1.2 Research question

Co-creating possible research questions through the QUESTION FORMULATION CANVAS

People involved:



1 hour

Citizens might find it difficult to express their concerns in the form of a research question. Concerns often entail personal stories and experiences, and turning them into research questions can be challenging.

How can we turn a citizen’s issue into a sound scientific research question?


This participatory ideation method is a two-folded process. First, it helps to brainstorm possible questions or topics, then, it invites participants to select the most interesting ones and further discuss them. This second part makes participants reflect on the potential barriers, opportunities and relevant stakeholders for each proposed question. This shows the viability of some of the questions, while others will be discarded. Finally, the best research questions/guidelines proposed are voted and chosen to be examined by experts to understand their viability to start a study.

Discover the tool in action!

Co-creating research questions on health and air pollution


CitieS-Health Barcelona


Ideas for Change, ISGlobaI


This is an activity that you can do during a workshop. We ran this activity at the beginning of the Cities-Health Barcelona pilot, when just got the initial results of the surveys made to crowdsource citizen’s issues across city districts. At this time, we aimed to have a face-to-face activity where we could discuss more in depth with interested citizens and community groups. The results of the survey were used as triggers for the discussion. The potential questions were voted and, later on, analysed by experts to understand their viability.


To structure a conversation that could lead to interesting research questions.

To create a space for reflection on the barriers and opportunities regarding some questions.

To discover preferences regarding possible queries.


Create thematic tables with the issues identified. In previous activities, we had identified a list of citizens’ concerns. We clustered them and created thematic tables representing each of the clusters. Participants could choose which table to join according to what interests them the most. Each table was identified with a question that represented the topic of discussion and was intended to trigger the conversations. For example, one of the questions at a table was: What would you like to investigate about the effects of pollution on the respiratory system?

Use a canvas to structure the conversation. 

Sometimes discussions in a workshop take a different direction from that desired, making it difficult to achieve the planned objectives. Using a canvas can come to hand to prevent this issue and better structure the conversation. 

The Identification Issues Canvas guides the conversation by asking participants to define the focus of the study and identify barriers, opportunities and possible stakeholders to involve.

Keep in mind your audience. When you are formulating a research question in citizen science, it is key to keep in mind the public that is affected by the problem at stake. The Identification Issues Canvas includes a set of Actors Cards representing population groups, such as asmatics, runners, elderly people, and children.

Return results to participants. One crucial feature in every participatory activity is giving back results to the participants. In this case, we sent a summary of the session by email and invited them to a public online voting designed for selecting the final research question.

Get the toolbox!

We share with you some of the tools that can be useful to carry out this activity.

Canvas template

Actors cards

Agenda of the workshop