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Authors: Carina Veeckman [VUB], Floor Keersmaekers [VUB], Karel Verbrugge [VUB], Eline Livémont [VUB]

Veeckman, C., Keersmaekers, F., Verbrugge, K., & Livémont, E. (2022). D3.3 Citizen Science Starters Kit (Online Citizen Science Training Materials) (Version 2). Zenodo.

Getting started with citizen science

This module provides you with the necessary materials to get started with citizen science. You will find a step-by-step plan with templates and checklists, and other relevant resources to set up the activities. The step-by-step plan guides you through six different phases, from the inception to finalization of your citizen science research project.

Depending on your role in the research project, you will follow this step-by-step plan in a different way. You can explore all phases in sequence or focus on one. The extent to which you follow this plan also depends on the project’s objective. If your project focusses primarily on data collection, the focus will be on the first phases of the project. If there is more emphasis on raising awareness with action-oriented results, the focus will lie in the last phases of the project.

Phase 0 – Consider

Before you start, you should reflect upon your research questionand consider whether citizen science fits the issue at hand.

Identify a research question

The first step is to identify a research question. In applied research, citizen science can solve specific community or policy-driven questions and improve understanding on a particular issue. It can also support transdisciplinary research and provide value to all involved stakeholders, from which clear, practical solutions can be derived. In fundamental research, citizen science can help in theory building and expand the knowledge base (e.g. new measurement instruments, data models or frameworks). It will result in findings of significance and value to society in general. However, it may not directly result in a solution to a practical problem.

Case study – CO-NATURE

CO-NATURE is an applied-driven research project that explored the potential of incorporating ecosystem services and nature-based solutions into development plans for Brussels. Through citizen science, it explored which nature- based solutions could be implemented, and where these would be most beneficial. Furthermore, the project helped to build understanding on how citizens in Brussels use and value green spaces. The outcomes of the research were used for co-creating scenarios with experts and citizens, which ultimately informed urban greening policies.

This four-year research project (December 2018 – November 2022) was a collaboration between the ULB and VUB, and collaborated with Brussels Environment and BouwmeesterMaitreArchitecte. Innoviris provided financial support for the project.


A research question can be formulated top-down by the research institution, but it can also be formulated by a community organisation, or an individual citizen. These latter bottom-up questions often arise out of a concern within society. In the database of the Science Shop (‘Wetenschapswinkel’) you can explore different research themes and questions, submitted by non-profit organisations in Belgium. Based on these inputs, you can jointly determine the scope of the research.

You can also opt to identify the research question in a participatory way. Participatory methods such as online voting, collaborative workshops or crowdsourcing might be helpful to identify or prioritize your research question.

Let’s get to work!

Tool 1– Identify your research question: guiding questions

Use the following template, developed by the Citizen Science Contact Point of the VUB, to identify your research question and the underlying problem. To help you formulate a strong research question, some helpful tips are provided in the document.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Tool 2– CitieS Health toolkit

You can identify your research question in a participatory way.
The CitieS Health toolkit provides helpful tools for identifying citizens’ concerns and for turning them into a research question.

Tool 3– Problem definition

Identifying an innovative research question can be time consuming. This template, developed by NESTA, helps you to define a problem statement by exploring its underlying factors.

This template is particularly helpful for applied research projects.

Determine if citizen science is right for yourresearch

Once the research question is identified, you need to make sure that a citizen science approach fits. Citizen science does not fit for all research topics. In certain circumstances, more conventional science methods or other types of public engagement mechanisms might just do the trick or might be even better suited.

Before you begin, we recommend filling in our self-reflection test and assessing the suitability of a citizen science approach through our fill-in template. This template is based on Module 2 of this training programme.

Test: Are you ready for citizen science?

This test, developed by the Citizen Science Contact Point of the VUB, helps you to self-reflect about certain attitudes and working practices when performing citizen science research.

Fill in this fun test and get to discover your readiness level!

Tool 4 – Determine if citizen science fits your research

This assessment and support document helps you to self- reflect on whether citizen science is right for your research. You can assess the suitability of a citizen science approach through several questions.

