Engagement model: The WeCount experience

Lessons learnt from WeCount

Based on what was learnt from WeCount and other citizen science projects on urban mobility, a proposed framework for citizen and stakeholder engagement emerged.

Phase 0, create the engagement framework:

Create an engagement framework with a general approach with lots of in-built flexibility for local adaptation and co-development with local groups and partners.

Phase 1, Scoping and community building:

For this preliminary step, first define your purpose – what are you hoping to get out of engaging the public, influential organisations and decision makers, and why are you doing it? Make this clear from the outset and be open with everyone about this.

Then, map target audiences and think through ways of reaching them (e.g., on the street, at the pub, at a public event). Build partnerships with influential organisations - community centres, schools, relevant council departments – and identify relevant companies/SMEs from the outset, even as early as project bidding stage. This will afford you much needed to time to build trust and gain support, as they are your gatekeeper to important and otherwise ‘hard to reach’ audiences. Check local press and social media to connect and ally with local community and campaign groups, and meet stakeholders in person where possible. Ask stakeholders to recommend other organisations. If possible, it is important to meet face-to-face with all actors in these early stages to build trust and rapport. Factor in budget to pay for facilitation and cover the expenses of community spaces involved.

Following audience mapping and partnership forming, get to know citizens and stakeholders, as well as the local area. Understand backgrounds, attitudes, motivations and experiences so that tools can be adapted accordingly, and spend time explaining the added value of participation for the individuals, science and society. For citizens directly involved in the project, and in particular those championing the cause, identify their role and responsibilities so you know when it is good to call upon them/how you can support them with the training they need. In this step, also familiarise yourself with the cities vision of mobility, and ways in which citizens can get involved in decision making. Share this knowledge during the co-design stage.

In these early stages, assess the needs of the researchers/staff involved and develop a public engagement coaching team who can support and train them with the necessary skills if needed.

Lastly, to facilitate public connections and make announcements utilise the following:

  • a locally-relevant project website; press releases;
  • social media;
  • emails;
  • a letterbox flyer campaign to reach and engage with more diverse audiences; a word-of-mouth campaign, tapping into the enthusiasm of local champions who can spread the word;
  • information sessions, hosted in community centres; pop-up in non- conventional spaces;
  • online surveying to understand what citizens find interesting about the topic/what could drive them to act;
  • events, pre-established or your own, to gain visibility; and a newsletter (using a platform such as Mailchimp).

Phase 2, knowledge building:

During this phase, support citizens who feel less confident, offering doorstop chats and handholding. Offer training to all citizens on data accuracy, community organiser to understand their own sense of agency, power and civil rights and invest in cultural education of participating scientists, to understand how different groups respond to different engagement tools.

Phase 3, co-design:

Allow sufficient time to build a sense of community with your citizens during workshops. Let people introduce themselves, and create space for participants to voice concerns and questions they may have. Make sure that the different roles available and commitment expectations are made clear, encouraging citizens to become ‘local champions’ for the project if it seems appropriate. Invest time in explaining the project and ensuring participants have all they need to explain the project to others (of different ages and backgrounds).

If citizens cannot count with a sensor (e.g., their window is not suitable, they do not have Wi-Fi), alternative ways of being involved should be presented (e.g., biomonitoring with a strawberry plant, analysing data from the platform, becoming a community evaluator, etc.). The more involved you are, the more likely you are to act.

During this stage, explore which tools should be developed to facilitate knowledge sharing (e.g., online FAQ, installation videos, social media) choosing enough to appeal to different learning styles without overwhelming people with choice. Make everything available in one place.

Lastly, find ways to keep motivation high, with opportunities for networking and for celebrating successes (e.g., on social media, with on- and offline events).

Phase 4, Data collection:

Engage with counting citizens throughout the data collection process to answer questions and sustain their motivation (e.g., through a newsletter, workshops, etc.). A responsive technical team is key to troubleshoot problems quickly. Where possible, pay struggling citizens a visit to discuss issues on their doorstep and check-in.

Phase 5, Data analysis:

Make data analysis available online via an interactive map, with auto-generated charts from incoming citizens data (see Telraam), as well as raw data for technical whizzes. Host one or more data analysis workshops, targeting specific sensor networks, for facilitated data analysis and to share local data stories. Tools like Google Collaboratory can help, although these should be chosen with the audience in mind. Ideally, city representatives should also be present at the data analysis workshops so they can be informed and that citizens can clearly see how their efforts are being recognised.

Phase 6, advocacy:

Equip citizens with the skills they need to advocate for change, in the form or training workshops and videos, and digital/printed toolkits. During this stage, have fun with co-creating citizen actions and data visualisations to raise public awareness, influence behaviours or advocate for policy change.

Phase 7, Reflection and legacy:

In this final phase, plan in time to:

  • critique steps 1-4, to work with citizens to implement actions;
  • ensure that findings are effectively disseminated; and
  • enhance replicability of the case study (e.g. with documents such as this).
  • Develop outputs that can be used the community, e.g., schools’ resources and advocacy toolkit.

In doing so, these reflections help to advance the field of citizen science, working toward participatory science that reaches the broadest spectrum of society. According to WeCount case study leaders, if participants are made aware of this goal, it increases their motivation to participate.


Offer rewards and give feedback to sustain motivation, value all contributions equally and use non-technical language.

Lastly, for participatory citizen science to be effective, projects need to at last four years, allowing time for the methodology to first be tested with a pilot city before full-scale rollout. As SA2 mentioned, otherwise you just get to the point where the kinks have been worked out.