canvas by Alex Osterwalder.
Among the range of issues to be addressed in order for Citizen Observatories to comply with ethical requirements, data security and data privacy are key. The General Data Protection Regulation is a European Union (EU) law on data privacy and security. This law came into force in May 2018 and imposes obligations on organizations anywhere that target or collect data related to people in the EU. As a general principle, you should limit the use of personal information to the minimum and define why you need it. The categories of personal data that are often collected and stored by Citizen Observatories are participant first name and surname; participant email address; participant organisation.
Lessons learned from the GROW project
The GROW Observatory conducted an exercise to foster long-term engagement for soil monitoring with people by understanding and reflecting on three key questions: 1) What is harm? 2) What is risk? 3) What is the benefit?
What is ‘harm’?
We need to consider the probability of harm occurring, understand its severity, and explain any risks. Harm can include subjective evaluations like distress, embarrassment and anxiety, which can be difficult to either predict or to control for. Other typical harms include inconvenience, time lost, intrusion, and boredom or discomfort. These may not seem like serious issues, but they may be serious to the person concerned. People can feel mistreated by participating if, for example, they feel that they have not been treated well, have been deceived, or that their values have been disregarded. GROW explained harms and how probable and severe these might be, and listened to people’s views.
How is ‘risk’ defined?
Risk is vague and covers harm, but for GROW it was important and useful to consider practical matters such as incurred costs and inconvenience. In contrast, ‘reward’ implies that there will be a definite ‘good’ for the participant, wider community, society and even the environment. Assessing the ‘risk-reward’ balance involves evaluating the relative significance of these two areas. It can be useful to think of this as an assessment between risks and ‘anticipated’ benefits or rewards; this is a more tentative approach and possibly more honest. The danger is that we may justify any research by claiming huge hoped-for rewards at an individual or project level. GROW was clear about the risk and reward to the individual participant, e.g. community champions and, where appropriate, used a looser equation of risk to the participant and hoped-for benefits to society and the environment.
How is ‘benefit’ defined?
The GROW consortium was clear about the difference that having a vision and specifying the benefits to individual and personal objectives can mean for an organisation (e.g. reputation and publications), participants (citizen scientists and community champions) and the wider community. It was important to be realistic about what GROW could achieve. GROW intended to improve knowledge about soil and growing, and to demonstrate new innovative services for society. GROW needed to disseminate this in ways that participants could also access and understand. GROW was careful not to raise people’s expectations unfairly, and to be honest and realistic about what would happen as a result of their involvement in the research.