What is citizen science?
It is a diverse set of practices that specify that and how the public can be involved in research processes. This encompasses, most commonly, the involvement in the collection of data, e.g. nature observations or the review of large datasets, e.g. images or of galaxies. As the image below shows, the concept can also include the involvement of citizens in the formulation of research questions, in the testing of methods, data analysis, writing of articles, compiling or communicating findings.
Figure: Citizen science involves researchers co-creating with the public in some way during the research process. Illustration by: Lotta W Tomasson/VA CC BY-NC 2.0. Source: https://v-a.se/english-portal/citizen-science/
Citizen science engages the public in crafting solutions to societal problems by using scientific lenses. It is a learning continuum, as much as it is part of an opening and democratization process, helping participants not only to understand their surroundings better, but also the scientific processes behind daily issues. It builds personal contacts by connecting research with the outside and it builds trust. There are usually reinforcing effects on the relevance of the results. Thus, citizen science projects help to speed up scientific progress and answer research questions, while enabling a porous distribution of knowledge into the society. General principles for citizen science stipulate that both professional scientists and citizen scientists should benefit from taking part and be acknowledged.
Citizen science is widely promoted through EU funding, but has also been taken up by several national funding mechanisms.
What are inspiring examples?
An easily accessible tool “for everyone”, originally from the United States, is iNaturalist, a community and an application, where anyone can upload nature observations, get suggestions about the nature of the observed plants or animals, exchange with others, feed into the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and start own projects. The Horizon EU magazine produced several focused articles about citizen science this month focusing among other aspects also on the particular field of environmental monitoring and the involvement of marginalized groups.
… and in the region?
The EU-funded project EU-CITIZEN.SCIENCE is mapping a variety of projects, organizations, platforms and training events. Among these projects, one can find for example Obtectus Finders capturing seed beetles and larvae which is organized by the Department of Evolutionary Biology of the Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković” in Belgrade. WBC-RRI.NET also produced a thread with a few examples from the region, such as a project about invasive species in Albania, protecting rare snails in North Macedonia, biodiversity in the Adriatic Sea in Montenegro, etc.
We can also introduce two good practices from the University of Novi Sad, where the Center for Behavioural Research in Psychology (STAR) is one of the frontrunners of using the citizen science approach. One of their highly topical projects focused on mental health, entitled “Daily Monitoring of Emotional Responses to the Coronavirus Pandemic in Serbia: A Citizen Science Approach”. It was conducted for 35 days starting from March 2020 in a state of emergency in Serbia. It involved a total of 18,478 participant responses. Citizen scientists actively participated in all phases of the research from asking questions they are interested in, promoting the research, motivating the respondents etc. The objectives of the research addressed the needs and problems that brought scientists, NGOs, government and media together. The researchers put an effort to engage the public to take active part in scientific process as way to democratize research results and make it available to anybody, no matter of their education, socioeconomic status, age etc. This project was completely voluntary and resulted for example in a scientific paper. The second good practice project, used citizen science in a twin study. Also in this case, citizen scientists participated in the design of the research problems and measures, collecting the data, and disseminating the results. They received training and were able to enhance their competences participating in the generation of scientific knowledge, and became aware of the relevance of twin studies, the state-of-the-art research in relation to the genetic and environmental interplay in the explanation of various functional and dysfunctional behaviours, etc. Broadening the outreach has resulted in more reliable and valid data and increased the visibility of the research group in the stakeholder community. Researchers who conducted these studies and gained valuable experience, are available to transfer their know-how, share their tips and inform about traps during the process.
What does WBC-RRI.NET plan?
First, we started a regional working group focusing on “Science Education and Public Engagement” in which you are invited to join to further the exchange about such practices. This Working Group has developed an extensive (and exciting) list of activities for the period 2022-2024, capitalizing on current (and new) initiatives by regional cross-border partners, such as: The science to school initiative, RRI sessions on citizen science in WB conferences, Researcher’s night, Policy Briefs on Public Engagement and Science Education, Improving Science Communication, development of a Creativity Center, etc.
Secondly, our Albanian partners are setting up an exciting new project in the Kune-Vaini Lagoon, an environmentally protected area along the Adriatic coast, with a focus on injecting Ecosystem Services knowledge among the local and regional Quadruple Helix stakeholders, to enable joint efforts in the protection of the lagoon in view of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and disaster risk reduction. Services related to biodiversity maintenance, fisheries, carbon sequestration, flood protection from storm surges and tides, wastewater treatment, and tourism and recreational activities, are being mapped and assessed through public engagement and participatory methods. The use of citizen science in the production of knowledge, involving local businesses, fishermen, regional and national academic and government institutions will not only contribute to strengthening territorial management practices, but will also enable the creation of a territorial ecosystem of responsible research and innovation on environmental issues in Albania.
Where to learn more?
Join our working group by filling out this survey: https://survey3.zsi.at/index.php/112533?lang=en
Check out material provided on the following recommended websites:
- https://eu-citizen.science/ which provides information about projects, resources, training opportunities, organisations and platforms
- Website of the European Citizen Science Association: https://ecsa.citizen-science.net/
- Citizen Science Resources on the RRI Tools website: https://rri-tools.eu/en/search-engine/-/Search/resources#keywords=citizen%20science