Europe and the U.S., are fermenting with citizen science activities. Not just large-scale, volunteer data collection with an outreach component-type projects, but major initiatives that are changing the relationship between science and society, and scientists and society.
Citizen science has evolved from being a movement to being recognised as an increasingly important way of educating people about the environment; improving scientific literacy (i.e. understanding the scientific process); contributing to scientific studies, e.g., that build knowledge about ecosystems, and inform management and policy.
The approaches used – and there are too many to go into here, coupled with the predominance of Web 2.0-based tools such as smartphone apps that enable geo-referenced data to be easily inputted into centralised databases, have seen disciplines other than natural sciences and astronomy adopt citizen science. In the health domain, for example, citizen science is regarded as a form of popular epidemiology, where members of the public detect, and act on, environmental hazards.
Along with the expansion of practical programmes and projects, a new academic discipline around citizen science is being shaped that is steadily building up a body of theory, as well as investigating citizen science implementation and outcomes. Alongside is increasing professionalization: the U.S., Europe and now Australia ALL have associations led by top movers and shakers. The British Ecological Society also has a Special Interest Group in Citizen Science. And in New Zealand….? More about that in the next blog.
One aspect I’ve been grappling with in the course of my PhD is how citizen science is actually defined. That’s a slippery one as a multitude of terminology exists that ranges from extremely broad as in the much used ‘public participation in scientific research’ (Bonney et al. 2009), to the more specific ‘volunteer collection of biodiversity and environmental data, which contributes to expanding our knowledge of the natural environment, including biological monitoring and the collection or interpretation of environmental observations’. The latter is used by U.K. Environmental Observatory Framework and squarely situates citizen science in the environmental sector (Roy et al. 2012).
Untangling the language associated with citizen science, the philosophical foundations as well as the various activities associated with citizen science forms the basis of a literature review I am currently attempting to write – any offers of moral support or practical advice are welcome! A simple rationale is that if we want to really progress citizen science in New Zealand, we really need to know what it is!