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University approaches to Citizen Science in the transition to Open Science - Institutional opportunities and challenges for creating an open and inclusive environment for Research


EUA and OpenAIRE organized a two-day, online workshop "University approaches to Citizen Science in the transition to Open Science" on December 9th and 10th. It provided a place to discuss Citizen Science (CS) in an era of Open Science (OS) and showcased a range of Citizen Science  projects combining the two movements. A particular focus was on support and opportunities for CS in universities and institutions, with ample attention to the analysis of current practice and the challenges for institutions and projects.

It will be key to provide support and incentives to encourage institutions and academic staff to pursue citizen science.

by Alexander Refsum Jensenius

The workshop was introduced by Jean-Pierre Finance (EUA) and Inge Van Nieuwerburgh (OpenAIRE).

Jean-Pierre Finance (EUA) noted that universities in Europe are exploring and promoting the potential of citizen science to expand public participation in science and to support alternative models of knowledge production.

However CS is rarely part of institutional missions, nor is represented in approaches to academic career assessment. In short, it's not a common part of the academic culture. Numerous projects, and small but growing number of initiatives are leading the way, showing the benefits of including citizens in every stage of research. Since it's not commonly part of academic culture yet, it will be key to provide support, incentives and rewards to encourage institutions and academic staff to peruse CS.

EUA has provided policy input on the new ERA, including the need to 'support, incentivize and reward CS'. EUA calls on the European Commission and EU member states to work with universities on providing the necessary support and develop adequate incentives and rewards to meaningfully engage in CS.

OpenAIRE provides a framework to put CS in the context of Open Sience (OS). Research is a part of a wider ecosystem: an innovation process in an academic ecosystem which carries a social responsibility provides the basis for a dialogue between research and the wider society. Combining Citizen Science and Open Science will benefit addressing grand challenges and respond to diminishing societal trust in science. In addition it will contribute to the creation of common goods and shared resources, and facilitate knowledge transfer between science and society aiming at stimulating innovation.

Citizen Science in an institutional context 

Universities and Citizen Science: from local to global 

Keynote speaker Prof. Muki Haklay (University College London) talked about the rapid, growing awareness for CS in the last decade where it moved from local practice to global movement.

He identified underlying trends such as the rise in levels of education level and the spread of technological developments which have made it easier to involve people and share results.

Prof. Haklay identifies three types of CS:

  • First off, there are some long running projects and disciplines where CS is traditionally applied such as in ecology, biodiversity, or meteorology.
  • Next, there is Citizen Cyberscience, which uses current technological developments to foster participation, examples are OpenStreetMaps or the 'Transcribe Bentham' project. Although Mr Haklay noted that technology and knowledge is definitely not an a priori condition for CS.
  • And lastly Community Science or DIY Science, which provides an integrated approach to hands-on, open, accessible science, such as civic labs who build their own measuring devices.

With the growing attention to CS, local networks across Europe are emerging who provide principles and good practices, managing and understanding CS.

An emerging trend of the latest years is the science of CS, where institutions and university courses explore the possibilities and dynamics of this way of doing science. CS exists across disciplines to develop the understanding of the science of CS and how to promote their work.

Some challenges of Citizen Science for universities 

Alexander Refsum Jensenius has a background as a music researcher and running a lab combining a bottom-up and top down perspective. He prefers talking about Open Research rather than Open Science, from the perspective of the Arts and Humanities. When opening the components of the research practice, CS can either be viewed a purely methodological approach to collect data or an encompassing approach where citizens can be involved throughout the whole research process. The question is how to bring into practice a CS approach where it is a part of the whole research circle rather than of data collection. Alexander Refsum Jensenius presented two examples 'Hjernelæring' and 'MusicLab'. Some of the challenges he encountered where the need for technical infrastructure, communication channels and more legal support. He pressed that incentives and rewards were needed and proposed a combination of developing policies and bottom-up pilot project to try things out to improve CS practices.

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A panel discussion on Citizen Science in an institutional context

The lively panel with Daniel Wyler (University of Zurich) as moderator, Muki Haklay ((University College London), Susanne Tönsmann (University of Zurich), Loreta Tauginienė (Ombudsperson for Academic Ethics and Procedures of the Republic of Lithuania), and Alexander Refsum Jensenius (University of Oslo) discussed CS in different regions which posed their own challenges, the need to integrate CS in institutions and embed them in research practice rather than make them a separate entity and the need to include CS as part of research assessment. Motivating public and researchers to get involved in CS, is the unique possibilities that CS can offer to gather information and experiences otherwise hidden from research practice. Although skills for CS needs to be cultivated, an action-orientated way rather than a purely academic course, can stimulate enthusiasm for co-creation and allows for experiment to find the best way forward for particular projects. The panel discussion was continued by a questionnaire to allow participants to provide input to the discussion and questions from participants.

