Library Element Report

Science Europe Briefing Paper on Citizen Science

Uploaded by RRI Tools on 20 July 2018

Science Europe Briefing Paper on Citizen Science: D/2018/13.324/2. June 2018.


  • Summary 
  • The Evolution of Citizen Science: Definition, Categorisation and Academic Recognition 
  • Citizen Science Around the World 
  • Citizen Science Policy 
  • Examples of Citizen Science 
  • The Future of Citizen Science 
  • Ten Principles of Citizen Science 
  • Selected Further Information 
  • Notes and References 



Citizen science, also referred to as community science or public participation in scientific research, is a growing movement that enlists the public in scientific discovery, monitoring, and experimentation across a wide range of disciplines.

The term citizen science was first used in the mid-1990s by social scientist Alan Irwin in the UK to emphasise the responsibility of science to society, and by ornithologist Rick Bonney in the US to describe the contribution of citizens to observations or efforts to the scientific enterprise. There are different approaches to categorising citizen science projects depending on participation, investment of time and resources, project approach, and depth of engagement. Citizen science is increasingly considered as a discipline in its own right. Since around 2010 there has been a significant increase in published articles from citizen science projects. Main fields of study are biology, ecology, and conservation, with the largest scientific output in ornithology, astronomy, meteorology, and microbiology.

The practice of citizens performing science and of scientists working together with citizens occurs in many different countries and in many different ways. It predates the use of the term ‘citizen scientist’ or ‘citizen science’ and is on the increase around the world. In some countries, for example Austria and Switzerland, the term ‘citizen science’ is so novel that it is not translated. Citizen science is widespread in the US, which has the highest percentage of members of the Citizen Science Association. The US is relatively advanced in policy support for citizen science, including within government agencies. The most coherent voice for citizen science in Europe is the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). Of all EU member states, Germany is arguably most advanced in its citizen science policy.

Citizen science is described by the European Commission under Open Science. It has commissioned White Papers, Green Papers, and In-depth reports on citizen science. In reality, the JRC of the EC ‘practice’ citizen science. A survey on EU-wide citizen science conducted in 2016 reveal the vast majority of projects participants located in the UK and Germany with most projects in the field of life sciences and most funding coming from national sources. There are 1000s of examples of citizen science active, inactive and open for participation projects. Citizen Science is a developing tool for expanding scientific literacy. In combining research with public education, citizen science addresses broader societal impacts by engaging members of the public in research at various stages in the scientific process and using modern communications tools of participation. The general public support citizen science but are more confident in science findings from professional scientists. When scientists collaborate with citizens, they are motivated mostly by their interest in promoting research and obtaining funding as opposed to a desire to engage with the public.

Over the past 20 years, several new developments in information science – especially in data
informatics, graphical user interfaces, and geographic information system-based web applications, have been vital to the emergence of citizen science. Future projects will be increasingly networked using open science and online computer/video gaming as important tools to engage non-traditional audiences. A more formalised approach of citizen science is emerging with networked organisations, associations, journals, and cyberinfrastructure that will help address issues such as prioritisation, peer-review, intellectual property rights and sustainable funding


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