The COBRA Project: a community-based approach to public engagement in science.

Berardi, Andrea; Mistry, Jay; Tschirhart, Celine; Bignante, Elisa; Haynes, Lakeram and Jafferally, Deirdre (2014). The COBRA Project: a community-based approach to public engagement in science. In: Proceedings of PCST 2014.



Scientific research and communications is dominated by a command-and-control approach which lacks the ability to engage the public in managing and adapting to surprises and rapid change. These initiatives emerge from higher-scale structures e.g. national institutions, which are not always compatible with the realities and perspectives of communities. The failure of top-down, 'deficit model' approaches to science communication have encouraged communities to support an alternative, bottom-up, culturally and ecologically sensitive approach to communication for addressing complex socio-ecological problems. This paper explores the development and promotion of a 'community-expertise' model of public engagement through the COBRA Project, a participatory project involving indigenous communities of South America. The project’s aim is to significantly scale up the sharing of indigenous expertise and knowledge through photography, video and online platforms. We will present the results of how this expertise is identified, recorded and shared with national and international scientists and policymakers. We report on the conflict between the principles behind participatory community engagement and the demands of policymakers for scientific, empirically validated data, which clearly require an imposition on the type and process of data collection, analysis and modes of communication. We argue that participatory methods that engage local indigenous communities are empowering for these involved, but it is in the end up to the scientific and policy-making establishment to accept the validity of these ‘non-standard’ forms of science communication.

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