The document can be used by the project coordinator or by individual team members. Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Tool 5 – A decision-making framework for citizen science

In the handbook ‘Choosing and Using Citizen Science’ from Pocock and colleagues (2014) you can find a decision-making framework for environmental monitoring (p.14-19). You can assess whether citizen science is suitable for you, and which type of citizen science you should consider.

Phase 1 – Prepare

By now you have thoroughly considered whether a citizen science approach fits your research project, and what your research question is. You already have a high-level idea of how you envision your research project, and now it is the time to concretize it further. In this phase, you will sharply define the project objectives, assemble the project team, map your stakeholders, find the necessary (additional) resources, and reflect on privacy and ethics.

Define the project objectives

The most common objective of citizen science is to answer a specific research question. Acquiring new data and insights for research purposes is, therefore, always at the heart of citizen science. At the same time, other objectives such as generating social impact or education are also worth considering:

Objectives of a citizen science project
  • Contribute to research: collecting data
  • Educate and raise awareness: increasing knowledge about a particular theme or issue, increasing understanding and support
  • Create social impact: strong locally embedded projects in which people seek a solution to social issues

You can combine several objectives or have one primary objective. Your primary objective might focus on data collection for research purposes and less or not at all on social impact. Of course, you can combine both objectives, this being the most ideal scenario. Try to be realistic in clarifying your project aims. Going for all three objectives may be highly commendable, but in reality it might be difficult to achieve. Being too particular about a strict method of data collection for achieving your research objectives might cause citizens to drop out after a while.

It is important that you clearly communicate the project objectives to the participants: is it an experiment, a short-term intervention, or inspiration for another project in the long run?

Tool 6 – Reflect on your project objectives

Use this template, developed by the Citizen Contact Point of the VUB, to reflect on your project objectives: where in the Venn diagram would you place your research project?

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Tool 7 – Impact statement

An impact statement summarizes how your project might make a difference in the lives of people, communities and the environment. The impacts of citizen science can be diverse, from scientific to societal, economic and ecological outcomes.

Use this template to write out your impact statement. Don’t be shy to print it out and share it with not only your project colleagues, but also with your stakeholders!

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Assemble the project team

Citizen science is about working together. In this step, you determine who is going to do what exactly. Will you take on the coordinator role as a researcher yourself? Who are you going to outsource to? Which parties will you bring together? To accomplish the tasks discerned in your research project, one or several people are necessary (depending on the size of your project).

Tool 8 – Assemble the project team

Use this project team sheet, based on the work by Muki Haklay, to assemble the project team for your citizen science project.

Fill out who you have in mind for each role.

Map your stakeholders

For your citizen science project to run smoothly, it is important to consider in advance the relevant stakeholders that will be involved. A stakeholder mapping exercise allows you to identify these stakeholders and, subsequently, consider how to engage with them and which ones to focus on.

Your most important stakeholders will (almost) always be your participants, that is the citizen scientists. The level of participation you require from them might differ, depending on your project objectives and resources. It might be interesting to consider which of the following participation levels you expect from your stakeholders:

Tool 9 – Map your stakeholders

To conduct your stakeholder analysis, Tool 9, Map your stakeholders, offers a useful three-step guide.

Find resources and funds

As for every research project, finding the necessary funds and financing can be a daunting but necessary task. Scivil keeps an updated page on possible financing opportunities for citizen science here: While there are (occasional) calls specifically for citizen science projects, you can also weave a citizen science approach into “classic” research funding calls.

The following suggestions from Scivil are interesting to take into account when applying for regular funding calls for citizen science. Two important take-outs are to:

  • Stress why the project needs citizen science: what is the added value of a citizen science approach for your project? How and why is it more suited than a traditional research approach?
  • Emphasize the societal and educational objectives/impact: the societal and educational benefits and objectives of your citizen science project (cfr. Define the project objectives) can create significant added value to your project when compared to traditional research. Do not hesitate to stress this!

Consider privacy and ethics

Just like any regular research project, a citizen science project should be conducted ethically and without causing harm. It is therefore important to carefully assess the potential consequences the activities may have on your participants, the study objects, and the surrounding environment.

