The Basics of Citizen Science

This section provides a brief overview of the concept of citizen science, the principles it is built on, and some international introductory documents that govern the field.

Citizen science is not something that stands on its own – it is one of the eight pillars of open science. The other pillars are FAIR data, research integrity, next generation metrics, future of scholarly communication, education and skills, rewards and incentives, and the European open science cloud (EOSC).

Defining citizen science is not an easy task due to the multifaceted nature of citizen science. The concept can be explained in a myriad of ways but we have chosen the definition by the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) that brings out two main characteristics:

“Citizen science is an ‘umbrella’ term that describes a variety of ways in which the public participate in science. The main characteristics are that: (1) citizens are actively involved in research, in partnership or collaboration with scientists or professionals; and (2) there is a genuine outcome, such as new scientific knowledge, conservation action or policy change.”

Moving on from the definition, ECSA has also formulated 10 principles of citizen science that have become the cornerstone for any institution that wishes to take first steps in citizen science. The principles help understand what underlies good practice in citizen science and are available in multiple languages, so you can freely share them in your local language in your institution.

Talking about “citizen science” can be understood differently in different languages, there are several terms used to describe science what is made in cooperation with public, with volunteers. This article “Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms” explains most common terms and why different words are used and even in English “citizen science” term is replaced with other expression.

It is worth reminding that European Commission has an ambition for Open Science to become a norm for research and has declared the importance of people participating in research projects. Citizen science has the potential to improve the excellence and impact of research and deepen the relationship between science and society, plus projects involving volunteers are more likely to get financed.

To help libraries get into open science, the LIBER Open Science Roadmap brings out seven focus areas for libraries to advance in the field, both within and beyond their institutions.

To get a great overview of the current state of citizen science with a focus on Europe, take a look at the book The Science of Citizen Science. It reflects the contribution of citizen science to societal development, education and innovation, and provides an overview of the field of actors as well as tools and guidelines. It serves as a good introduction for anyone who wants to get involved in and learn more about citizen science.

There are different approaches used in citizen science projects in humanities and social sciences compared to natural sciences. “Citizen science in the social sciences and humanities: the power of interdisciplinarity” explores how citizen science is practiced in the so far less addressed social sciences and humanities fields by focusing on the role of the citizens. The e-course “ORION MOOC 2.0 for Open Science in the Life Sciences” focuses on principles of open science applied in natural sciences.

Want to get some inspiration for your own research after getting familiar with citizen science? Here are 12 examples of EU-funded Citizen science projects from all over Europe.