Citizen Science

Citizen ScienceCitizen Science

What is citizen science? 

 Citizen science is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions”. In fact, there are different definitions and interpretations of the term in the literature, which depend often 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.” ECSA puts forward 10 principles of what constitutes good citizen science. 
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.  

How citizen science enables open science  

Open science can improve access to scientific results, increase transparency and foster reproducibility of scientific research; citizen science contributes to the same goals through active participation in research, technology development and innovation and learning about science and technology. Their initiatives can contribute to the creation of common goods and shared resources, such as a body of knowledge, methods and tools, or a pool of data that then serve as infrastructures for further research.  
Citizen science and open science can facilitate knowledge transfer between science and society to stimulate innovation. For both approaches, it is common to cross disciplinary boundaries and contribute to knowledge integration between scientific domains. What is more, citizen science and open science can bring other kinds of expertise to bear on research questions indicating and addressing societal research needs, thus contributing to enable research endeavours that would not be possible otherwise. 


Citizen science at the CRG 


Previous citizen science projects at the CRG

The CRG has had a short but successful series of Citizen Science campaigns. We have designed, developed and implemented two stand-out projects: mobile game app Genigma and mouth's microbiome project Saca la Lengua.   
The Genigma project is a mobile game app that aims at mapping the genome of a cancer line in a collaborative way. Co-created with citizens, this project is an experiment within the EU-funded project ORION Open Science. It has introduced Citizen Science concepts to researchers that wanted to explore this methodology for the first time, guided by a Citizen Science facilitator through all the phases of the project. 
The goal of the game is to build reference maps in order to understand the parts of the human genome that play a fundamental role in the growth and development of cancer. The development of the game was open for collaboration since its inception, starting with three co-creation events to lay the foundations of the project and followed by a testing phase. Two years before launch, more than 500 people took part in developing the game. As well as the scientific results that will be obtained thanks to the game, the interactions with different people and the use of participatory methodologies have been very beneficial for the project’s team members, giving them the opportunity to come out their comfort zone. The app was released in January 2022 and closed in October 2022, gathering almost 700.000 data to map the breast cancer genome. 
Saca la Lengua (Stick out your tongue) is a different Citizen Science approach, involving the study of the mouth’s microbiome and its possible relationship with our environmental characteristics and lifestyle. The project ran for four years (2015-2018) and had huge reach across Spain, with more than 7000 participants including students and patients. The project resulted in four research papers, with a fifth currently under review. All participants received a snapshot of their microbiome composition and a brief outline of the project’s general results. Citizens’ contributions to the hypothesis were key for the project’s success, providing new ideas, which the scientists haven’t thought of. The project resulted in the co-creation and co-development of a game based on the results obtained in the research. This helped us share the results with a larger and more diverse audience in a different format. The project was an initiative of the CRG together with the "la Caixa" Banking Foundation. 

Further information 

  • Keynote speaker at the Engaging Citizen Science Conference (Aarhus, 2022) Professor Heidi Ballard (UC Davis): “Engagement and learning through Community and Citizen Science: Why, how and the evidence of outcomes”. 
  • Keynote speaker at the Engaging Citizen Science Conference (Aarhus, 2022) Professor Dick Kasperowski (University of Gothenburg): “Scientific and civic engagements in citizen science: Time to talk about societal effects?”  
  • News feature in Nature: No PhDs needed: how citizen science is transforming research