The following resources might help you to learn more about privacy and ethics:

  • A toolkit for data ethics in participatory science from the Citizen Science Association
  • A training from SciStarter about data ethics “Think like an ethicist”
  • A training module on ethics from University College London (module 7: ‘Legal and ethical issues’)
  • Participatory Approaches to a new ethical and legal framework for ICT: PANELFIT
  • A handbook on managing intellectual property rights in citizen science from Commons Lab Wilson Center
Ethics Committee and Data Protection Office @VUB

VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) has several Ethics Committees, as well as a Data Protection Office. The Committee provides ethical advice to researchers. It verifies the compatibility of research submitted for its opinion with ethical principles and standards. It can provide general ethical policy advice concerning research developments. You can find more information on the VUB website.

The VUB also organizes a yearly ‘Ethics Week’ for researchers from within and outside the VUB to reflect on how ethics contribute to excellent research. There is also a dedicated course on Good Academic Research Practices (called “Mind the GAP”), jointly developed by five universities in Flanders.

EUTOPIA members working at VUB can reach the Legal & Ethics Office at They provide advice regarding and templates for informed consent forms and privacy policy information sheets.

Tool 10 – Ethical considerations checklist

Whereas an ethical committee (ethics board) assessment provides a more elaborate and even necessary ethical assessment, Tool 10 allows you to make your own initial ethical reflections regarding your project and to draft an information document about the ethical standards in your project, to be shared with participants.

Tool 11 – Citizen science data charter

The citizen science data charter and guide of Scivil contains recommendations and tips for handling data in citizen science projects. Chapter 2 deals with ‘privacy and ethics’. The guide is available in Dutch and English.

If you have any specific questions about this, you can contact

Phase 2 – Develop

In this phase, you make all the necessary preparations before the research project kicks off.

You choose the citizen science tools for data collection, analysis, and visualisation; or perhaps you decide to develop your own sensor or mobile application. During the project, citizen scientists should know how to collect data. Therefore, a data protocol should be outlined. Additionally, everything related to successful data management should be written down in a plan. Lastly, to prepare the launch of your project, a communication and engagement plan can offer guidance.

Tools for citizen science

There exist different tools available for conducting citizen science. Overall, there are tools to manage the data collection, storage, analysis, and visualization. Most of these tools are freely available and published through an open license. For other tools, such as sensors and customized apps, a specific starter sum must be paid.

However, not all citizen science projects need to rely on digital infrastructure. A simple starter kit with pen and paper might also do the trick.

To keep up to date with the most recent tools for conducting citizen science, we recommend consulting the repository of

Tool 12 – Tools for citizen science

This inventory, developed by the Citizen Contact Point of the VUB Vrije Universiteit Brussel), lists the main currently available citizen science platforms, mobile applications, sensors, and open data repositories.

Citizen science platforms offer a wide range of features, from data collection to analysis and visualization of the data. Some of these platforms already have a pool of registered citizen scientists, with built-in community features for communication and engagement. Either in stand-alone or in conjunction with web interfaces, there are dedicated mobile applications available to organize measurement campaigns.

In the inventory you can find tools applicable to the European context, and freely available unless mentioned otherwise. Platforms, applications, or sensors that are project or organisation specific, and thus not reusable, were not included in this list. Please contact if you have any further questions.

Successful data management

The Citizen Science Data Charter

Data management is a fundamental aspect of the success and impact of a citizen science project. It is recommended that these issues are reflected on at the beginning of the project to maximise data re-usage. The Citizen Science Data charter from Scivil is a helpful instrument for reflecting upon the data quality, ownership, data hygiene, interoperability, etc. This charter consists of 26 principles for successful data management. These principles are non-binding, but highly recommended.

Summary of the contents of the data charter for citizen science:

Tool 13 – The Citizen Science Data Charter

Use this fill-in template to reflect about good practices of data management for your citizen science project. The template is developed by Scivil, the Flemish Knowledge Center for Citizen Science, and set up as a supplement to the ‘Guide to Data Charter for Citizen Science’.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

The data collection protocol

Sometimes, suspicions arise regarding citizen-generated data. The collection, analysis and interpretation of data can sometimes go wrong. With appropriate planning and measures, you can solve many uncertainties and avoid pitfalls.

