Community engagement for science and sustainability

It is often disadvantaged members of our society living in poorer neighbourhoods who are exposed to the greatest environmental risks, have the worst access to environmental goods and services and who experience the poorest health and quality of life. Yet these communities are also the least likely to be engaged in dialogues about how science and technology can help to address these problems.

The Citizens Science for Sustainability (SuScit) Project, part of the EPSRC funded Sustainable Urban Environments (SUE) Programme, was the first of its kind to attempt to provide local communities with a voice in the future of urban sustainability research and in so doing, identify a distinctive community-led agenda for future research.

Centred around the Mildmay area of Islington, North London, the SuScit Project comprised an innovative programme of action research and networking activities designed to promote engagement and dialogue between the EPSRC research community, professional stakeholders and most importantly local citizens: particularly socially and economically excluded citizens, such as older people, single parents, young people, and those from black, Asian and ethnic minority communities.

The process sought to explore whether it was possible to identify a distinctive community-led agenda for urban sustainability research and if so, what such an agenda might look like by using an innovative ‘bottom-up’ public engagement and foresight process. SuScit then used the information gathered to set out a ten point agenda for urban sustainability research.

This ‘bottom-up’, public engagement and foresight process brought  lay citizens, scientists, policy makers and professional stakeholders together to articulate the environmental and sustainability research needs of marginalised and excluded urban communities. In so doing, Suscit designed a participatory process that valued local knowledge and expertise, working with and through the local community in order to build trust, promote engagement and maximise the value of the project’s outcomes to all those who participated. In practice this meant that local residents initially took the lead in exploring what the environment and sustainability meant to them, whilst researchers and practitioners were encouraged to listen and learn from what they heard. Later in the process responsibility shifted to the researchers and practitioners to discuss and respond to what they had learnt from the local community by developing a research agenda for urban sustainability which reflected the issues raised.

Key findings
• It is possible to articulate a distinctive community-led agenda for urban sustainability research, which responds to the needs and concerns of socially and economically excluded citizens.
• Community participants in the SuScit process generally attached a high priority to the social dimension of sustainability.
• Some of the key themes identified within this report (particularly: crime and safety; urban food production & consumption; and, community cohesion) are not well covered within the EPSRC’s current portfolio of sustainable urban environments (SUE) research.
• Even for those themes (energy, housing, recycling, greenspace, health and wellbeing) which are a more established part of the broader sustainable urban environments research agenda, the SuScit process of dialogue and deliberation brought into focus the particular needs and concerns of socially and economically excluded citizens.
• Science and engineering have a vital contribution to make in developing the interdisciplinary, solution oriented, research necessary to address these problems.
• There is a need for innovative modes of funding to support research on urban sustainability with marginalised communities.

A DVD including a short 10 minute documentary about the project has also been produced. To obtain a copy contact project PI, Professor Malcolm Eames: .

To download copies of the SuScit project reports and for additional information about the project go to:

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