Citizen Science as enabler of Open Science

The Barcelona case of Citizen Science practices 

In the panel discussion 'The Barcelona case of Citizen Science practices', Pastora Martínez Samper (Vicepresident for Globalization and Cooperation) Josep Perelló (UB) Isabel Ruiz-Mallen (UOC) and Diana Escobar (Culture Institute at the Barcelona City Council) discussed CS in Barcelona, a city were the potential of co-produced approaches is utilized by universities, citizens but also other social groups that are involved in the city and its policy. All these stakeholders provide input or put forward research questions or common concerns to be examined. The involvement of the city council as mediator for CS projects heightens the transformative potential of co-produced research. This intertwined approach facilitates a connection between city, citizens and universities that creates a dialogue and potential for immediate political and social impact. Throughout the workshop we heard different examples of the social relevance of citizen science showing citizens that research is not something normative but a process where doubt, trial-and-error and new ideas are shared and handled in a collaborative way. The involvement of the city and the city council as an enabler and mediator encourages involvement, discussion and materializes community involvement.

Citizen Science enabling Open Science - OpenAIRE schools project 

Technology as a big driver for CS, was also present in the OpenAIRE session by Eugenia Kypriotis (Ellinogermaniki Agogi) and Androniki Pavlidou (Athena Research Center) titled 'Citizen Science enabling Open Science - OpenAIRE schools project'. They explained how in the OpenAIRE CS projects, OpenAIRE services and the Helix data infrastructure enables school children to familiarize with open scientific practices and FAIR data in a project to create an early warning system from the results of an international School Seismograph Network or publishing in a FAIR open journal: Open Schools Journal for Open Science (OSJ).

As the OpenAIRE session indicated, Open Science can enable CS with data management, infrastructure, communication channels, skills and training needs. There is a natural partnership between the two, opening up science and providing transparency.

Lightning talks

The different lightning talks by Katerina Zourou (Ph.D, Web2Learn) who advocated to integrate OS and CS into active learning approaches and thus modernise education through CS and OS, Luis Alberto Nuñez (Universidad Industrial de Santander) who helped set up an international collaboration involving South-American schools in physics called: LA-CoNGA physics, Steven Caluwaerts (Ghent University) whose project VLINDER provided an online, real-time dashboard for their meteorological data collected by schools and Jiří Marek (Masaryk University) who saw how CS could be the next step for OS in the city of Brno where CS is included in the open science strategy, provided examples of this natural partnership between CS and OS. The context of CS is exemplary for the move towards a more transparent research process, as CS can be part of a broader transition to OS. Although also here we hear the challenge of sustainability, as a crucial question.


In summary - Challenges and opportunities  

Universities in Europe are exploring and promoting the potential of CS to expand public participation in science and support alternative models of knowledge production (Muki Haklay), as there are quite some opportunities.

  • The exciting opportunity of co-production of knowledge
  • It engaging and includes voices that are missing from scientific research
  • Potential for making younger students familiar with CS in school projects boost their understanding of the scientific process, the involvement of alumni from universities, strengthening the bond with their alma mater
  • Infrastructure for Open Science can be used to support and share research practices and outcomes
  • CS creates an impact in wider society: engaging local communities embeds universities in societies and fosters social impact
  • There is the possibility to access resources that would be very difficult to reach otherwise
  • A broader coverage and scope is possible when research input is diversified over time, location or persons involved.

However CS is rarely part of institutional mission, nor approaches to academic career assessment. In short, it's not a common part of the academic culture. As Alexander Refsum Jensenius (University of Oslo) presented in "Some Challenges of Citizen Science for universities: "it will be key to provide support and incentives to encourage institutions and academic staff to pursue citizen science".

Challenges mentioned throughout the two days were:

  • The need to develop more sustainable technical infrastructure for collecting, handling, storing and archiving of data
  • The need for a variety of channels to connect to citizens from an institutional perspective.
  • Privacy and copyright can be a big hurdle for which specialized information and legal support is needed.
  • More and better data management support, in particular when it comes to sharing research data and other outcomes with participants and the wider public.
  • A strategy to avoid bias and pressure for collected data
  • The current evaluation strategies often don't incentivise or reward CS projects.
  • A call to include CS in the universities the strategic context

Alexander Refsum Jensenius proposed a combined strategy to address some of these challenges with a combination of institutional policies and bottom-up pilot projects to experiment with different approaches.

Universities are important enablers of CS but also receivers of the benefits as it enables research that is not possible otherwise, addresses the need for social impact, contributes to a multitude of institutional missions such as teaching, research and outreach and it crosses disciplinary boundaries as such EUA has provided policy input on the new European Research Area, where they continue to build a common research and innovation landscape with a broader vision for the new European Research area with deepening existing priorities and objectives. EUA's policy input included the need to support incentives and rewards for CS.

EUA calls on the European commission and the EU member states to work with universities and provide the necessary support and to develop adequate incentives and rewards.

More information 

  • The slides of the various talks are available in the programme corresponding with the given talk:
  • Recordings of the first day 'Citizen Science in an institutional context' are available here:
  • Recordings of the second day 'Citizen Science as enabler of Open Science' are available here:
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