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Authors: Veeckman, C., Van Herck, B., Carpentier, M., Van Laer, J. & Sterken, M.

Veeckman, C., Van Herck, B., Carpentier, M., Van Laer, J. & Sterken, M., (2021). Citizen Science Roadmap for Local Government. A hands-on manual for citizen science, by and for cities and towns. SCIVIL, Leuven, Belgium.

ISBN: 9789463965668

How to start with citizen science as a local government?

As a local government engaging in citizen science, you have to appoint responsibilities, determine what you will (not) prioritize, which kind of support you will offer, which conditions you will set in partnerships, etc. In this chapter, we will outline a ten-step roadmap for developing a citizen science policy.

Lots of cities and towns start with citizen science in an organic way: motivating citizens to participate in CurieuzeNeuzen, organizing a traffic count with Telraam, etc. This is an easy way to get familiarized with citizen science, but sooner or later key questions will arise about the role of the government or the extent of support for citizen science initiatives.

In this chapter, we will outline a ten-step roadmap for developing a citizen science policy, fully involving internal and external stakeholders. The steps follow a logical order, though this order is not predetermined. Some steps can come sooner or later in the process, depending on the specific context and the role of the local government.

A citizen science strategy for your city or town in ten steps

1 – Appoint responsibilities within the local government and create a support base

2 – Identify citizen science initiatives and stakeholders

3 – Develop a project plan

4 – Identify opportunities of citizen science for the local government

5 – Determine the roles of the local government in citizen science

6 – Determine which types of support the government will offer for citizen science initiatives

7 – Determine requirements and standards that are important for the local government

8 – Consolidate and communicate your local citizen science policy

9 – Turn the policy into action

10 – Evaluate the policy periodically

Step 1: Appoint responsibilities within the local government and create a support base

Citizen science is a new theme and local administrations in Flanders are still relatively unacquainted with it. Therefore, the first question is: who will get the ball rolling within the local government?

We need process owners and ambassadors on two levels: on the general organization level, and on different department levels of the city or town.

On the general organizational level, the responsibility for citizen science is preferably appointed both administratively and politically. We have learnt from experience that citizen science is usually appointed to:

  • the staff member and alderman responsible for data and analysis;
  • the staff member and alderman responsible for participation.

Appointing this responsibility will ensure that there is a point of contact, and that you maintain an overview on the general organizational level: which initiatives are being undertaken within the city limits; how are data stored, etc.

It is also recommended that every department considers the possibilities of citizen science in their respective policy domains. Ideally, the actual involvement of the city or town to a citizen science project lies within the department that is responsible for that theme. The traffic department could be involved in a citizen science project on mobility, while the environmental department could follow up a project on air quality.

If a local government is involved in multiple and complex projects, you could consider organising a working group on the general organizational level or the project level.

Creating support for a citizen science policy within a local government
  • Involve different city departments when developing a vision and strategy. Consult at regular intervals external stakeholders (knowledge institutions, citizen science initiatives, schools, social organizations).
  • Inspire staff members from different departments with good practices from this manual and/or from your own experience.
  • Test initiatives, start with easy projects (limited duration, limited investment).
  • Communicate about citizen science, both to the political level and to the civil servants. Use examples and highlight real-life applications for your organization.

Step 2: Identify citizen science initiatives and stakeholders

A survey among local governments shows that cities and towns generally have little insight into citizen science initiatives in their territory. Develop your citizen science policy, starting with a good inventory. Do not simply compose a list of completed, ongoing and planned projects within your city or town, but get to know the citizens and organizations involved, and ask about their plans, motivations, needs, etc.

In this introductory phase, you could consider organizing a meeting with all citizen science initiatives. This way, you get to know the initiatives better and you make clear that you value and hear the people behind the initiatives. Please note that not all citizen science initiatives will consider themselves

as a citizen science project, e.g., local nature guides who keep track of certain animal species, local history societies, volunteers at archaeological excavations, etc.

