Citizen Science: Innovation in open science, society and policy – a new open access book!

citizen_science Today marks the publication of the book “Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy“. The book emerged from the first conference of the European Citizen Science Association in Berlin, in 2016. While the summary of the conference is available in a journal article in Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, the book is an independent collection that goes beyond this specific event and providing a set of 31 chapters that cover different issues in the interface between citizen science, open science, social innovation, and policy.

Shortly after the conference, Aletta Bonn and Susanne Hecker, who coordinated it, suggested the development of a book that will capture the breadth of the field of citizen science that the conference exposed. Within a month, the editorial team which include Susanne Hecker, Anne Bowser, Zen Makuch, Johannes Vogel, Aletta Bonn, and myself started to work on the concept of the book and the appropriate publisher. We were committed to publishing the book as open access so it can be read by anyone who wishes it without limitations, and also so the chapters from it can be used widely. By publishing with UCL Press, which agreed to publish the book without charges, we had additional resources that we have used to work with Madeleine Hatfield of Yellowback to ensure that the book chapters are well edited and readable,and with Olaf Herling, a Berlin graphic designer, who helped us in developing and realising the graphic design of the book.

The chapters made quite a journey – they were submitted in late 2016, and were peer-reviewed and revised by mid-2017. As always with such an effort, there is a complex process of engaging over 120 authors, the review process, and then the need to get a revised version of the chapters. This required the editorial team to coordinate the communication with the authors and encourage them to submit the chapters (with the unavoidable extensions!). Once the chapters were in their revised form, they continued to be distilled – first with comments from the editorial guidance by Madeleine, but also with suggestions from Mark Chandler from Earthwatch, who provided us with an additional review of the book as a whole.

Susanne & Aletta in ECSA 2016

Susanne Hecker, the lead editor, put in a lot of time into communicating with the authors, the publishers, and the professional editors. Even as late as two months ago, we had the need to check the final proofs and organise the index. All that is now done and the book is out.

The book contains 31 chapters that cover many aspects of citizen science – from the integration of activities to schools and universities to case studies in different parts of the world.

Here is what we set out to achieve: “This book brings together experts from science, society and practice to highlight and debate the importance of citizen science from a scientific, social and political perspective and demonstrate the innovation potential. World-class experts will provide a review of our current state of knowledge and practical experience of citizen science and the delivery of will be reviewed and possible solutions to future management and conservation will be given. The book critically assesses the scientific and societal impact to embed citizen science in research as well as society.

The aim of this volume is to identify opportunities and challenges for scientific innovation. This includes discussions about the impact of citizen science at the science-policy interface, the innovative potential of citizen science for scientific research, as well as possible limitations. The emphasis will be to identify solutions to fostering a vibrant science community into a changing future, with actors from academia and society. Five main sections are envisaged with an editorial introduction and a thorough final synthesis to frame the book.

Innovation in Science: What are the governance and policy frameworks that will facilitate embedding citizen science in agenda setting, design and data collection of research projects and communication? What are innovation opportunities and challenges and where support is needed? How to ensure data quality and IP rights?

Innovation at the Science-Policy interface: What are the opportunities for citizen science to provide an input to better decision making? How is participation ensured across society and how does it lead to enhanced problem-solving?

Innovation in Society: How can citizen science lead to empowerment and enhanced scientific literacy and increase science capital? What is the social transformation potential impact of citizen science?

Innovation in Technology and Environmental Monitoring: What policy and technical issues citizen science and mobile sensor technology bring? How can it contribute to advances in environmental monitoring within existing and emerging regulations? What policy and practical framework can facilitate or harm this?

Innovation in Science Communication and Education: How have new media transformed science and what are the implication to scientists, public and science funders? How can new techniques open new opportunities and to whom? ”

The final book does not follow these exact sections, but the topics and questions are the same.

The book is free and you can now download it from UCL Press website – let us know what you think of it! 



Call for Participation in Vespucci Training School on Digital Transformations in Citizen Science and Social Innovation – January 2019

Apply until 31 October at 

The Role of Digital Technologies in Engaging Citizens (not only Citizen Scientists) in Social Innovation

Mini BioBlitz at Teppes de Verbois Nature ReserveWith the widespread availability of cheap, ubiquitous and powerful tools like the internet, the world-wide-web, social media and smartphone apps, new ways of carrying out both citizen science and social innovation have become possible. Often this means that barriers for citizens to engage in both science and social innovation have been lowered in terms of communication, outreach and scaling and thresholds for participation have also been lowered. There is an enormous potential for these technologies to strengthen the role of intermediary civil organizations and communities, and thereby to re-balance the playing field in favour of a broader range of actors – even those who do not use Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). ICTs can also help citizen engagement in policy framing by facilitating their involvement throughout the policy cycle, from agenda setting to service design and provision up to policy impact evaluation, creating new roles for stakeholders and enabling new power relations. However, digital technology should also be put in context, as it is often not leading edge but existing off-the-shelf technologies that are used in social innovation. Thus, technology must always be seen in its close intertwinement with the actual world of people, places, and digital skills people may or may not have.

