A Book Review — Citizen Science: Co-optation Instead of Cooperation?

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Citation format: The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition

Greshake Tzovaras, Bastian. ‘A Book Review — Citizen Science: Co-optation Instead of Cooperation?’, 2019. https://doi.org/10.20389/jsf3-m585.

Bastian Greshake Tzovaras reviews the book Citizen Science Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy from the university open access press, UCL Press. Greshake Tzovaras highlights the Ten Principles of Citizen Science and opens up questions about how to progress deeper participation and decision making by the public.

citizen science

Citizen Science Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy

Open Access
ISBN: 9781787352339
DOI: 10.14324/111.9781787352339
Publication: October 15, 2018
Creative Commons 4.0 International license (CC BY 4.0)

Citizen science, the active participation of the public in scientific research projects, is a growing field in many scientific disciplines thanks to digital technology and societal changes, with thousands of projects and millions of participants worldwide (‘SciStarter’ n.d.). The book Citizen Science Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy (Hecker et al. 2018) wants to shed light on this phenomenon and identify how citizen science can interface with both scientific & societal innovations and play a productive role in shaping policy. Using a plethora of case studies of existing citizen science projects, the book examines innovations in citizen science itself and the innovations of citizen science at interface with science-policy; technology and environmental monitoring; and science communication and education.

Citizen Science kicks off with a chapter on the Ten Principles of Citizen Science that were drafted by the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) (‘European Citizen Science Association (ECSA)’ n.d.) as ‘best practices’ guidelines for citizen science projects. These principles make up a cornerstone for much of the book and they are heavily referenced in many of the subsequent chapters. Besides covering good practices for generating valuable data and outcomes, they also cover the idea that participating citizen scientists should benefit from taking part and should be offered to be involved in multiple stages during the scientific process. The question of the level of engagement for the citizen science participants is one that is covered in many of the book’s chapters, as citizen science is a rather broad umbrella term. It can mean projects that range from simple crowdsourcing (in some cases even only crowdfunding) all the way to truly co-created projects in which citizen scientists are included in the problem definition, data collection and data analyses, leading to questions about power dynamics, and participatory inequality.

The excellent chapter “Watching or being watched” by Dana Mahr, Claudia Göbel, Alan Irwin, and Katrin Vohland outlines how the hopes that citizen science can empower grassroots movements to conduct research nowadays often clash with the interests and motives of professional scientists, scientific institutions and policymakers that start engaging in the space under the umbrella of citizen science. This co-option of citizen science can lead down a path in which the citizen involvement is seen as a tool to achieve scientific goals set by established, professional researchers. Dana Mahr describes how these attitudes seem to be reflected in some of the discussions witnessed at the ECSA conference in 2016, where often the focus was on ensuring the quality of data generated by citizen scientists. And the book’s chapter on the European citizen science landscape seems to hint in this direction as well, as a survey of one hundred and seventy-four European citizen science projects found that two-thirds of the surveyed projects are designed to be contributory or collaborative for the citizen scientists, while only 11% were co-created.

Many of the book’s chapters, including the 10 Principles, try to address the issue of level of engagement and argue for enabling a deeper engagement of citizen scientists. Especially useful in this context are the chapters on how to effectively facilitate co-creation in the citizen science space, using face-to-face interactions at ThinkCamps and using design-thinking ideas from user-centred and participatory design. Given that the target audience of the book is on citizen science practitioners and those who want to become one, one could be hopeful that future citizen science projects become more collaborative and co-designed. But at the same time I can’t help but notice that there I could find no mention on whether citizen scientists were involved in the drafting of the 10 Principles and that I only saw a single chapter that has citizen scientists as co-authors. Which I take to mean that we all can do better in learning to walk the walk. But if you are a professional researchers who wants to learn more about how to get started with designing your citizen science project, this is a good place to start.


‘SciStarter’. Accessed 31 May 2019. https://scistarter.org/.

Hecker, Susanne, Mordechai Haklay, Anne Bowser, Zen Makuch, Johannes Vogel, and Aletta Bonn. Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. London: UCL Press, 2018. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ucl-press/browse-books/citizen-science.

‘European Citizen Science Association (ECSA)’. European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). Accessed 31 May 2019. https://ecsa.citizen-science.net/.

Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

Posted by Bastian Greshake Tzovaras

Co-Founder @openSNPorg, Director of Research @OpenHumansOrg. Vaguely familiar with #Bioinformatics #Ecology #Evolution | Loves open science/culture

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