Nature Reviews Methods Primers paper on citizen science

At the end of September 2021, I received an email from Nature Reviews Methods Primers (NRMP) with an invitation to lead a paper on citizen science. NRMP is a journal that commissions methodological papers on different topics, so they can be used by early career and experienced researchers, to learn about a new methodology and to understand how to implement it. Papers have a common structure, with an editor from the Nature team that is involved in the design and development of the paper, to ensure that the quality of the content is suitable to the goals of the journal. In addition, NRMP produces an A3 poster that is suitable for printing and use in the lab (they call it PrimeView).

By this stage, I have written a lot of introduction to citizen science (from the paper in 2013 that provides a typology, to the very recent report for the European Commission’s Mutual Learning Exercise). In different reports, book chapters and teaching material, I think that there are over ten of those. I’ve done my bit to introduce to field!

When the opportunity to contribute to NRMP came, I was considering it very valuable, as it provides the visibility and recognition that is associated with the Nature brand, and therefore worth the effort. However, I also thought that as I’ve done enough of these introductions, and I know from experience that they are well read and referenced, they can provide a good opportunity for early career researchers to make their name and secure a prestigious publication.

With this in mind, I wanted to use a methodology for commons-based peer production of scientific work, that I have been working on for a while. My thinking is that we don’t use the lessons from patterns of participation, motivation, and form of working that are common in citizen science and scientific crowdsourcing within scientific projects. This paper provided an opportunity to explore that.

With an agreement with the Nature editor, I used the citizen science mailing list to look out for early career researchers who want to take the lead on the paper and work on it. I promised that I’ll provide support for the process. Over 30 people expressed an interest in taking part in the process, with five people willing to take a leading role: Gerid Hager, Dilek Fraisl, Pen-Yuan Hsing, Margaret Gold, and Baptiste Bedessem. Through a collaborative discussion, we’ve agreed that Gerid and Dilek, who are at the same institute (IIASA) will be the overall leaders, with the other three taking over parts of the paper as section leads. To assist the process, they carefully selected a few other contributors – some of them experienced researchers. These include Finn Danielsen, Colleen B. Hitchcock, Joseph M. Hulbert, Jaume Piera, Helen Spiers, and Martin Thiel. Helen was also among the people that NRMP consulted at the early stages, and she could contribute with her detailed knowledge of Zooniverse.

Once the team was set, I took the role of supporter to the core writing team – including sending the emails to people who wanted to participate but had to be rejected or answering some issues that can come up when very experienced researchers are contributing to a paper that is led by early career researchers. The paper writing went very well and didn’t have any major difficulties in the peer-review.

The credit for the development of the paper needs to go to this core team and especially to Dilek and Gerid who navigated the process exceptionally well.

It is deliberately focusing on scientist-led “contributory” projects in the environmental and natural sciences. The reason for that is that this is the most common form of citizen science that a researcher might come across. I do hope that there will be opportunities to write papers about citizen social science, or about collaborative research. The paper is available as open access until 25 September 2022, and the pre-print will be available after that (or email me to request a copy).

Image of different stages of citizen science, taken from the paper. "Six iterative stages of designing and implementing a citizen science project from identifying the need or the problem to evaluating the project, focusing on the fields of environmental sciences and ecology. Project teams should be action-oriented while designing and implementing citizen science initiatives."
Stages in the development of a contributory citizen science

The abstract of the paper is provided below and you can access it at the link here.

Citizen science is an increasingly acknowledged approach applied in many scientific domains, and particularly within the environmental and ecological sciences, in which non-professional participants contribute to data collection to advance scientific research. We present contributory citizen science as a valuable method to scientists and practitioners within the environmental and ecological sciences, focusing on the full life cycle of citizen science practice, from design to implementation, evaluation and data management. We highlight key issues in citizen science and how to address them, such as participant engagement and retention, data quality assurance and bias correction, as well as ethical considerations regarding data sharing. We also provide a range of examples to illustrate the diversity of applications, from biodiversity research and land cover assessment to forest health monitoring and marine pollution. The aspects of reproducibility and data sharing are considered, placing citizen science within an encompassing open science perspective. Finally, we discuss its limitations and challenges and present an outlook for the application of citizen science in multiple science domains.

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