Aim and Goals of the Training School

This training school is a five-day event for doctoral students, researchers, policymakers, civic entrepreneurs, designers, and civil servants who are interested in exploring and learning about:

  1. how citizen science can be understood and/or used as a strategic or intentional approach to social innovation;
  2. the intertwining of social innovation with socio-technical developments, including the impacts of digital transformation;
  3. the relationship between policy framing, participatory research, and social innovation.

All that, with the principles of the Vespucci Initiative – slow learning, long discussion, and collaborative learning where everyone is respected and expected to contribute and learn.

expected outcome(s) of the Training School:

Participants will learn about new forms of collaborative socio-technical development for social innovation, analyze case studies, and apply what they have learned by building a real collaborative socio-technical development for involving citizens and other stakeholders. As a result, participants will learn new skills and, more importantly, they will know new people, peers to collaborate with and/or other professionals who can help their projects.
The program is built upon three main tracks. The first three days will be devoted to introducing participants to these tracks (one track per day). The last two days will be devoted to group work.

  1. Overview of citizen science in research and innovation.
  2. Citizen science, social innovation, and policy-framing.
  3. Digital technologies in citizen science and social innovation: opportunities and risks.

Organization Committee:
Sven Schade, European Commission DG Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra, Italy
Marisa Ponti, European Commission DG Joint Research Centre (JRC), Ispra, Italy
Cristina Capineri, University of Siena, Italy (local organiser)


  • Muki Haklay, University College London, UK
  • Mara Balestrini, CEO Ideas For Change, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
  • Stefan Daume, Founder and Chief Data Wrangler at the Scitingly Project, Stockholm Sweden
  • Sven Schade, JRC
  • Cristina Capineri, University of Siena, Italy
  • Marisa Ponti, JRC

A training school co-funded by JRC ( and COST Action 15212 Citizen Science to promote creativity, scientific literacy, and innovation throughout Europe

Date: January 21-25, 2019
Venue: Fattoria di Maiano, Via Benedetto da Maiano, 11, 50014 Fiesole FI, Italy
Nearest airports: Florence and Pisa; Nearest railway station: Florence.
Language of the training school: English
Maximum Number of Participants: 20

Apply until 31 October at – You don’t need to be part of the Cost Action on citizen science to apply! 

More information is available here.

Workshop notes: Exploring the potential of citizen science approaches for the development of undergraduate research skills

Notes from a Joint workshop of the Teaching and Learning and Citizen Science Special Interest Groups of the British Ecological Society, which was held on 12th October 2018 at the University of Reading. The workshop was organised by Alice Mauchline, who also opened the day.

I’ve followed that with a keynote: “The role of learning in community science and citizen science“. As a basis for this, I have used my talk from Citizen Inquiry which is exploring the role of learning in different types of citizen science projects. I start by covering three main typologies of citizen science (Wiggins & Crowston 2011, Shirk et al. 2012, and mine) and compared between them, pointing that they don’t include learning explicitly. I then mentioned different models of learnings from Laure Kloetzer’s work in Citizen Cyberlab, which is mostly based on contributory projects. This is followed by several examples of such projects, and the learning from them. For Collegial projects, I have used a model from Cindy Regalado’s PhD.  I end with demonstrating the learning from 3 projects of the extreme citizen science group (air quality monitoring, noise monitoring in Heathrow, and preparedness to earthquakes in Seattle). I end with the DITOs escalator which represents both personal and potential journeys which can help in conceiving future projects.

Project Splatter, Sarah Perkins, University of Cardiff – the SPLATTER project is a Social media PLATform for Estimating Roadkill and started in 2013, and the media got interested in the project. The fact that it got media attention helped, with a double spread in the Independent. The website and app are developed by volunteers and reports on Facebook, Twitter, and email are translate it into reporting by undergraduate students – it provides an opportunity for engaging in a professional way in social media. Undergraduate students are engaged through wildlife and conservation groups and offer dissertations, placements, volunteers. Students can also get a stipend to get involved in research projects over the summer. The dataset for 50,000 data points provides data management handling skills. Students compose the annual report, participate in general events and festivals, carry out dissertation projects and even to generate data – e.g. public engagement and running a survey with the Splatter project participants. In the summer placement project photo sharing websites images with geocodes used to assess the distribution of species. The students learn about network creation, organisational skills, understanding the scientific community, and how to manage social media professionally.

