By Sarah Nisi
Nineteen Londoners collect research data for the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) from hundreds of households in their neighbourhoods - and now their work serves as a model for a global mission: measuring what matters to the prosperity of local communities around the world and transforming the way decision-makers think.
When Tony from Newham heard about the opportunity to work with IGP's academic researchers as a citizen scientist, designing research that captures local perspectives on what matters for the prosperity of people and communities in East London, he immediately decided to get involved. Tony had volunteered at the London Olympics in 2012, working on the build-up, the Games and the Paralympics. "I was acutely aware of the 2012 promising legacy and simply could not recognise it and knew of nobody locally who had benefited post-2012." His first thoughts about IGP's citizen science work then were: "This is great. I will be able to be involved in interrogating my thoughts and feelings against evidence-based data."
Citizen science has become increasingly popular over the past decade in the sciences, and is well-established as a way of involving the public in large-scale scientific research, where people take part in volunteer monitoring and crowd-sourced projects.
IGP's approach to citizen science is different. Local people are recruited and trained to work as social scientists in their own communities. We train them in research ethics, to design projects, collect and analyse data, interpret the results and share information. The citizen social scientists come from different professional and socio-economic backgrounds - having one fundamental requirement in common: being a local resident of the area.
What changes when citizens and local communities shape how prosperity is defined and measured?
Most indicators and metrics are decided by experts in government, universities or business, and assumed to be relevant to communities everywhere. The IGP believes that citizens and communities should be at the centre of efforts to reimagine prosperity and that social science research should be carried out through long-term collaboration with local residents. Knowledge and skills developed in the process should be embedded within the community. New ways of understanding, conceptualising and measuring prosperity are needed, both to inform local decision-making and to equip communities with the tools and evidence they will need to monitor progress and hold decision-makers to account.
UK's first citizen-led Prosperity Index
In East London, the IGP translated the community-led research conducted by citizen scientists into a tool to measure what matters to the prosperity of local communities and guide policy and action: the Prosperity Index. No other prosperity index follows this approach: changing the role of non-academic researchers, from data collectors to active partners in the research process allowing academics to create an in-depth household survey based exclusively on the input of locals - the key question being: what does prosperity mean to you?
Image: citizen scientists conduct surveys around Beirut
Global adaptation of the Prosperity Index
Working with citizen scientists like Tony was only the start of the IGP's citizen science work around the world. Initially a project about prosperity in East London, it is now part of a larger agenda for developing sustainable ways to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. "In every country in the world, the means and mechanisms to turn the wealth our economies generate into prosperity and to share the benefits of that prosperity more evenly across all social groups, is severely lacking", says Professor Henrietta Moore, Founder and Director of the Institute for Global Prosperity.
IGP has started rolling out its method of community-led research globally. Dr Saffron Woodcraft, Senior Research Fellow and IGP's lead researcher on developing the Prosperity Index is now leading index development programmes in Tanzania, Cuba and Vietnam and supports IGP teams to develop and adapt indices for Lebanon and Kenya.
Lebanon, Tanzania, Kenya, Cuba, Vietnam
The first country where citizen science research methods from East London were adapted was in Lebanon in 2018. More than ten citizen social scientists in Beirut have already conducted interviews, created a survey - reflecting opinions and viewpoints of the locals - and collected data. East London and Beirut are both very diverse places. The key challenges of each are, however, very different. Whereas in East London inequality is one of the main issues, in Lebanon displacement and how to build a good life if pressure is put on infrastructure is the key challenge - with inequality being one of the factors that contributes to the challenge.
In July, a week-long workshop took place in Tanzania which brought together researchers from IGP, the Centre for Community Initiatives in Dar Es Salaam and residents from Vingunguti-Mji Mpya as well as regional actors and stakeholders to discuss what "maisha bora" - to prosper and live a good life - means to the local research team and in relation to the way prosperity is conceptualised in Tanzania's national and regional development policies. Review and the development of a prosperity model is planned for November, which in 2020 will be translated into indicators for measuring prosperity in Tanzania.
Measuring prosperity based on the priorities of local communities
IGP believes that decision-makers need to understand what prosperity means to different people in different places and the strengths, needs and challenges in different communities. Measuring prosperity based on the priorities of local communities and involving local people to develop a survey rather than experts designing a project is the key for change. "People need ownership. They need to co-design change in order for it to be successful", says Dr Nikolay Mintchev, at the IGP. "Citizen science is an approach to mobilise and enact these changes. People need to be engaged, they need to believe in it. It cannot depend on policy."
IGP's East London prosperity work has led to engagement with a wide range of stakeholders from business, government, NGOs and community groups. The London Prosperity Board which oversees the LPI work includes three east London councils (Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Barking and Dagenham), the London Legacy Development Corporation, International Quarter London, Bromley-by-Bow Centre, the East London Business Alliance and the Greater London Authority. Many of these organisations are now incorporating the findings from the LPI work into their policies so they better reflect the views of the local communities they serve.
One of the key findings of the project in London is that individuals involved in the research understood prosperity to be about 'secure livelihood', meaning regular and good quality work that provides a reliable and adequate income, and affordable, secure, and good quality housing in a safe neighbourhood, as vital conditions for living a good life. "My main hope (for the project) was for the voice of local people to be heard in relation to what prosperity means and looks like for them. To have something tangible to measure against the legacy, and bring about meaningful, evidenced-based change through co-production with local people", says Tony, the citizen social scientist from Newham.
Top image: Stanislav Kondratiev, Unsplash
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