Get to know ECHO Leaders: Alba Peiro, Ibercivis


After an introduction to the project by our coordinator, we sit down with Alba Peiro from Ibercivis, our Spanish partner foundation, for a conversation about their specialty – citizen science, and the many ways we can inspire youth to join our ranks.

What drew Ibercivis to project ECHO? Which aspect of the project resonates with your foundation the most?

AP: In recent years, there has been a growing concern about the direction we are taking in environmental matters, and the Ibercivis Foundation wanted to join the change from the perspective of citizen science. Since its founding, we have developed over 70 experiments and citizen science projects at various scales, reaching more than 70,000 participants. Our current European projects are related to environmental observations, pollution, or climate adaptation, among others, and contribute to the Horizon Europe programme and its Missions. We saw the opportunity to do our bit for the Mission Soil Deal for Europe with an exciting citizen science project focused on soil protection, preservation and restoration, and we decided to go for it. Project ECHO, which aims to stimulate, empower and enable citizens to take an active role in increasing literacy, is a challenge that my foundation is enthusiastic about addressing. These objectives are among the areas of knowledge of the Ibercivis Foundation, which will provide ECHO with tailor-made citizen science methodologies and resources for the assembly of communities around the project.

What is your role in the project?

Alongside my colleagues Francisco Sanz and Adrián Gaibar, I lead and participate in numerous tasks within ECHO. My role is to try to facilitate citizen science strategies and evaluation frameworks to ensure ECHO has a significant impact on soil management and monitoring. I led the analysis of the state of the art of similar citizen science initiatives around the world that could provide ECHO with recommendations to guide its future trajectory. I also play an important role in the development and coordination of citizen science initiatives and in their outreach and communication activities. The Ibercivis Foundation also collaborates in the development of digital technologies and the uses of the data generated in ECHO, areas that are more computer-oriented and beyond my expertise, so I only track the progress of these tasks.

Why do you think citizen scientist involvement is so important these days?

Citizen science is a methodology that fosters the creation of broad communities of participants who collaborate in collecting larger amounts of data than would be possible by the scientific community alone. More importantly, these citizen communities not only contribute their knowledge and expertise but also have the opportunity to enhance them. In my opinion, citizens pose original and valuable questions to scientists that can not only be raised in a scientific context, often sparking light bulb moments for them. It is essential that the public share the scientific view of soil, and in this, citizen science plays a significant role. It enables people to understand the scientific method, its costs/efforts, and its limitations, allowing us all to make more democratic, participatory, and defensible decisions against potential criticism. Furthermore, it’s also important to recognise that scientific knowledge is not exclusive to academia or businesses but belongs to all citizens who can benefit from their knowledge.

What changes do you hope our project will bring?

I believe that ECHO will primarily facilitate a change in the current general literacy about soil health among citizens who are not personally related to soil. When we educate people about what healthy soil is, many people first simply ask what soil is. Once we explain and highlight the importance of this natural resource due to its biodiversity and the role it plays in ecosystems, most people become interested and inclined to participate in and contribute to its preservation. Moreover, I think creating a community focused on this area could be very beneficial for its protection because it can boost solid measures. Of course, we will also gain a significant amount of quality scientific information, allowing us to lay the first stepping stone to start monitoring European soils and halting their degradation. Together, we contribute to creating a new scientific culture that improves the relationship between science, citizenship and the policies that can enhance our lives.

What sparked your interest in nature and science?

My interest in the natural sciences began at a very young age, thanks to the education I received and spending part of my childhood in the Pyrenees. I remember being first captivated by landforms, which is why I decided to pursue a degree in Geology. In this branch of natural science, we can study rock formations ranging from 500 million years old to the present day, bordering on something as recent as soils. I specialised in the most modern area of geology, and I like to think that I now work with the most recent element, even if we didn’t properly delve into edaphology during my degree in Geology.

In your experience, what’s the best way to educate younger generations about soil health and sustainability?

From my perspective, the most effective method to teach younger generations about it is by taking them into the field, letting them get their hands dirty, have fun, and gradually building a connection with the soil and everything around it. I also believe that no one learns without seeing something first, so I think we need to start by setting an example. Only then will they be motivated to take action to protect and restore soil. We often don’t realise the important role adults and senior citizens have, and sometimes it feels like we leave the path to a more sustainable future solely in the hands of the youngest, when it needs to be in everyone’s hands. For all these reasons, I believe that ECHO can serve as a groundbreaking initiative, making a significant impact on citizens of all ages by fostering this type of soil education and promoting a more sustainable future.

In recent years, there have been a number of movies about famous scientists and their achievements. Is there a lesser-known scientist that you wish more people knew about?

I wish I could mention all the women who ventured into the world of natural sciences and were not listened to, taken seriously, or treated as they deserved, or were placed in positions unworthy of their knowledge. There is one I believe truly paved the way: Marguerite Thomas Williams (1895-1991). She was among the first women in history to earn a doctorate in geosciences that was not related to classical aspects like mineralogy or paleontology, and she was the first African American to earn a doctorate in geology in the United States, more than a decade before the civil rights movement. She studied one river’s erosion from a geological and edaphological point of view and was one of the first to conclude that, in addition to natural erosion, human activities, including deforestation, agriculture, and urbanization, have accelerated the process of river erosion. I believe she is a person worth knowing and whose work aligns today with the objectives of our project. I like to think that people like her started, and all the rest of us continue.

Thank you so much!