Civic science is a way for people in multiple locations to learn together as they each grow, care for, and study perennial grain crops.
The Land Institute is testing civic science as a method for civic scientists and researchers to build scientific knowledge and agricultural stories in learning communities that advance diverse, perennial grain crops.
Why Civic Science?
- Civic science weaves together science, story, and community. This approach may help democratize research by supporting diverse individuals and civic groups–not only large research universities and corporations–to participate in the responsibilities and rewards of collaborative scientific inquiry and discovery.
- Civic science grows public engagement in research in order to catalyze and sustain the cultural changes necessary to advance perennial grain domestication. Since civic science is decentralized and can be more affordable, it may be a more replicable approach in underserved regions and help places retain plant diversity and community agency.
- We hypothesize that a diverse, pluralistic network of people caring for perennial grain crops-in-process will build public understanding, trust, and legitimacy for perennial grains; accelerate their adaptation to a wide range of soils, climates, and pests; and increase the probability of these crops being valued when they are ready for widespread use.
The Land Institute’s Civic Science research team is interested in partnering with individuals and groups committed to creating more just, diverse, and perennial cultures and agricultures. Although we are not always able to welcome new civic scientists and other collaborators, opportunities to engage with civic science research projects will grow and evolve in the coming seasons and years.
We encourage you to fill out the interest form below so we can be in touch. All questions, besides your name and email address, are optional. The information you share in this form is only available to our research team and will not be shared with others. Submitting this form does not guarantee placement within a civic science community but does mean that we will be in touch with you when relevant new projects and opportunities become available.
We are open to feedback and excited by the chance to learn, collaborate, and build relationships. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback or discussion topics that may not fit within the interest form.
This journey map of researchers, civic scientists, and plants shows how the Perennial Atlas project will work (Illustration by Lydia Nicholson).
- The project has started with a team of Land Institute researchers and collaborators designing scientific questions and goals. We are interested in creating an atlas in which maps of large data sets can help researchers analyze perennial grain performance. And we are interested in testing civic science as a creative way to democratize science, and involve more people and places.
- The perennial plants involved in the atlas project are silphium, sainfoin, and lewis flax. All three have colorful flowers! Silphium and lewis flax are being developed as perennial oilseed crops, and sainfoin is a legume being developed as a perennial pulse crop.
- People interested in participating in this project, and other civic science projects, can fill out a quick form on The Land Institute’s website. This form helps us match people and projects based on scientific research questions. For this perennial atlas project, geographic diversity or where people are located will be an important part of selection. Civic scientists need to be able to grow a garden-sized plot in the same place for several years. We are looking for civic scientists who can grow plants in a range of places and environmental conditions across the United States. This could be somewhere like a backyard, community garden, neighborhood center, or school yard.
- Our civic science team organizes and provides the materials, seeds, and seedlings needed for civic scientists to set up their plots and collect data.
- Researchers develop educational materials about the project, providing information about the plants involved and the research process. We create educational materials in both print and digital forms. These materials help civic scientists collect high-quality data and understand how the data is used and why it is important.
- Ideally, each civic scientist in the perennial atlas project will have two plots that are each 15 feet by 15 feet. Plots are set up using weed cloth, provided by the project, to make it easier to put plants in the right place and maintain the plot over time.
- After the research plots are prepared, civic scientists plant the seeds and seedlings. They then mark them with labels to help keep track during data collection.
- Civic scientists study the growing plants and how they interact with the local ecology. Civic scientists make a range of different observations and measurements. They enter data into online datasheets, take photos, and collect samples. Datasheets are available on a web platform and a mobile app created in partnership with CitSci.org. Some examples of data collected are, civic scientists use a soil probe to collect soil samples, take notes about pollinators and diseases, and use an infrared thermometer to take leaf temperature.
- Civic scientists share their experiences with local communities, on social media, with fellow members of the project, and with the research team! The stories, feedback, and ideas shared all help improve the project and grow our understanding as we go along.
