It can be easy to look at the seemingly insurmountable challenges facing humanity this century and slip into a state of despair and inaction.
But a local South Australian citizen science project is actively combating the paralysis, inspiring participants to work together to build more resilient and regenerative local regions.
“This project is really all about creating a sense of what Joanna Macy calls active hope,” Dr Keri Hopeward told Cosmos. Hopeward is a social scientist, educator, researcher in sustainable and regenerative living, and part of the research team behind the Living Lightly Locally project.
“We’re moving beyond the focus on individualising responsibility, towards understanding that we need to be working together to create the kinds of changes that we need to see if we are going to be living more lightly, locally.”
A free 12-month citizen science research and education program, Living Lightly Locally is run out of two SA locations – the City of Burnside and Mount Barker District Council.
Applications for the current cohort are open until the end of May.
Citizen science, but not as we know it
Living Lightly Locally isn’t your run-of-the-mill citizen science project; it starts with participants creating a collective vision for change, from which they can identify and set their own goals to help bring that vision to life.
Hopeward shied away from describing examples, emphasising that goal setting is unique to each participant: “We want to make sure that we’re not prescriptive about that, that people are having an opportunity to determine what is important to them. But we’re encouraging people to look at setting goals from the individual to the household, community, and systems change levels.”
Over the course of twelve months, participants access a range of helpful resources – including exclusive 30-minute documentaries on a different topic each month – track their journey and share their stories of change within a group of likeminded people.
“The idea is that they will help inspire people to set goals that work for them, and then hopefully experience the benefits of implementing them. But they also get to experience the benefit of meeting a bunch of other likeminded people in their local area who are interested in working together on similar things.”
The research aims to build a better understanding of the sorts of change that matter to different people, and what makes it easier or harder to achieve those changes, to identify obstacles or barriers encountered when trying to make change in our own lives and communities.
“So, its citizen science, but not as we know it,” said Hopeward. “[Living Lightly Locally] has perhaps a more holistic approach than people might be used to with traditional citizen science.”
“It’s more interested in gathering rich and deep data from a handful of case studies, rather than the approach to citizen science people might be more familiar with – which usually involves having a large number of participants to gather quantitative data on a particular topic.”
Though a 12-month project may sound like a large commitment, Hopeward emphasises that the program is very flexible – giving people the time to engage with the materials and reflect on what it means for them in a way that suits their own lives.
“The program is delivered mostly online, so it only really involves committing to engaging with the documentary that we’re releasing and a couple of surveys. Then we have monthly online zoom sessions that are optional, and a range of local activities on offer that have relevance to the particular topic that people can do or not do.”
And though she says participants could probably engage with the program in a meaningful way with a minimum of about an hour a month: “The more time you give, the more you’re likely to get out of it.”
Apply soon to be involved!
If you’re 18 years or over and live, work, or play in or near the City of Burnside or Mount Barker District Council, applications for the latest cohort are currently open until the end of May. Submit an expression of interest on the website’s Contact Us page.
If you’re outside of those localities, Hopeward says they’re looking to partner with other councils and organisations to extend the life of the project beyond the current grant round.
There’s also an opportunity for facilitator training, so if you’re interested in partnering or potentially becoming a facilitator of the program, it’s worth getting in touch.