Challenges of running a citizen science project as an undergraduate
Arron Watson, University of Reading – as an undergraduate, had an interest in citizen science and wanted to run such a project. Interest in people’s interaction with the environment, and with a background in mental health he could see the potential health benefits. The idea was to understand, through citizen science how people interact with urban spaces, and see why people go to such spaces. The idea was to analyze photographs of green spaces by clicking on features (Zooniverse style) and explain why the participants are attracted to space and then it can be used to understand what are the patterns of data and preferences. The idea is to get preferences of people towards green spaces and think of the benefits for the participants. The Challenges include: “this more like a PhD, and need to be simplified”. The concern was that there wasn’t enough time, but not suitable for an undergrad project. However, he didn’t want to give it up – if there was a structure in place maybe that would help. The project became a set of fixed photos or green spaces based on the same background image – trees, flowers, and done a simple survey of preferences during a conference. Found a way to run it through YouTube. After this project, in an MRes project now focusing on a project around children identifying freshwater macroinvertebrates, through activity pack. Challenges of running a project-time: there is set time for an activity, so that is challenging. The compromise was to use photographs to identify macroinvertebrates, so that idea was put on hold. It is challenging as a student to run these projects!

Citizen Science education from the undergraduate perspective Mo Langmuir, The University of Nottingham/Ignite Futures! – Working on science education for children in Nottingham. Rick Hall was promoting the Lab_13 initiative in which the pupils become architects of their learning, with resident scientists – e.g. that Manuka Honey didn’t have observable health benefits. From the work of Ignite! develop ideas about the issue of Air Quality using the BSA to explore the local environment with students. They collaborated with LSx and FoE on a Diffusion Tubes project in schools and they aim to get comprehensive data across the city. She hasn’t heard about citizen science in undergraduate education. Her informal survey among acquaintances who completed their undergraduate studies in science shows that about 75% haven’t heard about citizen science, and only a few knew about it. However, the potential was positive, with people from different areas, so people who recently finished undergrad studies, were positive about it. It can also help, according to people’s opinions, to be serious about the scientific process. Citizen science needs to have practical skills in science, confidence in

Taking Note: Citizen Science to Science Learning, Colleen Hitchcock, Brandeis University, USA  (Slides here) – primary duties are teaching, and part of environmental studies group. Before graduate school, worked in the Audubon society so was familiar with it before her PhD. Citizen science was natural to engage students with environmental issues. Integrating citizen science into the curriculum can be a shift from a closed education perspective to open science perspective. An outside research lab is very locked in terms of the time of engagement (only when they are with the teacher) and what they are expected to do. In citizen science students can engage more openly – they can also work with other groups and communities. Bringing citizen science to the classroom is making the democratisation of science as the norm, open science happens alongside open education, and the science and is reaching out beyond the university – an open education way. By embedding citizen science we can create a culture where students are questions about the science. By doing citizen science it is possible to support students regardless of the specific topic of their studies. For example, in an iNaturalist ID-a-thon in the campus library. Other people were allowed to join and that opened up the process. Started including citizen science in every course she teaches, and that allow students to do research, increase awareness of scientific contribution and understand that outputs extend beyond the university – it’s experiential and service learning. Focus on biology and ecology. While a lot of the students won’t have a degree in science, it’s valuable to introduce them to the idea that they have a place in it regardless. Through the assignments, the students are both learning about citizen science and about doing citizen science, and also facilitate citizen science -bioblitz or city nature challenge. Classes can be big – 100 students and they start with the question – understand what is citizen science, and participate in a project, usually online in a contributory project. They provide evidence for this (screenshot) and that forms the basis for class discussion. Citizen science can complement course content – eg. biology and climate change is done through a campus phenology project that is linked to NPN, as well as explicitly using citizen science literature as the text for the course (instead of other literature). Students are exposed to citizen science in multiple pathways and won’t question data quality as a barrier. Old pictures of the campus can be compared and people can see the changes in seasonal cycles that already happened. Students learn about data and evidence and complete with a big climate change puzzle of putting all the information together. Finally, citizen science is used for professional development and mentorship and used to increase skills: research, science communication, education, and outreach. Interdisciplinary students are learning about linking issues of communication, environmental justice. Linking to outside organisations can be challenging. There are issues of problems of data that is evaluated by peers, by external citizen scientists – that is changing over the semester. Students are asked to reflect on their progress an see their own evolution. There is an opportunity to collaborate with other students, and understanding the value of the contribution to external communities. So an event “‘Deis does Citizen Science” provided a link to a virtual citizen science project on the basis of camera traps, and the students organised an event of “data sprint” where it was in the library, and then people moved to help in the project – 50 people attended the event, of which 25 participated in class and they were inventive in creating motivation – e.g. registering the activity as community contribution time. A survey of students after the course – beyond the course (3 and 5 years later): they have an understanding of citizen science, but there were also concerns about inclusivity and democratisation, but feel that it is a valuable tool. Some students seeing the value of engaging children, and someone thinks about it and their future family within their work. Relationships with the library are important, and in other areas, people are adopting it – e.g. using Galaxy Zoo in physics class. Librarians also organise digital humanities digitising with regular lunchtime meetings.

