European Citizen Science Association suggestion for 10 principles of citizen science

At the beginning of April, the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) held its first Annual General Meeting in Copenhagen. In the meeting, which lasted a long afternoon and an evening many topics were covered – from membership (it’s now possible to join) to reports from the working groups. With an aim to be transparent and open ECSA has published all the material from the AGM on its website – including the slides from presentations and talks and the main points from the discussion. I have been involved in the ‘Committee Principles and standards in citizen science: sharing best practice and building capacity’ which was is led by Lucy Robinson from the UK Natural History Museum. One of the first activities that Lucy guided was the development of 10 principles of citizen science, with the aim that they can help ECSA in defining what types of projects to endorse. The tentative principles – shared between the people in the committee and now are provided on the AGM site – see her presentation. However, they are of wider interest and we are, as a group looking for comments. So the principles are:

  1. Citizen science projects involve citizens who actively contribute to scientific research. Citizens can act as contributors, collaborators, or as project leader and have a meaningful role in the research project (they are not simply research subjects).
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine scientific question or goal, if possible resulting from discussions between citizens and professional scientists.
  3. Citizens are encouraged to participate in multiple stages of the scientific process, from developing the research question to co-designing the research process, gathering and analysing data, co-evaluating the research results and finally publishing the results for different audiences.
  4. The data gathered and/or analysed are shared and made publicly available either during or after the project, unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this. If the results are published academically, where possible this should be in an open access format.
  5. Participants receive feedback from the project lead on how their contribution adds to the project e.g. how their data will be used and what the research findings are. This adds both reward and opportunity to learn more about the science. The more communication and two-way engagement, the better!
  6. Citizen science activities celebrate and value the contributions of the citizen, and these are actively acknowledged in project results and publications.
  7. Citizen science programmes are characterised by mutual respect and acknowledgement of different skills and perspectives. Where possible, steering committees should integrate both scientists and citizen delegates. The scientists and organisers should be mindful of the power relations that exist within this social interaction.
  8. Citizen science projects should be inclusive. Where possible, inclusiveness should be proactive and not only reactive. Considerations of inclusiveness should include (but are not limited to) level of education, gender, age, religious belief, socio-economic factors and access to technologies.
  9. Being at the frontier between science and society, citizen science programmes have the opportunity to actively promote transdisciplinarity and links between natural and social sciences.
  10. Citizen science programmes should be evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, and the impact on participants.

The principles are open for discussion – they are not set in stone. In the discussion that followed the presentation and in a meeting of the ‘committee’ (more like sitting on the floor in a corner of the building), we explored the need for policy connection and how the aims of the project interact with these principles – for example, how applied ecological observations influence their applications. We’re still looking out for comments to develop these principles until they become part of ECSA ‘code of practice’. Comments are welcomed and will be passed to the working group. Copenhagen


4 thoughts on “European Citizen Science Association suggestion for 10 principles of citizen science

  1. Looks good to me! Seems valuable to have a definition of citizen science, since the term can be stretched to fit various agendas at the moment…

    Regarding point 1, it would probably be good to clarify whether “actively contribute” embraces data gathering. It seems from my PoV that many projects ask participants to gather data actively (e.g. typing things in) or passively (e.g. consenting to track wifi coverage), and point 1 doesn’t really give an answer about either of those. I have no strong opinion re passive data gathering – some may say it doesn’t count, but I think with positively informed consent and opt-in, and perhaps with some of the active-inclusion implied in the other points, it counts.

    Regarding point 4, why the “where possible”? Open access publishing is easy. It should be an absolute condition – having asked the public to take part, it would be wrong not to allow the public to read the official academic form of the outcomes. There are still people who say “I can’t publish open access because …”, but the arguments are usually weak and surely don’t outweigh the quid-pro-quo argument from citizen involvement.


    1. Thanks for the comments Dan. I must admit we had used the words ‘actively contribute’ to emphasise that it was contribution to research, not just engagement with e.g. hearing about the findings of a study. We had not properly considered people gathering data passively. We’ll give this some more thought and amend accordingly.

      In terms of the open access point, these principles are supposed to have an overall feeling of ‘guidelines’ rather than a prescriptive list of ‘must haves’ as there are a wide variety of projects with differing aims and project styles. Perhaps the wording could be tweaked to reflect that ideally it’d be published in an open access journal, but even if its not, it should be made available via an open access data repository (but a bit better wording than that!). I’m interested to hear others’ thoughts on point 4, and will take these into account.


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