Citizen science

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Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research – whether community-driven research or global investigations.[1]

This page is part of an ongoing, open-ended online collaborative database, which collects relevant approaches that can be used by city-makers to tackle unsustainability and injustice in cities. It is based mainly on knowledge generated in EU-funded projects and touches on fast changing fields. As such, this page makes no claims of authoritative completeness and welcomes your suggestions. Check out the User guide to find out more about how to contribute, including links to tips on formatting and editing wiki pages.

General introduction to approach

Citizen science is research conducted entirely or in part by members of the general public, usually on a volunteer basis. It is related to "participatory science" and "public participation in scientific research." Citizen scientists, amateur scientists, collect and analyse data [1]. Sometimes they collaborate with academic or professional scientists and sometimes they act alone.

Citizen scientists help expand the range and opportunities for data collection and provide community members with more direct access to information. The process helps foster relationships between professional researchers and the general public, inspires curiosity and greater understanding of science, and can make research projects more relevant and applicable to daily life.[2]

Shapes, sizes and applications

Citizen science can take place on a local, national, or international scale. It can involve "big data" and crowdsourcing[2] information on any scale (local to global). It can also involve collecting data on a scale or in different places that might otherwise not be available to scientists.

The European Citizen Science Association [3] articulates ten guiding principles [4] for consideration when utilizing citizen science:

  1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavours that generate new knowledge or understanding.
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcom.
  3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part.
  4. Citizent scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process.
  5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project.
  6. Citizen science is considered a research approach lik any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for.
  7. Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publicly available and where possible, results are published in an open access format.
  8. Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications.
  9. Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact.
  10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution, and the environmental impact of any activities.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Citizen science increases participation in the scientific process, knowledge creation and dissemination. Citizen science addresses two central elements of the social good model—environmental justice and inclusion with particular attention to diversity in age, gender, race/ethnicity, and social class in addressing environmental injustice that is more prevalent in underrepresented communities. [5] Depending on the exact methodology, citizen science can include voices and people who would not be heard using other methodologies. Furthermore, it can bring the results directly to the community impacted and implicated in the research, shortening the timeline between problem identification, solution finding, and interventions. This has implications for environmental and social justice, and the relationship between the two, within cities.

Narrative of change

Citizen science is research inspired by a desire for change. It expands the scientific model of the 20th century that relegated science to academics and their institutions. The process directly responds to citizens' concerns and can take into consideration their perspectives and expertise. By identifying citizens as scientists, not solely participants, they are empowered to actively contribute to knowledge creation and promotion. Through the process and results local networks can be strengthened and valuable relationship created, which will have long-term benefits for the community.

Transformative potential

Local people understand their local environment and can access it better than most people. Citizen scientists become stewards of their local environments as they gather robust data that generates environmental insights and informs future policy. [6]

Citizen science can complement and augment standard scientific approaches, for example by collecting data on a different scale or in places that are not normally accessible for scientists. Citizens hold different knowledge, eg about crucial local context, and the history and impact of environmental issues. Working with citizens opens up new perspectives that can lead to breakthrough insights and solutions. [7]

Data collected by volunteers has contributed to vital scientific discovery in the fields of ecology, medicine, physics, meteorology and various environmental science disciplines. Harnessing the power of citizen science gives scientists the opportunity to gather more data than they ever could alone, gain a greater understanding of how we're impacting our planet.[8]


D-Noses [9], distributed network for odour sensing empowerment and sustainability, Empowers citizens with ​Responsible Research and Innovation, citizen science and co-creation tools to design odour pollution control measures at local, national and global levels with CSOs, NGOs, local public authorities, odour emitting industries and academia. They are piloting 10 European and non European studies and will create DIY guidelines. The project is funded by Horizon 2020.

Monocle[10] partners are developing low-cost optical sensors, methods and technologies to support water quality monitoring by regional and national agencies. In addition to their own research programme they are exploring the role local communities and volunteers (led by MONOCLE partner Earthwatch Europe) can play in collecting essential environmental data to complement existing monitoring networks, evaluate the performance of in-situ sensors, and the role citizens can play in the maintenance and deployment of sensors. Funded by Horizon 2020.

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