Co-creation and Citizen Science: GROW Observatory

Published on 8 June 2021

With climate change affecting our soil and extreme weather events becoming more frequent, having data that can influence where and how we grow crops, as well as validating satellite models for climate change, have become increasingly important.

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The GROW Observatory applied a rigorous co-creation process and citizen science to empower farmer and food-growing communities to improve the quality of soils using low-cost sensors, an app and satellite data. Led by Professor Mel Woods, the interdisciplinary collaboration with 18 partner organisations, is funded by the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation programme, has achieved impact in countries across Europe.

GROW collected data from 6,500 soil sensors distributed to citizen scientist volunteers in 24 communities to complement satellite observation with in-field evaluation of soil moisture products. Over its lifespan, GROW crowdsourced data from 20,500 small-scale plant growers and farmers at high temporal and spatial density. A framework for citizen observatories brought communities, local authorities and policy makers together with scientists, design researchers, technologists and NGO’s. It supported social innovation through a movement of citizen scientists generating, sharing and using sensing technology and information to improve practices for their local environment, and better understand how that contributes to the sustainable development goals and the extremes of climate change.

“GROW Observatory (Horizon 2020) is the first operational, continental-scale Citizens’ Observatory monitoring a key parameter over an extended period. In GROW, for the first time, crowdsourced data has been used to validate 4 satellite soil moisture products and 10+ different satellite products can use this dataset in the future. The GROW Dynamic Soil Moisture Map is a demonstration of an information service which could be used by farmers, scientists and policy makers for applications in agriculture and climate forecasting.

“GROW also works with artists to illuminate GEO concepts to new audiences, and to stimulate innovative ideas. GROW brings GEO into the mainstream of European society, reaching 2M people across Europe. It supports GEO priorities towards the Sustainable Development Goals, and addresses SDG2, SDG13 and SDG15 through enhanced food, land and soil management and community empowerment.”

Patrick Child
European Commission GEO Principal and GEO Co-Chair Deputy Director-General of the Directorate-General for Research and Innovation, European Commission
Statement from the Group on Earth Observations – GEO-XVI Plenary Canberra, Australia 4-9 November 2019

The data, tools and methods from the GROW Observatory have subsequently been made openly available which allows scientists to enhance their understanding of soil conditions, food producers to adapt their methods to climate change and the development of innovative products and services by SME’s. A series of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) have delivered 31 weeks of education accessed by 25,000 people from 182 countries, the latest course is available on the Futurelearn platform. The findings are also being utilised by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites, allowing scientists to predict extreme climate events such as floods and forest fires.

The GROW Observatory received an award for ‘Design for Climate Services’ from the Academy of Design Innovation Management (2019), the Land and Soil Management Award by the European Land Owners’ Organization (2019), and The PIEoneer Awards 2020 Digital innovation of the year for Citizen Science MOOC Programme & Blended Learning Ecosystem.


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