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Can we make “citizen science” better?

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NGN Magazine, July 2024

During a stifling heat wave in August 2021, 80 volunteers from Massachusetts communities along the Mystic River fixed sensors to their car windows and bicycles, traveling along 19 predetermined routes recording ambient temperature and humidity levels along the way. The data they collected—part of the Wicked Hot Mystic project—contributed to a growing understanding of how the effects of extreme heat play out across cities. Along Mystic River communities like Cambridge, Somerville, Everett and Malden, heat fluctuated most dramatically in historically “red-lined” areas, with lower-income residents and less green space. Similar trends have been tracked across the United States. But the project didn’t end—or even begin—with the data. Working with the Mystic River Watershed Association, a local nonprofit, Wicked Hot Mystic researchers took the community temperature, so to speak, ahead of time, parsing what locals hoped to get out of the research.  

“We asked residents what they really wanted us to find out,” says David Sittenfeld, a Ph.D. graduate of Northeastern University and the director of the Center for the Environment at Boston’s Museum of Science, which spearheaded the project. “We spent a long time listening, interviewing resilience planners about their priorities. And we worked closely with them to find out things in ways that comported with those priorities and ideas.” The project also included an app interface for citizens to record observations beyond the numbers. The combination of qualitative and quantitative data allowed urban planners to precisely target their heat mitigation efforts in the most vulnerable areas. 

Continue reading at NGN Magazine.

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