Co-created environmental health science: Identifying community questions and co-generating knowledge to support science learning

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Social, political, and cultural complexities observed in environmental justice (EJ) communities require new forms of investigation, science teaching, and communication. Defined broadly, participatory approaches can challenge and change inequity and mistrust in science. Here, we describe Project Harvest and the partnership building and co-generation of knowledge alongside four EJ communities in Arizona. From 2017 to 2021, Project Harvest centered learning around these communities and the participant experience drove the data sharing practice. The framework of sense-making is used to analyze how community scientists (CS) are learning within the context of environmental pollution and (in)justice. The environmental health literacy (EHL) framework is applied to document the acquisition of skills that enable protective decision-making and the capacity of CS to move along the EHL continuum. Using data from surveys, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews, we are asking how did: (1) Personal connections and local relevancy fuel sense-making? (2) Data sharing make pollution visible and connect to historical knowledge to either reinforce or modify their existing mental map around pollution? and (3) The co-creation process build data literacy and a relationship science? Results indicate that due to the program framing, CS personally connected with, and made sense of their data based on use and experience. CS synthesized and connected their pollution history and lived experiences with their data and evaluated contaminant transport. CS saw themselves as part of the process, are taking what they learned and the evidence they helped produce to adopt protective environmental health measures and are applying these skills to new contexts. Here, co-created science nurtured a new/renewed relationship with science. This science culture rooted in co-creation, fosters action, trust, and supports ongoing science engagement. The science learning that stems from co-created efforts can set the pace for social transformation and provide the foundation for structural change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1657-1696
Number of pages40
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 2023


  • citizen science
  • community science
  • community-driven science
  • environmental health
  • environmental health literacy
  • environmental justice
  • participatory research
  • pollution science
  • sense-making
  • underrepresented populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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