Citizen science is a growing field of research
All around the world, people are participating in scientific research, even though they don’t work as researchers. They use smartphone apps to monitor which flowers are blooming, or unusual species of animals appearing in rivers. Some others log in on their laptops and count distant stars in images captured by telescopes. Many are science enthusiasts, other are just curious: even though they are not academic scientists, they are citizen scientists.
Citizen science (CS) is a concept that includes many different activities. Most of the time, it’s intended as the participation of nonscientists in scientific research, as data collectors or as distributed intelligence to interpret sets of data. As so, CS projects can produce high quality data, that are comparable with those produced by professional researchers. This is especially true when participants are adequately trained and are using intuitive digital (and non-digital) tools.
But CS can also shape the process of scientific research in a more profound way: it can include and empower citizens in the selection and definition of issues to research, transforming scientific research in a collaborative effort between scientists and their community.
At the same time, CS projects have the potential to involve and benefit other stakeholders. Policy makers can employ them to identify emerging issues in the community and work to find participatory solutions. Businesses could use the bottom-up approach of CS to design new products and adopt responsible corporate practices.
In these years, the citizen science community is growing. One of the reasons is the widespread access to the Internet and to smartphones, that provide a simple and accessible gateway to participatory activities.
As a result, Citizen science initiatives are also changing the paradigm of science communication. The bottom-up methodology of these initiatives takes into account people’s questions and needs, bridging the gap of science and society and helping democratizing science. NEWSERA will explore the possibilities of citizen science for changing the paradigm in science communication and will provide tools for CS projects to improve communication with citizen scientists themselves, the general public, scientists, policy makers and industries.
One of the most popular type of citizen science projects is the biodiversity census, in which volunteers keep track of species living in their area. Source: NPS Photo by Ivie Metzen (CC BY 2.0)
A volunteer tracks odour pollution in an urban environment using the D-NOSES project app. Source: Science for Change
The interface of Lost at Night, a project that maps light pollution with the help of citizen scientists. Source: Lost at Night