At the 2nd General Assembly of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), held in Berlin on November 26, 2014,  Lucy Robinson and Jade Cawthray of the National History Museum in London, presented the recent progress of the ECSA working group on Principles and Standards in Citizen Science and asked for feedback and input from participants. Since it was recommended to make the ten principles public to encourage broader discussion than what that would take place only within ECSA, we circulate them through this blog as well.

The ten principles of citizen science

  1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific research. Citizens can act as contributors, collaborators, or as project leader and have a meaningful role in the research project.
  2. Citizen science projects have a genuine research question or goal.
  3. Citizen scientists benefit from taking part. Benefits may include learning opportunities, social benefits, community cohesion, gathering evidence for a local issue, or the opportunity to influence policy.
  4. Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process. This may include developing the research question, designing the method, gathering and analysing data, and publishing 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 data are considered equally valuable as traditionally collected data.
  7. Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publically available, and 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. Citizen science is a flexible concept which can be adapted and applied within diverse situations and disciplines. Citizen science lends itself to cross-disciplinary work, bringing new perspectives and skills to a research project.
A lively discussion followed this presentation  In general, more effort appears to be needed to define citizen science, as well as what we mean by “citizen” and what we mean by”scientist”. As Riesch and Potter (2014) noted, citizen science is a contested term with multiple origins underpinned by different views: on one side, the term was coined in the mid-1990s by Rick Bonney in the US (see Bonney et al., 2009) to refer to public participation and science communication projects. On the other side, the term was used in the UK by Irwin (1995) to refer to his developing concepts of scientific citizenship which foregrounds the necessity of opening up science and science policy processes to the public (Riesch & Potter, 2014, p. 107).
Several key points emerged from the discussion, but, for the sake of this presentation, we would like to highlight the following:
  • The scientific component is important: citizen science should be about science and not only about public engagement or education.
  • The notion of “science” needs to be further developed. It should be also hypothesis-led or maybe “evidence-based”.
  • Citizen science should not be narrowed down to monitoring: much citizen science also deals with analyzing and manipulating existing data.
  • Citizens’ participation is not only about data collection, but also about analysis and interpretation of data.

These points state clearly the need to shift from the citizen scientist working for scientists as “avian biological sensor” (Sullivan et al., 2009, p. 2290) – merely involved in observing, collecting and classifying data – to a participant who can work together with scientists to analyze and interpret data. As also emerged from the most cited literature on citizen science, typically citizens have engaged in large-scale projects involving exploratory research aimed at surveillance monitoring, conducted without specific hypotheses in mind. The idea of expertise that comes out from the reports of published citizen science projects is too often limited to the pronouncements of scientists, reflecting a very restricted model of the relationship between citizens and scientists.


Riesch, H. & Potter, C., (2014) ). Citizen science as seen by scientists: Methodological, epistemological and ethical dimensions, Public Understanding of Science 23 (1) : 107- 120.

Sullivan B. L., et al. (2009) eBird: a citizen-based bird observation network in the biological sciences. Biological Conservation, 142: 2282–2292.