Scientific research that involves nonscientists contributing to research processes – also known as ‘citizen science’ – supports participants’ learning, engages the public in science, contributes to community scientific literacy, and can serve as a valuable tool to facilitate larger scale research, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. If one of the goals of a citizen science project is to advance learning, designers should plan for it by defining intended learning outcomes and using evidence-based strategies to reach those outcomes.
The term “citizen science” can be applied to a wide variety of projects that invite nonscientists to engage in doing science with the intended goal of advancing scientific knowledge or application. For example, a citizen science project might engage community members in collecting data to monitor the health of a local stream. As another example, among the oldest continuous organized datasets in the United States are records kept by farmers and agricultural organizations that document the timing of important events, such as sowing, harvests, and pest outbreaks.
Citizen science can support science learning in several ways, the report says. It offers people the opportunity to participate in authentic scientific endeavors, encourages learning through projects conducted in real-world contexts, supports rich social interaction that deepens learning, and engages participants with real data. Citizen science also includes projects that grow out of a community’s desire to address an inequity or advance a priority. For example, the West-Oakland Indicators Project, a community group in Oakland, Calif., self-organizes to collect and analyze air quality data and uses that data to address trucking in and around schools to reduce local children’s exposure to air pollution. When communities can work alongside scientists to advance their priorities, enhanced community science literacy is one possible outcome.
Given the potential for citizen science to engage traditionally underrepresented individuals and communities, stakeholders in citizen science — such as project designers, researchers, and participants — should carefully consider and address issues of equity and power throughout all phases of project design and implementation, the report says. Intentional design of citizen science projects that include underrepresented groups helps to challenge limiting assumptions and creates programming where all participants can learn.
In order to maximize learning outcomes, the report recommends that designers and practitioners of citizen science projects should intentionally build them for learning. This involves knowing the audience; intentionally designing for diversity; engaging stakeholders in the design; supporting multiple kinds of participant engagement; encouraging social interaction; building learning supports into the project; and iteratively improving projects through evaluation and refinement. Engaging stakeholders and participants in design and implementation results in more learning for all participants, which can support other project goals.
Direct to Report Highlights
4 pages; PDF.
Read the Complete Report Publication Announcement
Includes roster of Committee on Designing Citizen Science to Support Science Learning members.