Student Environment Research Teams (SERTs); adopting the ethos of Citizen Science to develop future Citizen Science leaders in ecology – Anita Diaz, Bournemouth University and Michelle Brown, National Trust – work with the national trust and undergraduate students. Leading a programme on wildlife conservation – about harnessing the vitality of citizen science to encourage students on how much they do. The SERT collaboration is about volunteer placement. Citizen science as a mirror for the students: carrying data that matter, showing students that what they do is a step towards leadership in wildlife conservation. Empowering students that they can make a difference. Thinking about what it is that they are learning and gained through the project? The Purbeck Wildlife SERT is an area with rich biodiversity, and there are a citizen science projects that involve experts in wildlife that are retired and live in the area. The work with volunteers connects a range of landscapes. It includes 2 weeks of field ecology project. Move students toward co-creation, and students can find their own level – mixed levels of students from undergrads to masters. There are opportunities for the students to work on planning and outputs from the field work. The students get out of this extensive fieldwork – experience in the learning process; achievement of learning goals in Bloom’s taxonomy; and gain employability skills that students can use in future employment: from CIEEM framework. Experience wise, students said: educational, fun, rewarding, challenging, inspiring, tiring. Despite these challenges, students want a leadership role despite the notion that it is stretching. In employability, there are significant skills that are especially coming through of team leaders, then to sub-leaders, and finally to participants with team leaders that are covering the full taxonomy in factual and conceptual knowledge (see image). Also in procedural knowledge and metacognitive knowledge, the leaders are showing better abilities. In technical and transferable skills, the leaders gain most. The Purbeck SERT ethos and link to citizen science is an effective tool and provide training but in a challenging way.

iSpot and distance learning Janice Ansine, Open University – The OU is focused on distance learning and focus on innovative learning technology. Citizen science is now integrated into STEM pedagogy – using it in research in geographic scale. Also for teaching – collaborative and informal learning, student projects, and infrastructure for collecting data. Also used in knowledge exchange and in outreach. In 1972 OU done work with Sulphur Dioxide (by Prof Steven Rose). Projects over the years: from Evolution Megalab to iSpot, nQuire and an open science lab. iSpot developed from OPAL in 2007, with a budget of about £2m, with an aim to create a species ID and biological recording and it combines a social interaction and a careful motivation framework. Learning is embedded in iSpot process – not only valid observation but to get into the identification and learn from it. They developed an iSpot learning wheel (which is included in the Citizen Inquiry book) which explore, identify, contribute, personalise, and recognition. Explore – you to learn by engagement with the site – 10 minutes of looking through observations. Identify – by doing that and discussing the identification, people learn. Contribute – help in the badges. Next, there is the personalisation where people integrate more and filter to the specific areas or taxa or project. Finally, recognition – it’s integrated into a range of OU teaching and course and modules or quizzes that are integrated into the site. As part of the course S295 – the biology of survival – which requires students to share information on iSpot and this was valued by an external examiner. It was also increased into a free open 8 weeks course – citizen science & global biodiversity as part of open learning which will include the application of iSpot. When the looked at observations – by the 50 observation, we can see successful observations.

