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Citizen Science Zurich

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Citizen Science as a driver of change

This year's Conference of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) was a special event: around 550 participants from all over the world came together in Vienna to celebrate the Association's 10th anniversary. During three conference days and a subsequent Citizen Science festival, a multitude of presentations, workshops and talks highlighted the dedication and achievements of the growing community of Citizen Science practitioners. With the conference theme being "Change" contributions covered a wide range of topics, reflecting on how the field of Citizen Science has changed and developed in the past decade, and demonstrating how Citizen Science projects contribute to developing research-based solutions to pressing socio-political and environmental issues. Citizen Science Zurich took part in the conference benefitting from the networking and educational opportunities and presenting insights regarding the D-A-CH AG working group and the Citizen Science Global Partnership.

Conservation and Conversation

In her keynote speech, Shannon Dosemagen asked: "What does it look like to do Citizen Science in a changing world?". Answering this question, she highlighted projects like GOSH, a community advocating for open science hardware; the environmental health organization Charrs that follows an intergenerational and interdisciplinary approach promoting equity, health, and environmental justice in African American and marginalized communities; or Arribada Initiative, a non-profit specializing in open-source solutions in the field of planetary health. Amongst others, she identified the following principles and practices for a sustainable future of Citizen Science: Commoning (the sharing and making accessible of resources), the scaling of simple solutions, and finding the unfamiliar to listen, learn and engage.

Shannon's talk echoed the importance of a topic that on different levels prominently featured in many of the workshops and presentations: the relationship between conservation and conversation, linking efforts to protect, consolidate, and repair with aspirations to connect, share, and transform:

  • How can we evaluate the impact of Citizen Science? Why and for whom is this important?
  • What role does/can/should Citizen Science play in policy making?
  • How can Citizen Science be leveraged to bring about sustainable societal and ecological change on the community, the national, and the international level?
  • How can Citizen Science become more inclusive, actively seeking to lower barriers and inviting people as experts of their lifeworlds who – as of now – are not engaged in Citizen Science?

At the heart of these and many similar questions revolving around the transformational potential of participatory science-based methodologies lies a crucial invitation to reflect:

  • What kinds of conversations do we need, and with whom, to determine exactly how conservation should look like paying respect to the multiple perspectives, resources and interests of all stakeholders involved and affected?

In this context, the role of Citizen Science in policy making was a topic of high interest. In the following, Olivia shares her insights from one of the workshops.

Citizen Science & Policy Making

One important topic that occurred several times at the conference was "policy making" and "policy impact". But what are enabling factors and environments for Citizen Science initiatives to strive? How could policymakers and funders promote the mainstreaming and upscaling of Citizen Science practices?

One workshop that particularly stood out – also in terms of method and equipment used – was the workshop "Co-designing Guidelines for Policy-Makers for mainstreaming and upscaling citizen science across the European Research Area" by Rosa Arias. Using different national case studies and what is known as "backcasting method", participants took on the roles and perspectives of various stakeholders, including that of policymakers, funders, faculty deans, researchers and citizen scientists. What are interests and motivations of those stakeholders? What are their challenges? How are they connected by common interests and challenges? And what general framework or policy changes would be supportive?

Taking notes on colorful hexagon cards (designed by "Science for change" in Barcelona), participants assumed different positions and gained a deeper understanding of stakeholder dynamics, all the while shaping "their" roadmap collaboratively. The necessity to bring all actors with a potential interest in Citizen Science – including citizen scientists and businesses – to the table when trying to bring Citizen Science forward quickly became clear. Dear colleagues in Austria, are you ready for the action plan we drafted for you?

  • During the workshop "Co-designing Guidelines for Policy-Makers for mainstreaming and upscaling citizen science across the European Research Area" participants assumed different positions and gained a deeper understanding of stakeholder dynamics.

  • Our wonderful team at the conference: Rosy Mondardini, Olivia Höhener and Melanie Brand (from left to right)

  • In lively discussions in front of the two posters from the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP) and the Citizen Science Working Group for cooperation in German-speaking countries D-A-CH AG.

  • Shaping and empowering change TOGETHER - the poster from the D-A-CH AG.

  • The workshop "Citizen science with schools. Developing best practices for diverse educational contexts" provided valuable access to experiences, common questions, and insights from practitioners.


