Thematic Areas

Citizen Science

Supporting all Sustainable Development Goals

Citizen Science is widely understood as a participatory way of doing research. 

Its tradition goes back to the 18th and 19th century and has its origin in areas like astronomy, ornithology and meteorology. A historical view on the development of science shows that the paid profession of scientist was only established in the late 19th century. Until then, scientific engagement was mostly a voluntary undertaking of individuals with a scientific spirit and access to necessary resources.

With the upcoming of the Internet and related technologies that allow fast communication and collaboration independent of time and location Citizen Science has gained a new momentum. In this new wave of public science participation the actual term „Citizen Science“ was coined in 1995, and especially popularised by Alan Irwin and Rick Bonney.  Despite the great interest and increasing number of Citizen Science activities, or perhaps because of it, there has not been an agreement on a commonly accepted single definition. We rather see a serious of definitions that evolve over time and reflect the evolutions in scale and scope that this approach is taking over the years. 

The variety of definitions and differences in interpretation of what Citizen Science encompasses reflects the dynamics of the field. Citizen Science comprises a wide array of activities and approaches that link the public with scientific research. Citizen scientists perform societally relevant as well as fundamental research activities and projects mainly differ in the way and the intensity the public is involved. We see Citizen Science projects being developed completely independently by individual volunteers’ initiatives, next to collaborative trans-disciplinary work following formalised instructions and guidance provided by scientific facilities. The diversity of Citizen Science cannot be reduced to a single exemplary project or proxy. The type of scientific work and geographic scale of participation strongly shape the strategic path a project has to take to meet its goals. The range of types of participation, social opportunities, technologies in use, approaches to data validation, ways to measure contribution, and project goals that we encounter today in Citizen Science is impressive.

ZSI has approached Citizen Science from a theoretical and practical side: from co-authoring the White Paper on Citizen Science and the development of an evaluation framework for Citizen Science to co-designing Citizen Science actions for environmental monitoring or Citizen Social Science. 

Contact person: Dr. Barbara Kieslinger


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