Developing a research partnership between students and the community – Reflections on the Whitley Researchers Sally Lloyd-Evans, The University of Reading – Sally is doing research partnerships with communities in work that is done with Whitley researchers. Linked to justice issues. Working with a local community in Reading that explore co-production, with issues of mobility, social exclusion. Students working with a disadvantaged community and focus on families and place and using participatory research. Residents ask for help on the use of £1M from the Big Local to support their research. Students are trying to co-produce everything –  from ideas to reporting. Employing local residents on living wage to do research and it is working in teams of 15-20 and with 20 internships to students to engage. Methods that are used include photography, working with local schools, and working with young people and thinking about hopes, dreams, ambitions; belonging; and wellbeing. This includes the development of games and play. Students provide funding for 6 weeks for students to be involved in research – 2 or 3 students per year, also dissertation projects that are linked to community organisations (e.g. community gardens and wellbeing) and have included in as part of a research training module. The opportunities for students is to break down barriers between the university and the local community. Students get life skills, confidence and voice, getting higher quality research and undergrad are doing excellent efforts. There is a growing two-way mentoring and relationships and local residents. With 2-3 students, there is knowing each other more deeply and there is also trust and seeing linkage that supports better research. This is possible by working through internships but almost impossible in bigger groups of students. There are also barriers – it is difficult and challenging to organise and dealing with different agendas and universities are not set up to do it in terms of payment. There are issues about terminology and language to build relationships. IT is slow scholarship and sometimes can be labour intensive. Relationships can be easily damaged through wrong communication. Positionality of each actor. There is a danger of exploitation and changing subjectivities of participants, researchers. Involving local people in unpacking their own difficulties – and might criticise themselves. Researchers role are also complicated – researcher? activist? The more in-depth participatory work is better than the cohort in a module, as this doesn’t align well. From the student perspective – opening up the opportunity to encounter a different community that was not exposed to in the past. Because of the research work in Whitley is done with people who don’t have scope for volunteering, there was a decision to pay participants. Sometimes people volunteer due to issues with the benefits system. There is also a challenge with the definition of the research in the area participatory social science and the boundary with citizen science, and what the area of citizen social science encompasses.

The workshop ended with break out discussion groups to develop:
• Skills map on a ‘ladder of participation’, which contrasted the 4 classification from my levels of participation, with the current Bloom taxonomy to consider where are the learning opportunity at each type.

• Benefits/challenges of citizen science in UG education

• ‘Top tips’ for educators thinking of using this approach

Non-traditional data approaches and the Sustainable Development Goals workshop

The workshop took place in IIASA, which is located in Laxenburg in Austria. The workshop was hosted by the earth observation and citizen science group at IASSA. The workshop focus on the interface between citizen science, earth observation, and traditional data collection methods in the context of monitoring and contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A contextual/perspective academic paper is an expected output of the workshop, so this post is only a summary of the opening presentations. There is also an overlap with the aim of the WeObserve project and the communities of practice in it.

The Earth Observation community geared up already to how it can contribute to the SDGs. EuroGEOSS workshop identified several SDGs where there can be a contribution of citizen science: No. 3 in wealth and wellbeing (e.g. greenspace in cities), No. 4 on quality of education, No. 5 in gender equality, No. 6 on water quality and flood management, No. 11 on sustainable cities – air quality, noise, empty houses, No. 14 – plastics, and No. 15 in species monitoring, disease, and finally on Global Partnership (No. 17).

DSCN3119Australian Citizen Science Association view – some awareness to SDGs and few projects that are linked to SDGs explicitly, though there is an issue of details. From the US CSA, the view is that there are projects that can be linked – water monitoring, CoCoRHaS, phenology, and eBird. Examples also include grassroots environmental monitoring, or the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team. CitizenScience.Asia is a new network – in the context of China, people collect data to understand the environment, to collect evidence and protect rights, and for pure curiosity. The Blue-map used to report water pollution, it then goes to the government, and after being vetted it is shown, and some of it does not show. There are contributory DNA commercial project, but also “China Nature Watch” or Bauhinia Genome project that asks people to share information in Hong Kong. There are bottom-up projects, which include selling test kits for water which is used by people who share it on an online map – after 400-500 data points, the website was shut down by the government. There is also links to Public Lab – creating an automatic water monitor for flow. DSCN3122 Citizen Science Africa Association (CitSAF) – in Kenya the SDGs is getting attention (following the MDGs). NGOs activities are not synced with the government. Government pay attention to health, water, and education. CitSAF emerged from links to UNEP and focused on Kenya – air quality, some research on Malaria, and they can see interest in Nigeria, South Africa and other countries. CitSAF wants to increase the involvement and responsibility of citizens in African countries towards their natural and socio-cultural environment, especially in monitoring the SDGs. The SDG/CS Maximisation group which works across the citizen science associations (which Libby Hepburn coordinates) pointed out that the challenge is the bottom-up – from practitioners, and top-down from the UN and different countries. There is work on the credibility aspects of citizen science. There are is a need for facilitation between the CS community and the SDG community to progress things. The Citizen Science Global Partnership – launched in December 2017, as a network of networks to support citizen science activities. The global partnership has ideas and interest in working with the SDG but they are aspirational at the moment. They include – a platform for coordinating citizen science under the banner of SDG.

