While some types of research can be accomplished by a single scientist in a lab, many other types rely on the collection of very large amounts of data. Citizen science refers to contributions of work, data and time of everyday people making it possible to answer scientific questions. The best-known examples of citizen science include stream and waterway monitoring, insect and bird observations, weather monitoring, astronomical observation and observations of plants and wildlife. If we look at human history, citizen science has been around for ages – people have always been keen observers of their surroundings.
Digital technologies allowed science not only to reach a wider audience (with specific skills, qualities, and interests) but also gave citizens the tools (such as GPS receivers and cameras) to collect and analyse data on an unprecedented scale. In 2020 alone, citizen science platforms have seen a huge increase in users:
- 50 million observations have been recorded on iNaturalist
- Zooniverse reported that 200,000 participants contributed over 5 million classifications
- eBird has had a 29 percent increase in reports in 2020, compared with 2019.
- NestWatch, which encourages people to track sightings of bird nests, saw a 41 percent increase year over year.
Also, the range, diversity, scale and scope of citizen science projects grew on an unprecedented scale over the past ten years. Input from citizen scientists is crucial to certain forms of research; without their participation, many projects would be impractical or even impossible.
Who can be citizen scientists?
Citizen science projects are for people (non-professional scientists) who are curious and want to collaborate with professional scientists on the topics they care about. CS can be done by all age groups and education levels since most projects require no background knowledge.
Participants can include (but are definitely not limited to):
- Educators and students who want more hands-on experience outside the classroom. Citizen science projects can make science education more relevant and develop student’s critical thinking. Schools are convenient places for scientists to recruit bigger groups of helpers in collecting and/or analyzing data.
- For families CS is a fantastic way to get children excited about science and engage with their neighborhood and build a deeper sense of connection with nature. Children are great at CS because they are curious and good at following precise instructions.
Citizen science improves science literacy because it helps citizens to increase their own knowledge and understanding about various fields of science. Opportunities to participate in CS are boundless and anyone can find a project that coincides with any hobby, interest that they have.