- At the end of the growing season, civic scientists harvest seeds produced in their plots. They cut stems and bag the seed heads to return to The Land Institute, using shipping materials we provide.
- Researchers analyze the data collected and submitted by civic scientists, and convert data into visual maps. Civic scientists are able to view and explore the maps to gain a deeper understanding of how their research is building knowledge that can advance perennial grain crops.
- Throughout the growing season, the research team and civic scientists meet via webinars and community calls. After harvest, everyone gathers to discuss the year’s research results, learn from challenges, celebrate successes, and identify plans and opportunities for next year. The project enters a hiatus for the winter and continues again in the spring once the perennials re-emerge above ground!
- We were first inspired to name our work civic science by artist Carmen Moreno, who introduced us to this term. Civic science involves scientific data collection as well as the study of learning in an experimental process that involves both researchers and participants. We recognize public participants in our projects as civic scientists.
- In the scholarly literature, civic science is part of broader fields of research known as citizen science and the participatory sciences. There are active conversations in citizen science about its name and questions of inclusiveness, particularly in a US context of citizenship. In addition, there are dialogs about the common classification of public participation in science projects on a spectrum from contributory to collaborative to co-creative.
- Naming our work as civic science helps us accurately represent the contributory and collaborative nature of our current project designs while leaving room for future efforts and co-creative pilot projects to evolve. We also appreciate the tradition of civic agriculture and the chance to connect our program with that tradition.
- The word “civic” points to what individual members of society do, the rights and obligations they have, and how their behavior affects others. Civic science can help us come together to develop ways of learning and behaving for more just, diverse, perennial grain agricultures and cultures.
- Our approach to civic science is grounded in ethnobotany, which is the systematic study of human social groups’ botanical knowledge. We aim to support and engage civic scientists in their cultural contexts.
- Civic science is a transdisciplinary method, which means that our approach is informed by a range of scholarly disciplines and also goes beyond them to engage and collaborate with communities and members of the public, based on their interest and consent.
- Big picture, we are investigating if and how civic science is an effective method for advancing new crop domestication. Does it demonstrably contribute to accelerated increases in domestication or breeding traits, broad adaptation, and/or farmer adoption of new crops? Does it increase cultural valuation and human learning and knowledge? Is it a more resilient, equitable, and culturally inclusive strategy compared with other approaches? In what ways is it more or less of an efficient use of resources and energy?
- Coming up, we are investigating if and how civic science can be improved as a method for agricultural research and education. What kinds of data collection do civic scientists enjoy and learn to do best, based on what they find meaningful, and on data quality and reliability? What are the impacts of various investments in energy and resources (digitally, physically, socially, emotionally) for the interest, motivation, and learning of civic scientists and collaborating researchers? What approaches to valuing civic scientists’ and researchers’ care work support fair, inclusive collaboration? What kinds of hypotheses are good fits for testing via the civic science method? When, where, and for whom is civic science a good fit?
- In our current civic science projects, we are facilitating meaningful scientific data collection and investigating what perennial civic scientists and researchers learn. Who becomes aware of and interested in perennial grain civic science, why, and to what effect? Whose motivation and participation is sustained and whose is not? What activities and materials support and grow community learning? What knowledge and relationships are built, and who do they include?
In our 2023 growing season, 95 volunteer civic scientists in 39 US states are collaborating on perennial wheat research and silphium conservation.
Civic science is led by The Land Institute’s Perennial Cultures Lab and works in close collaboration with research teams in crop improvement, ecological intensification, and crop stewardship.
Since 2019, we have been collaborating with researchers at CitSci.org at the Natural Resources Ecology Lab at Colorado State University.
Map of current civic scientists’ locations. Silphium civic scientists represented in tan, perennial wheat civic scientists represented in blue-gray (map created by Reece Knapic).
Join us by supporting this work with a donation to The Land Institute.
An introduction to silphium, its characteristics, and its role in the 2023 Civic Science season.
An introduction to perennial wheat, the factors affecting its perenniality, and its role in the…
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