Step 3: Develop a project plan

You do not develop a citizen science policy on your own. You work together with employees from different departments, and you report to the city council, just like you would do with other actions and goals. It is important not to rush into this. Think carefully about how you approach and organize the development of your policy.

Develop a concrete project plan to introduce citizen science within your local government. In this plan, you should include among others:

  • the steps you want to take. You can use our ten-step proposal as a basis;
  • the results you want to achieve. The end result is an organization-wide vision and perhaps one or two concrete applications. Also determine intermediate steps, such as the development of an opportunity map that summarizes the opportunities of citizen science for your local government (see chapter 2), a framework of agreements for dealing with data (see chapter 6), etc.;
  • the people you want to involve (see chapter 5).
    As the person in charge, you can launch the plan yourself, but you should quickly involve colleagues from various departments in the process and form a small core group of enthusiasts. Together, you can reflect more deeply on the roles the local government will undertake, and on the forms of support (see step 6). Also provide one or two review moments in the trajectory with citizens, citizen science initiatives, schools and other stakeholders committed to citizen science;
  • the timeframe you have in mind.

Step 4: Identify opportunities of citizen science for the local government

Creating a support base for citizen science (mentioned at step 1) is an ongoing process. It also implies identifying the concrete added values for
the local government. If co-workers and managers see the advantages, you will motivate them more easily. Organize an interactive workshop on the subject with colleagues from various departments, and give attention to every domain. Environment or mobility are well-known themes for citizen science, but there are also interesting applications in culture, sports, health, welfare or public domain. Consider, for example:

  • constructing the history of a town, based on photographs which citizens submit, classify and describe;
  • collaborating with citizens to identify littered areas, analyse their characteristics and organize actions;
  • identifying and analysing gaps in social services.

Citizen science does not always have to involve (new) data collection. You can also further analyse existing data, or organize discussion groups on the findings.

Identifying concrete opportunities does not imply that the local government itself has to take initiative. We strongly believe in embracing and encouraging bottom-up initiatives.

Specifying added value for the local government during an interactive workshop

Organize a workshop with employees of various departments to identify concrete opportunities. Provide several tables (or online: break-out rooms) in which the following questions are discussed:

  • which information needs are currently insufficiently met? Which trends or evolutions are underexplored?
  • In which domains can citizen science involve citizens more strongly and/or raise awareness?

Let pairs brainstorm on post-its and rank them using the COCD box (see below). You can get to work immediately with the ‘wow ideas’ in the light blue quadrant.

The results of this exercise can be summarized in a persuasive opportunity map, that illustrates how citizen science brings added value to the local government.

What about spontaneous bottom-up initiatives?

Keep in mind that citizen science initiatives often emerge from society and are not often considered promising at first by the local government. In some cases, they will be in line with the ambitions of the administration, in other cases they will not. Sometimes they will seek contact with the local government themselves, in other cases they may want to keep a certain distance. The attitude of the local government or the degree of cooperation depends on the relevance and its possibilities, but in principle you should maintain an open attitude towards citizen initiatives.

Step 5: Determine the roles of the local government

A city or town can be involved in citizen science in different ways. We distinguish seven different roles that in practice are often intertwined. A city can be a regulator, a partner in one project and a promoter in another project at the same time.

The choice of role of the administration is related to the importance it gives to citizen science. The position of the government can change across legislatures. Furthermore, the role of the government also depends on current events, for example if there is bottom-up pressure regarding the construction of a new ring road or a traffic accident. These events can lead you to switch to a more active role. Regardless of the role chosen, it is important that the entire administration is well informed. This way, everyone 4 knows where the support or responsibility starts or stops, when you are approached by a citizen science initiative.

When considering these roles, we recommend an interactive work session with a smaller core group of colleagues. In doing so, you take into account the capacity and resources of the local government. The very active roles also require the necessary personnel.

