What is Citizen Science?

Citizen Science is all about research. Citizens can contribute to new knowledge through their collaboration and their special know-how. And they will also get the opportunity to link with other people who are interested in the same topics and to learn new things from the world of research.

How it all began

Citizen Science is not an invention of the 21st century. The distinction between amateurs and researchers was created when science became institutionalised, which took place in the 19th century. Before that, individuals with sufficient time and financial means often pursued a scientific activity. The best known among them were Charles Darwin (1809-1882) – author of the Evolution Theory – and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – politician and inventor of the lightening rod – as well as Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) – monk and founder of classical genetics. However, there were also farmers, hunters and other people interested in nature who collected data. For example, citizens and civil servants have recorded outbreaks of locust plagues in China for 3,500 years.

On the way to a definition

At the end of the 20th century, the Internet and the many possibilities offered by modern technologies such as smartphones and GPS started new era for citizen science. Volunteers can now contribute to different research disciplines with little effort. There are many ways to participate: citizens can make the computing power of their computer available, measure environmental parameters with sensors, analyse photos of animals and plants, formulate new research questions, offer new scientific solutions through games, and much more.

The Citizen Science concept is constantly evolving. However, there is still no uniform CS definition. The 10 Principles of Citizen Science of the European Citizen Science Association (2015) provide guidance. These lay down important requirements for good CS practice.

  1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding.

  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome.

  3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part.

  4. Citizen 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 like 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.