How to involve citizens in your scientific research
Inviting members of the public to help monitor wildlife, photograph plants or conduct samplings. These are some of the many examples of Citizen Science. It is increasingly recognized as effective and impactful for collecting data, but also for engaging the public in scientific research. In Nature reviews methods primer, a new guide for researchers in environmental and ecological sciences has been published for incorporating citizen science in their research.
Margaret Gold is one of the authors of the publication. ‘The journal aims to show high-quality, state-of-the-art practices to contribute to scientific research. Citizen Science perfectly fits that description,’ says the researcher based in the Center for Science and Technology Studies (CWTS) at Leiden University.
A multidisciplinary team
Gold worked together with a multinational collaboration of authors. Originally, co-author Mordechai Haklay was asked by Nature to share his insights on Citizen Science for this issue. ‘He approached this creatively. He applied the crowdsourcing and co-creation techniques practiced in Citizen Science to the formation of a writing team, in order to include researchers from different disciplines, backgrounds, and career-stages for a diverse group of enthusiastic academics,’ Gold explains. ‘I am included in the team because of my broad knowledge of the “Science of Citizen Science”. At Leiden I lead the Citizen Science Lab within CWTS, with a particular specialty in citizen monitoring networks known as “Citizen Observatories”. We help inform and shape environmental governance and policy-making.’
Citizen science in environmental and ecological sciences
The Nature review targets environmental and ecological researchers. This field can especially benefit from including the public, according to Gold. ‘When monitoring biodiversity, ecosystem health or environmental issues such as air pollution, for instance, many hands make light work. Additionally, it also brings in valuable local insights.’
From problem scoping to evaluation
Gold and colleagues categorized the experimental design in six stages. For each stage, pointers are given on how to include the public during that part of the research. Additionally, they give examples of applications in practice, and share how to ensure safe and unbiased data collection, as well as limitations and optimizations of the approach.
‘Citizen Science improves the quality of both the research and its outcomes’
‘Citizen Science is about more than just convenience for the researcher. It improves the quality of both the research and its outcomes,’ Gold believes. ‘Citizen Science empowers people to engage in the scientific process, to gather and share data, but also to help disseminate the outcomes and make recommendations for action. Participants can become more aware of environmental issues, and the researcher can become more aware of local contextual factors and complexities. Results that benefit both the researcher and the citizen participants.’