Citizen science projects are extremely diverse, but they all share a common goal: to produce scientific knowledge by bringing together research professionals and citizens with the support of partners (most often associations) who help implement the projects. Defining these types of projects is difficult, and it should be noted that each participatory science approach is unique.
Exploring this portal will give you a better idea of the wide range of stakeholders, projects and participatory approaches – you may just find a program or observatory that piques your interest!
A unifying definition
“Citizen science and research are types of scientific knowledge production in which non-scientific or non-professional stakeholders – whether individuals or groups – actively and intentionally participate with researchers.”
This definition encompasses all types of participation in research projects by emphasizing their common ground. It comes from the “Citizen Science in France” report by François Houllier, drawn up in 2016 upon the request of the French Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research. It is also included in the “Charter of Citizen Science and Participatory Research in France” signed on 20 March 2017.
A variety of forms
Citizen science is a global phenomenon and comes in all shapes and sizes. The many fields, research topics, stakeholders, methods and purposes is typical of this sector, which is based on a variety of practices and theoretical approaches that should be recognized.
There have been several attempts to name the phenomenon, including citizen science, participatory science, collaborative science, participatory research and collaborative research, among others. We will mention the three main types (“citizen science*”, “community-based research” and “participatory research”) described in the Houllier report based on a scientometric analysis (see Appendix 3 of the Houllier report, 2016).
|Citizen science*||Community-based research||Participatory research|
|Description||Contribution of amateurs/non-professionals in collecting and analyzing data (scientists, amateurs)||Collaboration between researchers and impacted groups to better understand and resolve issues affecting them (communities, minorities, families, researchers)||Collaboration between researchers and groups of citizens or professionals to resolve issues (professionals, users, associations, cooperatives, researchers, mediators)|
|History||A very long tradition of amateurs participating in producing naturalist science, with the development today of a sort of “enabled curiosity”||A long tradition in the Unites States in public health, and in Canada with indigenous communities||A long tradition in the field of development research various approaches influenced by different intellectual traditions (Kurt Lewin, Paolo Freire, Robert Chambers, etc.)|
|Driving force||Curiosity and a desire to make an impact that has been amplified by modern ICTs and crowdsourcing||Improvement of living conditions or specific aspects within a community||Contribution to tackling societal or scientific challenges, sometimes supported by major international organizations (e.g., World Bank)|
|Objectives||Produce knowledge and indicators, educate citizens about scientific methods||Produce actionable knowledge, promote empowerment||Produce actionable knowledge with a view to achieving innovation and social transformation|
|Main fields||Environment, astrophysics, biodiversity||Public health, education, social work||Agriculture, natural resource management, urban issues|
* The term “citizen science” is often used in contexts to designate initiatives without the involvement of academic professionals. Here, “citizen science” is synonymous with “participatory science”.
Various types of key stakeholders involved in program implementation
There are often three types of stakeholders involved in citizen science initiatives:
- Partners outside of academic research: local stakeholders (local authorities, businesses, etc.), institutional actors, associations, etc.
- Participants: citizens, contributors, civil society stakeholders, schools and students, etc.
Project leaders may be researchers or association partners. All types of situations are possible.
The relationships between these three types of stakeholders are key to implementing citizen science programs. Shared coordination and the synergies of partnerships ensure optimal project management when each of the three groups is recognized as playing a significant role. This is the very essence of participatory science.
Main aims of citizen science
The main aims of citizen science are to (Chlous, 2018):
- Produce knowledge
- Support the empowerment of participants or civil society stakeholders
- Make the co-produced or co-collected information more widely available
The degree of importance of each of these aims may vary depending on the stakeholders.
The dissemination and use of findings are facilitated by the development of digital technology and dynamic tools to visualize data and results.
The development of citizen science also supports the open science movement, which encourages the sharing of findings and has transformed access to knowledge.
While as we have seen, citizen science can be described in a number of ways and there are many different stakeholders and aims, it is important to note what citizen science is not. It is not only about education, raising awareness or producing knowledge (Chlous, 2018).
Citizen science has evolved and experienced significant growth in recent years. It is extremely diverse in terms of its methods and practices, audiences, and the topics it covers. Further changes and transformations of research are to be expected and new participatory practices will likely emerge. Citizen science is constantly evolving.
Projects presented on the Science Together portal use varied citizen science approaches: Annotation; Co-development of protocols/measurement tools; Data collection and entry; Content contribution; Descriptions; Documentation; Sound recordings; Archaeological digs; Identifications; Indexing; Games; Museology; Amateur practices; Reporting; Reproducing experiments; Reporting of results; Monitoring; Transcription; and Validation.
Through the Science Together portal, our objectives are to:
- raise awareness of citizen science;
- support the joint production of scientific knowledge through participatory practices;
- foster the creation of solid relationships between science and society;
- promote interaction between leaders of participatory scientific projects;
- and take up the challenge of collective intelligence by working together!
We wish you the best of luck in your interactions with those working on the projects on this portal and your future participatory science initiatives !
Citizen Science in France report, François Houllier, 2016
Introductory talk at the Citizen Science Thematic Day (Journée Thématique des Sciences Participatives) by the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle and Sorbonne University, Frédérique Chlous, November 2018