Policy Perspectives on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing

Special Issue edited by Lea A. Shanley, Alison Parker, Sven Schade, and Aletta Bonn: “Citizen science encompasses a range of methodologies that support meaningful contributions of the public to the advancement of scientific and engineering research and monitoring, in ways that may include identifying research questions; conducting scientific investigations; collecting, processing, and analyzing data; developing scientific hardware and software; and solving complex problems. As an emerging field, citizen science has been described in a variety of ways (e.g., Auerbach et al. 2019Eitzel et al. 2017Hecker et al. 2019Heigl et al. 2019Shanley, Hulbert, and Auerbach 2019). Similarly, crowdsourcing is a methodology that engages a large group of people through an open call to tackle a common task or problem, either as individuals or collectively (Howe and Robinson 2005; Howe 2006). This may include asking the public to submit new ideas, designs, algorithms, or data via an online platform or mobile app, which is sometimes incentivized through a prize or challenge.

The defining characteristic of both citizen science and crowdsourcing, however, is their “location at the point where public participation and knowledge production – or societal context and epistemology – meet, even if that intersection can take many different forms” (Irwin 2015). Irwin argues that these approaches provide an opportunity to bring members of the public and science closer together, to consider the possibilities for a more active “scientific citizenship,” [and] “to link these issues into public policy.” As several recent studies have demonstrated, citizen science and crowdsourcing can help to provide the evidence-base to inform a wide range of management and public policy decisions while fostering civic partnerships with government…

More than two decades after the publication of Irwin’s seminal book on citizen science (Irwin 1995), we see an increasing awareness and use of citizen science by national governments and multilateral organizations to address both scientific and societal challenges (e.g., Haklay 2015Nascimento et al. 2017). Governments in the United States and Europe, for example, have incorporated citizen science and crowdsourcing as part of their Open Science, Open Innovation, Open Government, and/or Open Data initiatives (e.g., OSTP 20132015OECD 2016EC 2016). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response have used crowdsourcing and citizen science for disaster response and humanitarian relief for nearly a decade (e.g., Shanley et al. 2013), while the United Nations Environment Program is beginning to explore the use of citizen science for addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., Chandler et al. 2017Fritz et al. 2019). This growing support for citizen science and crowdsourcing by government decision-makers and policymakers is a direct result of the focused grassroots efforts of government agency staff, in partnership with professional citizen science associations and organizations such as SciStarter, as well as the strategic positioning of citizen science and crowdsourcing as methods for addressing agency missions and national priorities (e.g., Bowser et al. In preparationGöbel et al. 2019Roger et al. 2019Shanley et al. In preparation). Through our contributions to these initiatives, the editorial team was inspired to propose this Special Issue on Policy Perspectives for Citizen Science….(More)”.