Over Winter 2016, Scent conducted a series of ‘Focus Group workshops’ in Tulcea, Romania and Athens, Greece. These two regions are where the project’s pilot studies will take place and Scent want to continuously engage with the local citizens and hear their views and opinions on the environment and if they are active in its conservation.
The focus group workshops involved a convergence of different groups of various local people on the subject of the environment and their engagement with it. At these workshops, Scent asked the local people participating in these groups to share their experiences, observations and concerns regarding the environment and changes in land use in particular.
Engagement with the environment
The group members at both of the workshops in Tulcea and Athens gave positive responses when asked how they engage with the environment. Responses from the group members at the Tulcea workshop detailed different levels of engagement, from continuous recycling and picking up plastic bottles around the Danube Delta river, to installing bird feeders on balconies and planting trees to recreate lost habitats.
Responses from the group members at the Athens workshop were focused on being more environmentally-friendly as part of daily life, through commuting on foot or by bicycle and ensuring household appliances were switched off when not in use. Some members spoke of how they would get out of the city to hike, go canoeing and acknowledged environmental changes such as deforestation.
Impact of human intervention
The majority of the focus group members at the Tulcea workshop shared how they have observed dramatic changes in land use in their local region over the last decade. Examples of human intervention they have witnessed in their daily lives included deforestation, shrinking habitats for flora and fauna, pollution from agriculture and construction in flood-prone regions. One of the locals said “We used to have four seasons, but now we only have two. Hot summers and cold winters. Climate change is a reality.”
Group members at the Athens workshop shared concerns focused on a similar level of environmental consequence- some people shared memories of dramatic flood events along the Kifisos River, others recalled observing changes in the natural river bank from human interventions. The citizens were encouraged by the details provided on what Scent would offer them as citizens; if they observed a change in the Kifisos, they would now be able to report it to policy makers through the Scent Toolbox, with the potential impact of preventing a flood event from occurring.
Interest in Scent
The local people in the focus groups learned about the Scent project and were keen to find out more about the multiple ways in which they can get involved. They believed that others will get engaged in environmental monitoring through Scent once they learn about how they can contribute to the common good, become the eyes of the policy makers and have fun at the same time.
They were also encouraged by the ease with which they would be able to engage with the Scent Toolbox and in response, gave helpful suggestions on how it could work for them as environmentally engaged, local citizens, such as being user-friendly and receiving feedback on their contributions. They were particularly interested in the “gamification” aspect of the Toolbox, by which they could compete against fellow local people and assist in contributing to information about land-use.
Discussions also considered how to engage citizens further with Scent, with the ideas of connecting with other groups who are active in the environment such as running clubs and cyclists, engaging with school environmental groups and encouraging people in Athens to learn about the Kifisos river as a means of connecting with it.
The Scent project team who conducted the focus group workshops would like to thank all the local people who participated and are looking forward to further fruitful citizen engagement.