  1. Regulator: this role sets out the rules
    for citizen science activities, for example,
    deciding where sensors can be placed in public 6 spaces, any rules that must be observed in
    terms of traffic safety, etc.
  2. Listener: citizen science initiatives often arise from a concern in society. Groups collect data to make their concerns evidence-based (‘to measure is to know’). Even if the project goal, the data or the research method do not entirely fit the policy agenda of the local government, it is important that these initiatives are not ignored. By entering a dialogue with citizen scientists, the government may also succeed in aligning the research with its 3 own expectations and agenda.
  3. Initiator: in this role, the local government itself initiates a citizen science initiative. This can be a new initiative, but one can also tap into an existing initiative and roll it out more broadly within the city or town. For example:
    “ We contacted Telraam – there are a number of streets whose traffic we want to assess, for the purpose of the mobility plan. We purchased and distributed about 50 ‘telramen’. Next week, there will be a call to recruit another 40 residents in the suburbs.” – Interviewed civil servant
  4. Coordinator: the city or town is in charge of the project coordination of a citizen science project. Evidently, this does not mean that the administration has to do everything, because then it would no longer be citizen science. In its role as coordinator, the administration maintains a bird’s eye view on the project, maintains the network and the cooperation, and ensures that the intended results are achieved.
  5. Partner: the government is an active partner in a citizen science project.
  6. Broker: in this role, the government brings parties together and facilitates citizen science communities.
  7. Promoter: as a promoter, the government supports and encourages citizen science initiatives through grants, logistics (communication, infrastructure), staff deployment, etc. The different forms of possible support are described in the next step.

Step 6: Determine which types of support the government will offer

A city or town can support citizen science projects in different ways. This choice depends on the vision and possibilities of the local government. It is important to make choices beforehand, and to communicate consistently, both internally and externally.

Expectation management is important

When a local government lends its support or cooperation to a citizen science project, citizen scientists often consider this to be a ‘commitment for change’. The local government must be careful not to create expectations among citizen scientists that it cannot meet. Therefore, communicate clearly about which commitments you can make as a local government and which you cannot, in terms of project support, but certainly also in relation to the results and findings of the projects.

Also be open about the possibilities and the time needed to turn research results into policy and actual changes in the city.

Supporting communication

In terms of communication, a city or town can provide real added value for citizen science projects. Think of announcements for recruiting participants, announcing results or celebrating an initiative.
In a survey conducted for this roadmap, citizen science initiatives indicated that they particularly appreciate the governmental support in the area of communication. Moreover, communication involves more than printed media and online communication. It also concerns organizing contact moments or developing targeted communication through advisory boards.
“ The participation officer helped with the recruitment of volunteers. He used the city’s online participation platform for this. A lot of citizens are registered there, so there has been a lot of response.” – Interviewed civil servant


Local governments can also facilitate financially in the purchase of equipment, for example sensors
or do-it-yourself kits for sensors. In the case of ‘Telraam’, for example, we see that this is often the case. The financial resources usually come from the budgets of the departments involved, for example the mobility department when it comes to traffic safety. During discussions, there was an idea of a lending post or library for measuring instruments, although we have not yet found any concrete examples.

Personnel support

It is not uncommon for civil servants to lend a hand in citizen science projects. Current examples of personnel support include:

  • management of a citizen science project;
  • participation in meetings and thinking along with the initiators and participants of the citizen science projects;
  • making personnel available for various tasks within the citizen science projects: collecting samples, maintenance of sensors, communication, etc.
Community building

The local government can also help create citizen science partnerships. The government can bring together knowledge institutions, civil society organizations, companies and citizens, or citizens themselves. The administration can use the broad network of organizations with which it is involved. We give a number of examples of this brokerage role below:

The city of Bruges has a Facebook group on the

theme of climate. By regularly posting relevant news and calls, the city builds a community committed to this theme. For citizen science projects on climate, volunteers can be recruited within this group.

