How Does Policy Conceptualise Citizen Science? A Qualitative Content Analysis of International Policy Documents

In early December, a special collection of papers in the journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice” was dedicated to Policy Perspectives of Citizen Science. I have contributed to two papers in this collection. The first one is “How Does Policy Conceptualise Citizen Science? A Qualitative Content Analysis of International Policy Documents“. The paper is led by Susanne Hecker who organised the writing team in March 2018. Her idea was to identify a cohort of policy documents from across the world and look at the way that they use the term “citizen science” – specifically. By so doing, the qualitative analysis of the document can help in revealing the way that the term and the practice are framed within policy circles. A lot of the collaboration and the development of the paper was carried out through online calls, and we met to discuss the paper once (during the ECSA conference in 2018). Susanne and Nina did the analysis work of the documents, while Aletta and I provided suggestions for documents, and influenced the framework for analysis. Overall, 43 policy documents were analysed – the full paper can be accessed here, and the abstract reads:

Policy and science show great interest in citizen science as a means to public participation in research. To recognize how citizen science is perceived to foster joint working at the science-society-policy interface, a mutual understanding of the term “citizen science” is required. Here, we assess the conceptualisation and strategic use of the term “citizen science” in policy through a qualitative content analysis of 43 international policy documents edited by governments and authorities. Our results show that most documents embrace the diversity of the research approach and emphasize the many benefits that citizen science may provide for science, society, and policy. These include boosting spatio-temporal data collection through volunteers, tapping into distributed knowledge domains, increasing public interest and engagement in research, and enhancing societal relevance of the respective research. In addition, policy documents attribute educational benefits to citizen science by fostering scientific literacy, individual learning, and skill development, as well as by facilitating environmental stewardship. Through active participation, enhanced ownership of research results may improve policy decision-making processes and possibly democratise research as well as public policy processes, although the latter is mentioned only in a few European Union (EU) documents. Challenges of citizen science mentioned in the analysed policy documents relate mainly to data quality and management, to organisational and governance issues, and to difficulties of the uptake of citizen science results into actual policy implementation due to a lack of citizen science alignment with current policy structures and agendas. Interestingly, documents largely fail to address the benefits and challenges of citizen science as a tool for policy development, i.e., citizen science is mainly perceived as only a science tool. Overall, policy documents seem to be influenced strongly by the citizen science discourse in the science sector, which indicates a joint advocacy for citizen science.




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