The Promise of Community Citizen Science

Report by Ramya ChariLuke J. MatthewsMarjory S. BlumenthalAmanda F. Edelman, and Therese Jones: “Citizen science is public participation in research and scientific endeavors. Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects; collaborate with scientific experts on research design; and actively lead and carry out research, exerting a high degree of control and ownership over scientific activities. The last type — what we refer to as community citizen science — tends to involve action-oriented research to support interventional activities or policy change. This type of citizen science can be of particular importance to those working at the nexus of science and decisionmaking.

The authors examine the transformative potential of community citizen science for communities, science, and decisionmaking. The Perspective is based on the authors’ experiences working in collaboration with community groups, extensive readings of the scientific literature, and numerous interviews with leading scholars and practitioners in the fields of citizen science and participatory research. It first discusses models of citizen science in general, including community citizen science, and presents a brief history of its rise. It then looks at possible factors motivating the development of community citizen science, drawing from an exploration of the relationships among citizens, science, and decisionmaking. The final section examines areas in which community citizen science may exhibit promise in terms of outcomes and impacts, discusses concerns that may hinder its overall potential, and assesses the roles different stakeholders may play to continue to develop community citizen science into a positive force for science and society.

Key Findings

At Its Core, Citizen Science Is Public Participation in Research and Scientific Endeavors

  • Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects, collaborate with scientific experts on research design, and actively lead and carry out research.
  • It is part of a long tradition of rebirth of inventors, scientists, do-it-yourselfers, and makers at all levels of expertise.
  • Instead of working alone, today’s community citizen scientists take advantage of new technologies for networking and coordination to work collaboratively; learn from each other; and share knowledge, insights, and findings.

The Democratization of Science and the Increasingly Distributed Nature of Expertise Are Not Without Concern

  • There is some tension and conflict between current standards of practice and the changes required for citizen science to achieve its promising future.
  • There is also some concern about the potential for bias, given that some efforts begin as a form of activism.

Yet the Efforts of Community Citizen Science Can Be Transformative

  • Success will require an engaged citizenry, promote more open and democratic decisionmaking processes, and generate new solutions for intractable problems.
  • If its promise holds true, the relationship between science and society will be profoundly transformed for the betterment of all…(More)”.