PhD programmes Sensors and citizen sciences : What contributions for environmental sciences?

Main host Laboratory - Referent Advisor: GERS - EE - KOUADIO Jules tél. : +33 240845733
Director of the main host Laboratory: PEYNEAU Pierre-Emmanuel -
PhD Speciality: Géographie - Sciences de l’environnement
Axis of the performance contract: 3 - COP2017 - Planning and protecting regions
Main location: Nantes
PhD school: Matière, Molécules, Matériaux et Géosciences (3MG)
Planned PhD supervisor: RODRIGUEZ Fabrice - Université Gustave Eiffel - GERS - EE
Planned financing: Contrat doctoral - Université Gustave Eiffel


Cities concentrate a large part of economic and transport activities, exerting strong anthropogenic pressures on the environment in terms of consumption of space, energy, goods and natural resources.The increase in the urban population reinforces the ecological footprint of cities on the territories and jointly increases the exposure of their inhabitants to the impacts of climate change which is taking place on a more global scale. Faced with these global changes, the assessment of the impact of human activities on the quality of urban environments (for different receiving environments: water, air, soil) requires a better knowledge of these environments and the production of environmental data. In France, the research programming law (LPR) 2021 - 2030 advocates a paradigm shift in terms of the strategies to be implemented in the context of strengthening relations between science, research and society with an entry at three levels: the participation of the more people in research, the sharing of a common scientific culture and the irrigation of democratic debate aimed at supporting decision-making and public policies. As a continuation of this system, the Second National Plan for Open Science also encourages democratization of access to knowledge for teaching and training purposes, to the economy, to public policies, to citizens and to society. in general. It aims to position open science as a lever for scientific integrity and promotes public trust in science. At present, there are a multitude of sensors allowing any individual to have access to more or less fine knowledge of the environment. Whether it is "remote" devices such as satellites or closer with smartphones and all the sensors or micro-sensors that can connect to them or that they can embark, everyone can now "endorse" the mantle of the expert by appealing both to his personal knowledge and to the documentation associated with these devices. By falling within the theoretical framework of the actor-network (Akrich, Callon and Latour, 2006), these socio-technical devices are studied through their chains of successive "translations", allocated both by the instruments necessary for their achievement, the scientific contributions, the financial means or by the collectives who seize it and the values they share.

These networks are thus made up of heterogeneous actors that feed off and feed controversies. In a general atmosphere more inclined to questioning or even mistrust of the word of the scientist or that of the expert, individuals therefore now have at their disposal sensor tools that allow them to build their own opinions and analyses. around environmental issues. This is also reinforced by a perception of gaps in official information that has gradually given rise to the possibility of citizen creation of data (Sieber, 2006).

This positioning is unfortunately not without risks with regard to the management and quality of these data, the measurement protocols, the rigor and relevance of the interpretations, the legal constraints, the conditions of reuse, reproducibility and generalization of the results. measurements. The question of data governance also invites us to consider the possibilities of instrumentalization and the asymmetry between the different actors. Therefore, it seems relevant to take into account the actual decision-making processes and to distinguish potential access and uses of data (Lehmans, 2018).

The development of participatory science and research projects using sensors (measurement of temperature, relative humidity, pollutants in the air, vibrations in the ground, radiation, etc.) represents an unprecedented opportunity to deal with the societal and environmental challenges. In an ever-renewed perspective of co-construction, sharing and enhancement of scientific knowledge, science and participatory research continue to open the way to increasingly broad possibilities for dialogue and rapprochement between “science and society”. The scales of the actors' participation nevertheless remain to be questioned in order to grasp what is being built, according to a gradient that runs from manipulation to possible citizen control.

However, despite their origins dating back to the 17th century (in Europe), many theoretical, methodological and practical obstacles still remain to this day with regard to participatory sciences and more particularly when they involve the use of sensors. . First of all, the provision of a "general public" version of these devices necessarily involves choices in the way of presenting the functionalities and the associated documents and therefore the non-presentation of certain others. In addition, although these tools are theoretically accessible to everyone, it can be noted that a part of the population still lives in indifference or even ignorance of the local and regional environmental issues that surround them (Guermond, 2011 ).

Is it enough to make new data and tools available to generate enthusiasm and a real change in citizen practices around environmental issues by relying solely on a democratization of access to information?

This thesis therefore aims to provide some answers to this question. Between citizen training in the use of sensors, effective cognitive capacity of the citizen to seize the relevant information that he can produce concerning his territory in order to bring it to the public debate, several difficulties remain.

The thesis also proposes to question theoretically and methodologically the sciences and participatory research mobilizing the use of sensors. It will be a question of producing new knowledge on these aspects, by looking at them in a fairly detailed way. An axis that we want to explore with this doctoral project is that of transversality, internal and external through the formats and modalities of participation. Transversality in the orchestration of actors: citizens, researchers and elected officials dialogue, thus guaranteeing the framework in which energies can be deployed in a sustainable manner.

The idea is therefore to shed scientific light on new collaborative forms between actors and operators around the subject of environmental sensors mobilized in participatory systems: how to cooperate so that the subjects of territorial resilience are shared by all actors and not entrusted only to a referent who thinks everything, masters everything within the authorities before then being able to transmit everything? Particular attention will be paid to questions of the temporality of the commitment of citizen-sensors: long-term registration versus occasional involvement. These different forms of involvement will be questioned in order to measure and understand the brakes and levers.

Finally, we will look at the territorialization of the proposed solutions: what will be the governance models to be deployed in the implementation of participatory projects in the territories? How can sensors in their mediation dimension contribute to proposing a more shared, decentralized and cross-sectoral approach to the making of policies? If so, what are the effects and issues of these changes within the institutions, and in the relationships between the actors?

Proposed methodology:

A first bibliographical work will be carried out on the collection of environmental data and on participatory sciences. A first metrological approach will consist in qualifying the data: how can it be measured properly and what data are of interest to both citizens and researchers? The socio-technical and cognitive dimensions will then be addressed through survey methods (interviews, questionnaires, focus groups/participatory workshops) with the different categories of actors. Finally, a specific methodology will be developed in order to carry out a Proof Of Concept (POC) on an experimental territory. The survey methods that will be used aim to answer the following questions: what should the ideal sensor look like? How to strengthen the "science and society" links in a co-constructed approach of scientific, technical (and industrial?) culture. We will seek to explore relationships with the environment by articulating individual, collective, territorial and political scales. How do interventions on the environment upset the practices and perception of communities of practice (operational actors)? We also want to assess the possibilities of education and public awareness of metrological issues.

Keywords: Citizen sciences, sensors, environmental metrology, citizen-expert, open science

published: 10 February 2023     Please mention EARTHWORKS when responding to this advertisement.