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Citizen science

Earthwatch has been using ‘citizen science’ – actively involving non-scientists in scientific research - long before that term was invented.

Our citizen science has evolved and changed enormously over the years, branching out to reach a wider audience and advancing data quality and impact. We are proud to be at the forefront of the global citizen science movement, developing and sharing best practice for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature.

Why citizen science?

We believe that citizen science has a crucial role to play in environmental research, providing major benefits:

For people

Citizen science provides an opportunity for people from all walks of life to connect with nature and learn about science and the environment. It brings people together and enables them to make a difference by contributing to valuable research and action. It empowers people to join the debate about the future management of the environment and contribute to the change we need.

For science

Citizen science can complement and augment standard scientific approaches, for example by collecting data on a different scale or in places that are not normally accessible for scientists. Citizens hold different knowledge, eg about crucial local context, and the history and impact of environmental issues. Working with citizens opens up new perspectives that can lead to breakthrough insights and solutions. 

For agencies

Citizen science can help organisations see environmental issues from the ‘frontline’ in a way that might not otherwise be possible. It enables a deeper understanding of the issues among decision-makers and users of natural resources (whether that be business employees, consumers or policy-makers) and provides key evidence and monitoring data that are crucial to improving the management of the natural environment.

For the environment

Citizen science has the power to not only generate the data we need to better understand and look after the natural environment, but also to change hearts and minds. It can inspire people to change their behaviour and to use their voice to advocate for change.    

Principles of citizen science

Citizen Science is an umbrella term, capturing a wide range of approaches, from long-term monitoring by dedicated volunteers to educational experiments. The European Citizen Science Association has developed ten principles which underlie good practice across all these approaches.

As a member organisation and leader in the field we are committed to these principles in all our work:

 1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding. Citizens may act as contributors, collaborators or project leaders, and have a meaningful role in the project.

2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome. For example, answering a research question or informing conservation action, management decisions or environmental policy.

3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part. Benefits may include the publication of research outputs, learning opportunities, personal enjoyment, social benefits, satisfaction through contributing to scientific evidence eg to address local, national and international issues, and through that, the potential to influence policy.

4. Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process. This may include developing the research questions, designing the method, gathering and analysing data, and communicating the results.

5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project. For example, how their data are being used and what the research, policy or societal outcomes are.

6. Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for. However, unlike traditional research approaches, citizen science provides opportunity for greater public engagement and democratisation of science.

7. Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publicly available and, where possible, results are published in an open access format. Data sharing may occur during or after the project, unless there are security or privacy concerns that prevent this.

8. Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications.

9. Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact.

10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding .copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution and the environmental impact of any activities

What is Earthwatch doing?

Advancing best practice and positive impact of citizen science

At Earthwatch we keep pushing the boundaries of citizen science to increase its use and impact. We work closely with the international citizen science community and publish our research and tools on open access platforms wherever possible.

Citizen science research projects

We lead and contribute to a number of research partnerships, including the MICS project, funded by EU Horizon 2020, which we coordinate, EU-Citizen.Science and COS4CLOUD. Within the UK Natural Environment Research Council’s (NERC) engaging environments programme, we contributed to both the Opener and Encompass projects and we are a core partner of the national NC4EE project.

International networks

We are an active member of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) and a number of our scientists are members of the British Ecological Society (BES) citizen science working group. We participate in the Citizen Science Global Partnership and support the use of freshwater citizen science to monitor and improve progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (indicator 6.3.2 in particular).

We contribute to the EU COST action on Citizen Science to promote creativity, scientific literacy and innovation throughout Europe. Our Innovation Lead, Luigi Ceccaroni, chairs the working group on improving data standardization and interoperability (WG5) and we have been active in the working groups on society-science-policy interface (WG3) and developing synergies with education (WG2). Our work on data interoperability focuses on the development of a recommendation on how to represent data and metadata in citizen science. This work is based on previous efforts by the US Citizen Science Association (CSA)'s International Data and Metadata Working Group to promote collaboration in citizen science through the development and/or improvement of international standards for citizen science data and metadata. In this respect, Earthwatch also addresses the definition of interoperability standards for data exchange, re-usability and compatibility in citizen science, contributed to define core building blocks of these standards and outlined the way ahead based on the International Data and Metadata Working Group’s previous work.

Using citizen science in our projects

Citizen science is a key feature of almost all of Earthwatch’s environmental research projects. We believe it is a vital part of our mission to create knowledge and empower people to make positive changes for the environment.

Naturehood

A UK project helping communities create nature-friendly green spaces, whilst conducting research to aid the conservation of garden wildlife.

Capturing our coast

A citizen science project to understand the rich diversity of marine species that live on the British coastline.

Freshwater Watch

Global water quality research, training people to collect and analyse water samples from their local rivers, lakes, and other freshwater bodies to inform local practice, and national and international policy.

Plastic rivers

A programme of global research projects investigating how nature-based solutions can help cities adapt to climate change.

Climate-proof cities

A programme of global research projects investigating how nature-based solutions can help cities adapt to climate change.

Sustainable agriculture

A varied global research programme investigating ways to make farming more environmentally sustainable, whilst also protecting food security and the livelihoods of producers.

Past projects

Find out about Earthwatch projects that have come to an end and the impact they achieved. 

Read more

Images: John Hunt, Image: Anne Marte Johnsen/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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