The Stockholm Environment Institute analysis of citizen science and SDGs: SEI has worked on environment/development over 30 years with many participatory activities, and worked explicitly on citizen science for the past 10 years. In the analysis they identified that citizen science can be used to refine and define goals; then monitoring; and even for achieving – e.g. in education, gender. The Citizen Science Centre in Zurich focuses on a platform – to allow projects, knowledge in the area, community of citizens and scientists, and projects. The open seventeen challenge is a good example for challenge-based workshops that help people to develop projects. There is an aim for developing an SDG citizen science toolkit. The Joint Research Centre of the European Commission has created an inventory of citizen science activities and mapping them against the SDGs with results being published soon. In addition, there is an effort of a standard for citizen science data and metadata with links to COST Action effort. There is a potential for recording aspects of participants if that is appropriate in the metadata. There is a specific effort of developing guidelines for environmental reporting in a process that will allow it to be cross EU.

SDSN – Sustainable Development Solution Network set up by the UN for the implementation of the sustainable development, with 800 members of universities, and other groups. Within that, the TRENDS group focuses on data governance? How people can integrate data from new sources. 20 expert members and focus on strengthening the data ecosystem, improve learning and data sharing, developing policies, and inform investment. The work is framed around data governance and use. The POPGRID project is attempting to reconcile different sources of data to get good population estimates. Another UN effort is the UN-GGIM have done work on identifying geospatial sources that can be used in SDG with an analysis to understand the indicators at different tiers – the There is an opportunity to understand which indicators information is considered relevant, and where are data gaps. The thinking about crowdsourced and citizen science data is how to find it how to have metadata, understanding comparability and good usability for an SDG indicator. The is an issue about the global spatial data infrastructure for citizen science and crowdsourced data. There is a need to budget for data management, metadata recording and sharing of information from crowdsourced projects. There is a call for good practises and lessons learnt about the SDG indicators in the sustainable development knowledge platform.

UN Environment pointed that the SDGs includes 244 indicators, and they were developed through the inter-agency and expert group on SDG indicators (IAEG-SDG). The custodian agency is developing a methodology, improving capacity, and getting and using the data. The three types of data include country submission of data, data that is complimented with international estimates, and some global data products. There is an effort to consider a mapping exercise and then think where it can be used. A way forward is to identify one indicator, and try to get it accepted – need to be Tier 3. So the opportunity for citizen science is in an indicator that needs to be tier 3, but without an internationally established methodology or standard.


How many citizen scientists in the world?

Since the development of the proposal for the Doing It Together Science project (DITOs), I have been using the “DITOs escalator” model to express the different levels of engagement in science, while also demonstrating that the higher level have fewer participants, which mean that there is a potential for people to move between levels of engagement – sometime towards deeper engagement, and sometime towards lighter one according to life stages, family commitments, etc. This is what the escalator, after several revisions, look like:


I have an ongoing interest in participation inequality (the observation that very few participants are doing most of the work) and the way it plays out and influences citizen science projects. When you start attaching numbers to the different levels of public engagement in science, participation inequality is appearing in this area, too. Since writing the proposal in 2015, I have been looking for indications that will support the estimation of the number of participants. During the process of working on a paper that uses the escalator, I’ve done the research to identify sources of information to support these estimations. While the paper is starting its peer review journey, I am putting out the part that relates to these numbers so this part can get open peer review here. I have decided to use 2017 as a recent year for which we can carry out the analysis. As for geographical scale, I’m using the United Kingdom as a country with very active citizen science community as my starting point.

At the bottom of the escalator, Level 1 considers the whole population, about 65 million people. Because of the impact of science across society, the vast majority, if not all, will have some exposure to science – even if this is only in the form of medical encounters.

However, the bare minimum of engagement is to passively consume information about science through newspapers, websites, and TV and Radio programme (Level 2). We can gauge the number of people at this level from the BBC programmes Blue Planet II and Planet Earth II, both focusing on natural history, with viewing figures of 14 million and about 10 million, respectively. We can, therefore, estimate these “passive consumers” at about 25% of the population.

At the next level is active consumption of science – such as visits to London’s Science Museum (UK visitors in 2017 – about 1.3), or the Natural History Museum (UK visitors in 2017 – about 2.1m), so an estimation of participation at 10% of the population seem justified.

Next, we can look at active engagement in citizen science but to a limited degree. Here, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) annual Big Garden Birdwatch requires the participants to dedicate a single hour in the year. The project attracted about 500,000 participants in 2017, and we can, therefore, estimate participation at this level at about 1% of the population. This should also include about 170,000 people who carried out a single task on Zooniverse and other online projects.

