Citizen science with the GROW observatory

At first glance, it might be surprising for some to see a project like The GROW Observatory on a website for a community and event with the word “city” in its name. Actually, it’s a great fit in a number of ways. The Montréal summit wants to reflect on how the city and it’s inhabitants occupy the territory, which includes surrounding lands; GROW is a citizen science initiative, very much in line with the values of our movement; urban agriculture and the parks and lands within a city’s limits could certainly benefit from similar programs; finally, both projects mix technology, community, understanding, and purpose.

GROW is the first continental-scale Citizens’ Observatory to monitor a key parameter for science, continuously over an extended period, and at an unmatched spatial density. GROW has, for the first time, used crowdsourced ground observations from low-cost sensors to validate soil moisture information from satellites, including the new generation of high-resolution satellites, Sentinel-1.

Agriculture, local food production, empowerment in the production of food, and the general good health of the land around us, all benefit from a better understanding on our part, and that’s what GROW provides with their small sensors and apps. By monitoring the soil moisture of their land, and validating satellite data, participants can better understand the needs of the soil, how to plan irrigation, and grow their crops in a more sustainable manner.

The project has proven so valuable to participants, that even though funding ended in 2019, the program is still supported by community groups who have decided to remain active. There’s also a follow-on project with WeObserve, a Coordination and Support Action (CSA) which tackles three key challenges that Citizens Observatories (COs); awareness, acceptability and sustainability.

GROW drew our attention but you should also have a look at WeObserve, especially their toolkit with various tools to co-design an observatory, training and data collection for environmental monitoring, data quality and visualization, and evaluation and advocacy. You can also understand more about COs and find inspiration from all the groups listed in the COs Landscape Map.