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Citizen Science Zurich

Participatory Citizen Science

Citizen Science refers to the involvement of members of the general public ("citizens") in the scientific research process. It is a form of public participation that works across many disciplines and that comes with different flavors and names, including community based research, crowd-sourced data collection, civic science, and more.

In fact, there are different definitions and interpretations of the term, which often depend on the context: Citizen Science can differ across research fields and in terms of design processes, participation levels, and engagement practices. It includes top-down, researchers driven approaches and more bottom up, community-driven practices. The European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) defines Citizen Science as “an ‘umbrella’ term that describes a variety of ways in which the public participates in science, with two main characteristics in common: (1) citizens are actively involved in research, in partnership or collaboration with scientists or professionals; and (2) there is a genuine outcome, such as new scientific knowledge, conservation action or policy change.”

Concerning the two key terms that describe the methodology, they are still the subject of (sometimes heated) discussions because of their potential for misinterpretation. The term “citizens” has broad meaning in this context and refers to people with a varied range of knowledge and skills, who may or may not have a formal scientific education. It stands in contrast to “scientists”, who have received a formal academic education in the specific field of research of the Citizen Science project, and work in academia or other research institutions. “Production of scientific knowledge” implies that participants are involved in the process of scientific research or inquiry. Finally, Citizen Science projects may include a social component and may thus be seen as democratizing science and promoting social and/or environmental justice. Again different cases exist, including projects aimed at a pure investigation for research objectives, and/or projects aimed at collecting evidence to influence policy.

Why "participatory"?

Citizen Science Zurich prioritizes participatory projects. For science to be participatory, the research process needs to be designed in a manner that allows for people to participate in every stage of the process if they so choose. In practice, this implies that citizens are involved from the start, and are given the opportunity to engage at a specific or at several stages of the research project. This does not mean that all partners need to engage in the same tasks and have the same competencies. All participants can contribute their expertise, skills and knowledge in different ways.

Our aim is to maximize the degree of participation, and to enable citizens and researchers to work together in a manner that allows all participants to engage in the best way possible.


Citizen Science projects come in different forms, involving different degrees of collaboration between project organizers and project participants, and with different levels of quality for the produced scientific result. Several classifications exist in the literature, ladders that reflect the increasing level of involvement of participants in the different phases of the scientific research process.

Most often, Citizen Science projects are categorized according to the level of participation as "contributory", "collaborative" and "co-created".

  • Contributory projects – designed by academic researchers, with citizens primarily contributing data.
  • Collaborative projects – designed by academic researchers, with citizens contributing data as well as helping to refine project design, analyse data and/or disseminate findings.
  • Co-created projects – designed by academic researchers together with citizens. At least some members of the public are actively involved in most or all aspects of the research process.

Participatory Citizen Science for the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of global goals developed in 2015 by the 193 UN member states and representatives of civil society. They are part of the UN Agenda 2030, a comprehensive call for action to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.

High quality, timely and accessible data are required to monitor progress towards the goals, and there is a strong consensus that citizen engagement is critical. Through Citizen Science, people can directly engage with and monitor issues that affect them, bring new perspectives and knowledge into science and decision-making, and ultimately demand or drive change.

Citizen Science Zurich encourages projects to reflect on their potential contribution to the global effort toward sustainable development. This happens by creating actionable knowledge and data that can help tackle the UN SDGs at the local, regional and global level.