Citizen science for environmental policy: Development of an EU-wide inventory and analysis of selected practices

EU Science Hub: “Citizen science is the non-professional involvement of volunteers in the scientific process, whether in the data collection phase or in other phases of the research.

It can be a powerful tool for environmental management that has the potential to inform an increasingly complex environmental policy landscape and to meet the growing demands from society for more participatory decision-making.

While there is growing interest from international bodies and national governments in citizen science, the evidence that it can successfully contribute to environmental policy development, implementation, evaluation or compliance remains scant.

Central to elucidating this question is a better understanding of the benefits delivered by citizen science, that is to determine to what extent these benefits can contribute to environmental policy, and to establish whether projects that provide policy support also co-benefit science and encourage meaningful citizen engagement.

EU-wide inventory 

In order to get an evidence base of citizen science activities that can support environmental policies in the European Union (EU), the European Commission (DG ENV, with the support of DG JRC) contracted Bio Innovation Service (FR), in association with Fundacion Ibercivis (ES) and The Natural History Museum (UK), to perform a “Study on an inventory of citizen science activities for environmental policies”.

The first objective was to develop an inventory of citizen science projects relevant for environmental policy and assess how these projects contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly.

To this end, a desk-research and an EU-wide survey were used to identify 503 citizen science projects of relevance to environmental policy.

The study demonstrates the breadth of citizen science that can be of relevance to environmental policy....Three salient features were found:

  • Government support, not only in the funding, but also through active participation in the design and implementation of the project appears to be a key factor for the successful uptake of citizen science in environmental policy.
  • When there is easy engagement process for the citizens, that is, with projects requiring limited efforts and a priori skills, this facilitates their policy uptake.
  • Scientific aspects on the other hand did not appear to affect the policy uptake of the analysed projects, but they were a strong determinant of how well the project could serve policy: projects with high scientific standards and endorsed by scientists served more phases of the environmental policy cycle.

In conclusion, this study demonstrates that citizen science has the potential to be a cost-effective way to contribute to policy and highlights the importance of fostering a diversity of citizen science activities and their innovativeness….(More)”.