Skip to content

Date/Time: Friday December 9th, 2022 from 9:30 to 11:30 am

Location: Renaissance Park, 310R or on Zoom

Title: Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities: Co-Created Science-to-Civics to Facilitate Equitable Climate Resilience Planning


My dissertation consists of three chapters, each intended to be a publishable paper. The chapters build iteratively upon one another, establishing a theoretical science-to-civics framework for participatory science and community deliberation to facilitate action and engagement for climate-related environmental hazards and applying it nationally and then at hyperlocal scale for the hazards of extreme heat and particulate pollution. In each chapter, I describe how community and civic partners participated in collaborative agenda-setting to inform study scope and design, present protocols and methods for participatory data collection by community volunteers, and share data, analysis and outcomes to inform policy. I also describe how the outputs of these participatory science-to-civics activities can serve as co-created boundary objects in the policy-forming phase, bringing local knowledge and community-generated data about environmental hazards to policymaking, while responding to community perspectives and needs to inform more equitable resilience planning.

My first chapter, Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities: A Framework for Co-Created Science-to-Civics to Facilitate Equitable Climate Resilience Planning, was recently published in the journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. The paper establishes a theoretical “science-to-civics” framework for the synthesis of resilience planning deliberation with participatory science pertaining to four environmental hazards (extreme heat, sea level rise, extreme precipitation) for which my co-authors and I created and facilitated a suite of interactive visualizations, engagement materials, and community science activities. In laying out and describing the science-to-civics framework, I adapt three primary components (agenda-setting, decision-making, and policy forming) that were identified by Rowe and Frewer (2005) as essential elements for authentic public engagement, and apply them to the realm of co-created participatory science (also referred to as citizen science, civic science, community science, or community-based participatory research by various practitioners across disciplines) as described by Shirk et al (2012). The science-to-civics framework elucidates a number of specific individual phases of co-creation with community members, participatory data collection, and deliberation about potential resilience strategies and their tradeoffs that comprise the agenda-setting, decision-making, and policy-forming activities. I also map these elements to the theoretical structures of Arnstein’s Ladder of Participation (1969) and to a cyclical policy formation process.

After laying out the theoretical framework, I describe its application to a national NOAA-funded project, Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities (CSCRC), that facilitated science-to-civics activities at 29 science centers around the United States. We present three kinds of outcomes from the science-to-civics activities: (1) summative evaluation data describing impacts upon participant knowledge, self-efficacy and engagement; (2) data summarizing the community-generated resilience plans that were created by participants at the participatory resilience planning activities, and (3) perspectives from resilience planners who we interviewed to assess the utility of these science-to-civics activities to inform local resilience planning. The paper concludes by describing iterative revision and application of the science-to-civics model at hyperlocal scale, informed by the three types of findings described above, to two local initiatives I led on the topic of extreme heat in Greater Boston. These activities, Wicked Hot Boston and Wicked Hot Mystic, are focus of my two subsequent chapters. These subsequent chapters, described in more detail below build on this framework and put it into practice.

Chapter 2 (Wicked Hot Boston: Community Science-to-Civics for Assessing Extreme Heat Disparities and Inequities and Building Resilience through the Inclusion of Local Knowledge) presents methods, results, learning points, and conclusions from two large-scale heat mapping campaigns that leverage the science-to-civics framework and apply it to a locally relevant environmental health and resilience planning issue: extreme heat and urban heat islands and microclimates in the face of a warming climate. By engaging hundreds of community scientists in agenda-setting, participatory data collection, and deliberation, we worked to bring community perspectives about this environmental justice issue to local resilience planning about equitable methods for mitigating extreme heat vulnerabilities. Each of these large-scale campaigns were co-created with local community and civic planners as part of a national effort coordinated by NOAA’s Climate Program Office and CAPA Strategies. After contextualizing extreme heat as an important environmental justice and policy issue that disproportionately affects priority populations including communities of color, the paper describes how we worked with our community and civic partners to elicit input and guidance for the entire project design, bringing forward and including community perspectives to inform the inputs, analysis, and outcomes of these activities. Our analyses found concurrent temperature differences of up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit between the warmest and coolest neighborhoods during extreme heat events during the summers of 2019 (Wicked Hot Boston, with municipal planners in Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, MAPC) and 2021 (Wicked Hot Mystic, in collaboration with the Mystic River Watershed Association, Greenroots, Inc., MAPC, and the 21 municipalities in the watershed). The paper identifies temperature disparities across our study regions and makes connections to socioeconomic factors, including the legacy of systemic and historic racism. The analysis presents an array of data visualizations and associated statistical analyses to describe the temperature, impervious surface, and tree canopy disparities we identified across historic discriminatory redlining categories (also known as residential security classifications) that were established by the federal government’s Home Owner’s Loan Corporation in the early to mid-twentieth century. Using zonal statistics, I found statistically significant mean differences of up to 3.5 F between redlined and non-redlined neighborhoods, underscoring the persisting legacy of these discriminatory redline zoning practices. I also present comparative analysis across municipalities within the 21 communities of the Mystic River watershed, which demonstrate strong correlation coefficients for the association between ambient modeled temperature by municipality and tree cover, and for the association between modeled ambient temperature and impervious surface. I conclude by making recommendations about the findings to inform equitable resilience planning for extreme heat as well as describing the utility and affordances of the science-to-civics activities within the unit of analysis of a watershed, and by describing policy-forming activities and products that we developed in response to feedback and direction from community and civic partners.

Chapter 3 (Community-Based Air Quality and Extreme Heat Monitoring in the Mystic River Watershed) applies the science-to-civics framework to the cumulative/cascading hazards of extreme heat and fine particulate matter (PM2.5) across the Mystic River Watershed in a pilot study. While the primary focus of the 2021 campaign was to identify urban heat islands, we engaged over 80 volunteers in collecting concurrent PM2.5 data across 18 transects and four collection times in 24 hours during a heat wave in August of 2021. The chapter begins by establishing the context for particulate matter and extreme heat as important and growing environmental health concerns that exacerbate one another and disproportionately impact low-income populations and communities of color. I describe our agenda-setting activities in which we elicited community and civic perspectives to inform our study design and our objectives for outputs that would respond to community priorities. I then outline the methodology and protocols for data collection and the geostatistical analyses and present results of this pilot study. I position the synthesis of these high-resolution community generated datasets as an opportunity to characterize communities that experienced hyperlocal extreme heat and high PM vulnerabilities. I then share results of interpolative and spatial predictive geostatistical models developed with colleagues from CAPA Strategies, and present visualizations and statistical analyses for modeled PM2.5 data exposures and exploratory cumulative spatial models incorporating both heat and particulate exposures. I subsequently present a zonal statistics analysis to focus on cumulative vulnerabilities for historically redlined neighborhoods, and highlight municipalities within the watershed that experienced high cumulative exposures to extreme heat and PM. I conclude by discussing potential policy-forming activities given the emerging nature of these data, threats to validity and learning points, and potential applications of this method for future work.

Committee Members: Dr. Brian Helmuth, Dr. Sara Wylie, Dr. Madeleine Scammell

David Sittenfeld