To honor the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, Earth Challenge 2020 is building the world’s largest ever citizen science campaign. The initiative will collaborate with existing citizen science projects as well as build capacity for new ones as part of a larger effort to grow citizen science worldwide. EC2020 will combine the power of the individual with today’s technology to gather and share over one billion environmental data points, strengthening the links between science, the environment, and society.
What is citizen science?
Citizen science is the involvement of the public in scientific research. Around the world, thousands of citizen science projects and initiatives provide the opportunity for everyone — educators and students, experts and amateurs, global citizens and community leaders — to get involved in collecting, sharing, and acting on data around issues they care about. Citizen science is a tool for global scientific empowerment, education, and action.
Citizen science projects vary in themes, scale, and type of activity. Projects investigate a huge range of topics; for example, projects explore local water quality parameters, find and classify galaxies, and investigate personal genomes and health. Projects take many forms; they can be initiated and led by academic or government institutions, non- governmental institutions, and local community groups and community members on the ground, and projects range from hyper-local to truly global in scale. Advances in technology have increased the accessibility of citizen science and allowed members of the public to participate in new and useful ways, such as by documenting biodiversity through smartphone photographs and measuring air quality using low-cost sensors.
However, citizen science projects have many commonalities:
Citizen science accelerates scientific research and environmental management. Members of the public collect and share information in places, scales, and resolutions previously unachievable. This information is relevant to local problems and conditions and can be re-used in research on global issues like climate change.
Citizen science educates and engages the public. Citizen science volunteers learn about their local conditions, and leverage information to inspire collaborative action and influence policy decisions. Participation enriches people and communities by bringing global citizens together and fostering greater scientific and technological literacy.
Citizen science creates parallel mechanisms for accountability. Engagement, education, and information can elevate citizens’ to positions of higher authority. The information produced by citizen science projects can support and augment formal reporting, helping people hold governments and companies accountable to their commitments.
To illustrate citizen science, please watch this video from our friends at the Citizen Science Global Partnership explaining citizen science and its value for environmental progress. Video produced by Geoffrey Haines-Stiles. Footage generously drawn from the Crowd and the Cloud project.