What is citizen science?

At the beginning of July we (Alison Dyke, Rachel Pateman and I) went to a fantastic conference organised by the British Ecological Society’s Special Interest Group on Citizen Science. Rachel was one of the organisers, so we had a good idea what to expect: a diverse group of people involved with citizen science, discussing whether it was fit for purpose. However, it surpassed all my expectations, it was a dynamic and engaging mix of talks, workshops and space for informal discussions. Like all good conferences I came back buzzing with ideas, and since then I’ve been pondering some of the things we discussed.

One of the biggest questions that was frequently raised was “But is that citizen science?” We discussed different types of citizen science, how it does and does not differs from public engagement, environmental education, ‘conventional’ science (whatever that is!), outreach, volunteer recording, environmental monitoring, participatory research….

Actually, in my mind, I’m pretty clear. I think that citizen science is where scientists and ‘the public’ (an awful term, which I’m just using as short-hand here for non-professional scientists) work together to conduct scientific research. The scientific bit is really important to me, I don’t think that it can be called citizen SCIENCE if it’s not answering scientific questions in some way. I’d be interested to hear other people’s views though, so please do leave a comment.

If you’d like an overview of some of the other topics we discussed, check out my Storify which summarises the twitter activity:


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