  • The city of Genk has, in the context of Stiemerlab, approached local associations (e.g., sports clubs) to participate. This has led to the introduction of a lot of new faces who perhaps would not quickly participate on their own.
  • In the city of Ghent, the district director of the Meulestede – De Muide neighborhood motivated and brought together residents to count traffic on the Muide bridge.
Financial support

A local government can directly or indirectly facilitate the search for financial resources for citizen science projects:

  • by helping citizen science initiatives to find financial resources: identify grant opportunities, and if necessary, support the development of grant applications;
  • by launching a grant for citizen science initiatives or by opening up existing grants to citizen science projects. Examples are the subsidies for neighbourhood projects in Ghent (Wijkbudget) or the thematic call for subsidies for climate projects in Mechelen. In both cases, these calls are also open to citizen science.

Local funding can certainly make a significant difference for small and local initiatives. Large citizen science projects, often launched by an academic institution, are more likely to aim for supralocal funding and larger grants.

Just about all projects – large or small – indicate that funding does not account for long term projects. Usually, funding channels are temporarily accessible, while initiatives often have the ambition to collect data over a longer period of time.

Should you, as a local government, support every citizen science initiative?

As a government, you don’t have to support every citizen science initiative. With an open attitude and respect for citizen initiatives,
you are already taking an important step. As a government, you can also refer to other partners. Initiatives that you support as an administration should first and foremost fit in with your own ambitions and the current multiannual plan. Make your needs known as a local government; this could lead to the joint development of a new project.

Managing, analysing and disseminating data

Depending on the capacity and knowledge within the local government, the city can also support citizen science projects that do not have knowledge of, or partners in data collection and analysis. In some cases, local governments turn to an external service provider.

Step 7: Determine requirements and standards

If the local administration participates in, or supports a citizen science project, it can also formulate boundary conditions. This is certainly a legitimate demand, if there is a strong commitment from the administration. At the same time, the administration should always be aware of the fact that they are dealing with voluntary initiatives that should not be deterred by excessively high requirements.

Requirements from the local government can relate to:

  • the quality of data and measurements. Both objective (measurements) and subjective (opinions) data must be collected in a substantiated way. Therefore, you could offer citizen scientists professional training;
  • making data available to the government and making data publicly available (open source);
  • the openness of the citizen science initiative to all citizens.

Step 8: Consolidate and communicate your local citizen science policy

When a local government has completely determined how it wants to deal with citizen science in the coming years, it is time to summarize the vision
in a document. This will provide guidance for stakeholders.

Publish the vision on the local government’s website, so citizens and associations can take note of it.

What comes first: vision or practice?

In an ideal world, a vision precedes concrete actions. However, this sets a high bar and threshold. You can also get involved with citizen science from a bottom-up approach, through concrete projects and collaborations. This way, a vision can gradually emerge, based on insights from experiences.

Step 9: Turn the policy into action

A vision for citizen science is important, but the real added value lies, of course, in its implementation and in the projects.

The ideas that were identified as “wow ideas” during step 4 can now be put into practice.

Many of the steps in the vision development are now turning into permanent tasks. Examples are taking stock of citizen science initiatives, sensitizing and inspiring departments, and supporting citizen science initiatives.

Step 10: Evaluate the policy periodically

Like any policy plan, a citizen science policy is never finished. Over the years, needs change, new opportunities arise and we learn from experience. Periodically re-examine the vision on citizen science and make adjustments. Also involve citizen scientists in this evaluation.

As a local government, how do you deal with a citizen science project that takes on an “opposing” position?

Though rare, there is a chance that citizen science communities turn against the local administration and contest policy. If such a scenario unfolds, the following tips can help:

  • establish a dialogue with an attitude of mutual respect;
  • take note of the findings of the citizen science initiative, evaluate the findings and the way they were established;
  • explain why you as a government can or cannot meet certain expectations. If necessary, ask for time to examine certain issues more closely;
  • make agreements about future contact so that any difference in views does not escalate further.


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