The event was also an ideal stage to show the progresses of the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP), a unique partnership of the world's leading regional and national Citizen Science Associations aimed at scaling Citizen Science initiatives at the global level while supporting North-South collaborations. Citizen Science Zurich plays a key role in the partnership as co-host of the Swiss Hub together with University of Geneva, and holds a role at the secretariat as responsible for strategic communication.

The three sessions about CSGP included a poster (overview), an oral presentation by Rosy Mondardini on the partnership’s activities and its recent achievements, and a "fishbowl" discussion on CSGP's plans for the future. CSGP has already started solidifying its reputation by engaging on the international scene. For instance, it has contributed to the implementation of the UNESCO Open Science Recommendations, and it's working with UNEP on including Citizen Science data in their World Environment Situation Room Portal. The partnership also launched a UNICEF project on 'learning to earning' using Citizen Science to tackle environmental challenges at the community level. Plans include participation in the SDG Olympiad, an initiative to introduce global youth to citizen science for environmental health.

Focusing more at a regional level, the D-A-CH AG – co-chaired by Citizen Science Zurich – unites stakeholders in the context of Citizen Science, such as platform providers and representatives of universities and research institutions. Its concern is to intensify the cooperation in German-speaking Europe, to use synergies, to exchange best practices and to establish short ways of informal exchange. The poster (right next to CSGP's poster) showcased first results of the cooperation, such as cross-nationally planned and conducted trainings on "Open Data in Citizen Science" and "Digital Ethics". It also addressed challenges in cross-border cooperation, such as different structures in national networks, different political frameworks and lack of resources for networking.

Aimed specifically at leaders and members of other networks and working groups concerned with how networks can bring about a framework for shared learning and concrete change, the working group shared its central learnings, saying that yes, indeed, it is possible to initiate change! Ideas and suggestions brought in by the ECSA participants (and attached to the poster during the presentation with Post-Its) will be considered for the working groups working programme.

Citizen Science & Schools

As Citizen Science Zurich is exploring how we can contribute to strengthening and expanding the role of Citizen Science in the educational sector in Switzerland, the working group meeting "Citizen Science in Education" and the workshop "Citizen science with schools. Developing best practices for diverse educational contexts" provided valuable access to experiences, common questions, and insights from practitioners. Possibilities and experiences of Citizen Science projects at schools came up in many other presentations and workshops. Coupled with the fact that in total 66 people (!) had joined the workshop Tim Kiessling, Wiebke Brink, Julia Lorke, Elisabeth Schauermann, Petra Siegele, Katrin Kruse and Fabienne Wehrle were offering, it was apparent that the topic was gaining traction – an observation we had already made at the Citizen Science Forum in 2023 in Freiburg (Germany).

Both in the working group meeting and in the workshop, the question how to get Citizen Science into schools and, at best, form longer lasting engagements was identified as a crucial concern. Some reported that they were drawing on personal networks and had succeeded in forming a trusting relationship with a specific teacher at a school giving them the opportunity to regularly conduct Citizen Science projects. However, if the teacher were to leave the school, this opportunity would most likely vanish. Other approaches are aiming to reach teachers at a larger scale by including information on Citizen Science in teacher training formats which showed promising results. However, as school systems and contexts are extremely heterogenous and present huge varieties not only in transnational comparison but also within countries themselves, there is no one-size-fits-all approach.

Despite all the challenges, researchers, facilitators and educators agreed: engaging school students in Citizen Science bears a great potential for offering exciting and complex learning environments outside of the classroom. And these should go beyond data collection into meaning making: As Heidi Ballard pointed out in her presentation at the working group meeting, involving community members in Citizen Science projects at schools was an untapped resource. This would allow to connect research to local community interests.

With all these questions, insights, and ideas in mind, we will continue exploring approaches that would work best in our specific context. We will keep you posted. In the meantime, if you know about a Citizen Science project at a school or you have ideas you want to share, feel free to get in touch with us!

Future gatherings

As tradition wants, the conference ended with the announcements and save-the-date for future events. The rich preview included the Citizen Science Forum in Hamburg where Citizen Science Zurich will participate from 9–10 October, 2024, and the second global conference on CS4Health, hosted in Zurich by Citizen Science Zurich on 6–7 November, 2025. For the next ECSA conference, see you in Oulu (Finland) in early 2026.

Editors: Melanie Brand, Olivia Höhener, Rosy Mondardini