At the fifth level, there are projects that require remote engagement, such as volunteer thinking on the Zooniverse platform, or in volunteer computing on the IBM World Community Grid (WCG), in which participants download a software on their computer to allow processing to assist scientific research. The number of participants in WCG from the UK in 2017 was about 18,000. In Zooniverse about 74,0000 people carried out more than a single task in 2017, thus estimating participation at this level at 0.1% of the population (thanks to Grant Miller, Zooniverse and Caitlin Larkin, IBM for these details).

The sixth level requires the regular data collection, such as the participation in the British Trust of Ornithology Garden Birdwatch got about 6,500 active participants in 2017 (BTO 2018), while about 5000 contributed to the biodiversity recording system iRecord (thanks to Tom August, CEH) and it will be reasonable to estimate that the participation is about 0.01% of the population.

The most engaged level include those who are engaged in DIY Science, such as exploring DIY Bio, or developing their own sensors, etc. We can estimate that it represents 0.001% of the UK population at most (thanks to Philippe Boeing & Ilia Levantis).

We can see that as the level of engagement increases, the demand from participants increase and the number of participants drops. Not that this is earth-shattering, though what is interesting is that the difference between levels is in order of magnitude. We also know that the UK enjoys all the possible benefits that are needed to foster citizen science: a long history of citizen science activities, established NGOs and academic institutions that support citizen science, good technological infrastructure (broadband, mobile phone use), well-educated population (39.1% with tertiary education), etc. So we’re talking about a best-case scenario.

It is also important, already at this point, to note that UNESCO’s estimates of the percentage of UK population who are active scientists (working in research jobs), is 0.4% which is bigger than the 0.111 for levels 5,6 and 7.  

Let’s try to extrapolate from the UK to the world.

First, how many people we can estimate to have the potential of being citizen scientists? We want them to be connected and educated, with a middle-class lifestyle that gives them leisure time for hobbies and volunteering.

The connectivity gives us a large number – according to ITU, 3.5 Billion people are using the Internet. The estimation of the size of middle-class is a bit smaller, at 3.2 Billion people.  However, we know that participants in most citizen science projects which use passive inclusiveness, where everyone is welcome without an active effort in outreach to under-represented groups, tend to be from people with higher education (a.k.a tertiary education). There is actually data about it – here is the information from Wikipedia about tertiary educational attainment. According to UNESCO’s statistics, there were over 672 million people with a form of tertiary education in 2017. Let’s say that not everyone in citizen science is with tertiary education (which is true) so our potential starting number is 1 Billion.

I’ll assume the same proportion of the UK, ignoring that it present for us the best case. So about 250 million of these are passive consumers of science (L2), and 100 million are active consumer (e.g. going to science museums) (L3). We can then have 10 million people that participate in the once a year events (L4); 1 million that are active in online citizen science (this is more than a one-off visit or trial) (L5); about 100,000 who are the committed participants (mostly nature observers) and about 10,000 DIY bio, makers, and DIY science people (L6 and L7).

Are these numbers make sense? Looking at the visits to science/natural history museums on Wikipedia, level 3 seems about right. Level 4 looks very optimistic – in addition to Big Garden Birdwatch, there were about 17,000 people participating in City Nature Challenge, and 73,000 participants in the Christmas Bird Count, and about 888,000 done a single task on Zooniverse – it looks like that a more realistic number is 3 million or 4 million. Level 5 is an underestimate – IBM Word Community Grid have 753,000 members, and there are other volunteer computing projects which will make it about 1 million, then there were about 163,000 global Zooniverse contributors (thanks to the information from Grant Miller), 130,000 Wikipedians, 50,000 active contributors in OpenStreetMap, and other online projects such as EyeWire etc. So let’s say that it’s about 1.5 Million. At level 6, again the number is about right – e.g. eBird reports 20,000 birders in their peak day. For the sake of the argument, let’s say that it’s double the number – 200,000. Level 7 also seems right, based on estimations of biohackers numbers in Europe.

Now let’s look at the number of scientists globally: in 2013 there were 7.3 million researchers worldwide. With the estimation of “serious” citizen scientists (levels 5,6 and 7) at about 1.7 million, we can see the issue of crowdsourcing here: the potential crowdsourcer community is, at the moment, much bigger than the volunteers.

Something that is important to highlight here is the amazing productivity of citizen scientists in terms of their ability to analyse, collect information, or inventing tools – we know from participation inequality that this tiny group of participants are doing a huge amount of work – the 50,000 OSM volunteers are mapping the world or the 73,000 Christmas Bird Count participants provided 56,000,000 observations or the attention impact of the Open Insulin Project. So numbers are not the only thing that we need to think about.

