tools directory

Citizen Science

Citizen Science

What situations is this tool used in?

Citizen Science is research conducted by amateurs or non-professionals in order to increase public participation in scientific research and raise citizen awareness of particular issues, often relating to the environment. Ordinary people, often without formal training, are enabled to contribute to scientific research in their spare time. The range of involvement varies from people donating idle time on their home computers for use in solving problems to people contributing small bits of data about themselves or their environments.

The range of possible approaches can be bewildering, but when it is planned and executed well, citizen science can increase scientific knowledge, raise people’s awareness of their environment and allow like-minded people to share enthusiasm and knowledge.

Who is this tool aimed at?

Citizen Science is aimed at people who wish to contribute to their community (global or local) and want to increase their sense of place and belonging through active citizenship.

Citizen science may be performed by individuals, teams or networks of volunteers. Citizen scientists usually partner with professional scientists to undertake joint work. Community or volunteer networks can help scientists to accomplish tasks that would be too expensive or time consuming to accomplish through other means.

How Is the Tool Used?

Citizen Science can be used to help to reach ‘new people’ and engage them practically in environmental protection work.  Initiatives range from crowd sourcing activities, in which the time and effort of large numbers of people are used to solve a problem or analyse a large dataset, to small groups of volunteers, who are experts in their own right, collecting and analysing environmental data and sharing their findings. 

It can also be used by Government Departments and policy making bodies to gain valuable information from citizens.  For example, in the case of fresh water sampling Government currently relies heavily on voluntary groups like fishing clubs to undertake sampling, because the government departments simply don’t have the capacity to do as comprehensive a job as local stakeholders.

In terms of influencing policy - decision makers, if they realise ordinary citizens are involved and engaged, are more likely to take such environmental issues more seriously. 

Who has used the tool?

Citizen science as an approach has been used by a range of environmental NGOs and community organisations with an interest in monitoring biodiversity and the environment.  Often they will work collaboratively with scientists in government departments, universities and local schools. 

The Great Sunflower Project started in 2008 in the USA in response to scientific studies suggesting that bee populations were in trouble. Since then people all over the country have been collecting data on pollinators in their yards, gardens, schools and parks. Consequently the project now possesses the largest single body of information about bee pollinator service in North America and can determine where pollinator service is strong or weak compared to averages.

Locally, Lecale Conservation (see case study) and Ulster Wildlife have been using citizen science to monitor water quality and provide information to assist with marine conservation in and around Strangford Lough.

Where to find out more

Guide to Citizen Science from the UK Environmental Observation Framework

Citizen Science Alliance 

Database of citizen science opportunities

The Great Sunflower Project