Citizen science is the process where researchers involve community members and volunteers to participate in data collection or analysis. It’s also known by other names, such as community science, civic science, or public participation in scientific research (PPSR).
Examples of citizen science
One of the oldest examples of large-scale public involvement in data collection is the annual Audubon bird count. In general, studies that benefit from many people counting species or taking local measurements can work well with people in the community.
Other citizen science projects, such as those listed on Zooniverse, take advantage of the fact that certain data analysis tasks can be performed better by humans than by computers. This is also the premise of FoldIt, which solves computationally difficult biochemistry problems by having people play online puzzles.
How does it work?
If you want to involve communities in data collection or analysis, you will need to actively find people willing to participate, train them, process the collective data and results, and keep your participating scientists engaged. It’s time-consuming, but on the other hand, it may speed up another part of the research process, or allow new areas of research that are only possible with mass participation. It’s also an opportunity to grow your science communication audience, which can be especially valuable for work that informs the community, like environmental monitoring.
Depending on the type of community science that works best for your research, you can get help from SciStarter, Zooniverse, the Citizen Science Association, or local organisations to develop your citizen science project.
- What is Citizen Science and PPSR? — Citizen Science Central. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
- Kullenberg C, Kasperowski D. What Is Citizen Science? – A Scientometric Meta-Analysis. PLOS ONE 2016; 11: e0147152. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147152
- Jiang Q, Davis BY, Kiessling T, Heigl F, Dörler D, Shilling FM et al. Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 2017; 2: 1. doi: 10.5334/cstp.96
Image credit: Colour-altered image of an original by GlacierNPS. Via Wikimedia Commons.
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