Moreover, this is not a reason to give up on increasing the number of citizen scientists. Look at the numbers of Google Local Guides – out of 1 Billion users, a passive crowdsourcing approach reached 50 million single time contributors, and 465,000 in the equivalent of levels 5 to 7. Therefore, citizen science has the potential of reaching much larger numbers. At the minimum, there is the large cohort of people with tertiary education, with at least 98 million people with Masters and PhD in the world.

Therefore, to enable a wider and deeper public engagement with science, apart from the obvious point of providing funding, institutional support, and frameworks to scale up citizen science, we can think of an “escalator” like process, which makes people aware of the various levels and assists them in moving up or down the engagement level. For example, due to a change in care responsibilities or life stages, people can become less active for a period of time and then chose to become more active later. With appropriate funding, support, and attention, growing the global citizen science should be possible. 

Citizens Disrupt podcast on Extreme Citizen Science

Around July, Linda Doyle got in touch with me, with a request for an interview for a mini-series of podcasts on citizen science as part of the Science Disrupt podcasts. The Science Disrupt series got plenty of interesting episodes – a mini-series on Responsible Science, DIY Bio, Crowdfunding research, and many other topics.

The specific mini-series on citizen science is now out and is called “Citizens Disrupt“. The episodes that have been released so far, cover the areas of contributory projects – those that are led by scientists and members of the public join in and help; a special attention to citizen science within DIY Bio, and an episode that is dedicated to bottom-up, community-led citizen science, which is titled “extreme citizen science“. There is an interview with me, a talk with Dana Lewis and her DIY approach to supporting diabetes patients in their daily life, and Erik Johnston from Arizona State University.  You can find the series here and listen to the podcast on your favourite platform. I very much looking forward to the next episodes!

In my explanation of extreme citizen science, I’ve used the examples of community-led air quality monitoring which is a good example of how a specific scientific methodology can serve multiple needs and aims.


Communities of practice of citizen science – workshops, meetings, and conferences

It’s now about two months since the intensive 10 days at the beginning of June, which included attending the workshop Science and Dissent, the ECSA conference, the follow-up COST Action on citizen science meeting, and the Ecsite conference. Shortly after, I  attended the UNECE 22nd Working Group of Parties to the Aarhus Convention. June ended with a long meeting of the Doing It Together Science consortium to plan the last year of the project. Participating in so many meetings is an overwhelming experience, which takes time to process and reflect on. But a promise for the OPENER project for a reflection that is relevant to the topic of the project – the idea of a community of practice around public engagement and in particular environmental citizen science – provide a reason to consider “what kind of a community of practice was demonstrated in each event?“. I’m not trying to compose here an insight on the nature of communities of practice but just a description of where things are right now.

A Community of Practice (CoP) is “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” and the different formats of the meetings provided the physical space and temporal co-location for people to come together.

The meetings are of very different sizes: from the over thousand participants in Ecsite, to the 15 or so participants in DITOs meeting. Those different sizes lead to different possible interactions and linking up with people, but in each case, it wasn’t only a single CoP in action, and that becomes clearer with the growth in size since people come together. The COST action meeting, although bring about 150 people, was very distributed, with each working group (where people with similar interest discuss their research) talking in their room with only short interactions with other people during coffee breaks.

All these meetings brought together people with a shared interest in citizen science to some degree and in different ways. In “Science and Dissent”, it was historians of science who are researching citizen science, while in ECSA conference, a lot of people who research and organise citizen science projects came together. Ecsite conference focus on science centres and science museums, so only some of the people there have a strong interest in citizen science (I’d guess that about 100 to 200 were interested in “Citizen Science on Trial“). There were overlaps between the people that participated in this series of events, but the “Ven diagram” of participation across them, end up being fairly small. I see that as evidence that while the interest in citizen science is reaching different groups and CoP, the number of people that cross boundaries between them is small.

Another question is the equity in participation. What was especially interesting is to see that the communities of the COST Action and ECSA conference do not completely overlap, but that might be the results of the costs, affordability, and length of travel. The ECSA conference requires people to book travel, hotel, and conference, while COST covers the costs of travel. This brings to the fore questions about resources (in time and in money) that shape the interactions within a CoP – for example, in participating in ECSA AGM and voting on specific decisions.

Finally, it is also interesting to see how different modalities of formalism and practices play out in each meeting, with the UNECE meeting, naturally, being at the formal end – and yet, you could see that some people in the room have been working together for a very long time and are a very tight CoP on public access to environmental information; to the ECSA conference, which is fairly open, but developing new ways of working and agreeing on common issues, where there is familiarity, but as a relatively young organisation, there are many newcomers.

Finally, it is also worth noting that amongst the meeting, there was also a launch of three CoPs that are dedicated to citizen observatories as part of the WeObserve project.