Via a well-defined data collection protocol, you can take appropriate measures to avoid errors in the data collected. A data collection protocol defines a set of rules for the citizen scientists on how to collect data. How much time does it take for a participant to collect data? What is the frequency of data collection? Which method is used? How is the data reported?

Citizen scientists should know when, where and how to collect data. It is recommended that each step is thoroughly described with precise instructions, since this will motivate them and reduce the number of errors.

To carry out the data collection correctly, there are several possibilities to support your citizen scientist with the necessary supporting materials:

  • Video clips
  • Step-by-step instruction manuals
  • A list of frequently asked questions
  • Training workshops
  • Organizing a webinar with the opportunity to ask an expert questions. This can also motivate participants who want to gain more in-depth knowledge on the topic.
  • “Train the trainer” modules: you provide training to a number of participants in your project, who in turn will help other participants. This is a (cost-)efficient way to support a large group of participants.
Tool 14 – The data protocol

Use this template, developed by the Citizen Contact Point of the VUB, to formulate a set of rules for your data protocol. You can also consult the Citizen Science Data Charter in the next step for more useful tips about data management.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Develop a communication and engagement plan

Citizen science is a two-way communication process between participating citizens and researchers, or other stakeholders. When planning your project, reflecting on how you can stay in touch with participating citizens, but also on how they can connect with you and other members of the community, is crucial for both initial and long-term engagement.

With the help of a communication and engagement plan, you describe all the communication activities by which you plan to engage your target audiences. You list the steps in chronological order, and you link them with the relevant target audiences, the tools and channels, and the aims you hope to achieve. The goal of your communication and engagement plan is to foster the participation of lay citizens in your activities. To be successful in this endeavour, it is helpful to understand that citizens’ decisions to volunteer are influenced by three factors: the awareness of the opportunity’s existence; the fit between the opportunity and the person; and the person’s motivation (Hobbs & White, 2012).

Recruitment – awareness of opportunity

As such, the first step of your communication strategy should be to make citizens aware of the opportunity to participate in your activities, to “recruit” them. In this initial communication phase, you can opt for a generic approach, a specific approach, or a combination of both. When you take a generic approach, you publicise your project through an open call: you target a large number of potential citizen scientists, without any restrictions on the profiles or audiences. Social media, mass media, flyers, etc. are useful communication channels for a generic approach. Research shows, however, that a generic approach does not always deliver a diverse target audience in terms of gender, age, or educational level. You will be able to reach out to a lot of people, but most likely you will end up with a biased citizen science profile: white, male, middle-aged and with prior knowledge.

With a specific approach, you target specific profiles of participants. Collaborations with existing networks and organisations work well for a specific approach as they allow you to make direct contact with your target audience. Sending personal invitations or contacting people on member lists are other options.

In a combined approach, you start your recruitment process by a generic approach through an open call. Depending on the specificities of your project, you set target numbers regarding certain profiles, and, depending on the citizen scientists recruited in the generic phase, you set up a specific approach to try and reach the missing profiles. This is particularly interesting for projects where the data collected need to be representative of e.g. geographical coverage, elements associated with socio-economic characteristics, etc.

Communication – understanding citizens’ motivations

However, making citizens aware of the opportunity to participate is not sufficient if your message does not resonate with them. This is why understanding their potential motivation to participate is crucial.

The motivations of citizen scientists to take part in your project can be diverse. Generally speaking, we can distinguish between the initial motivation, i.e. motivation that has led the citizen scientists to first engage with the activities (e.g. curiosity concerning the technology involved), vs. continued motivation, i.e. motivation that keeps the citizen scientists engaged in the long term (e.g. working towards a scientific goal). Template 15 “Initial motivations” helps you to reflect on the initial motivation of your target group(s). More information about long-term engagement can be found in phase 3.

Tool 15 – Initial motivations

Use this template to consider in what ways your citizen science project might resonate with participants. It can provide great insight into their motivations and for what reasons they feel drawn to your project. This information is, in turn, useful to incorporate in your future communication and engagement with participants.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Tool 16 – Communication and engagement plan

This template is developed by the authors of the handbook ‘A practical guide to communication and engagement in citizen science’, published by Scivil. You can find more information about crucial design factors for developing a communication and engagement plan in Module 3 of this training programme.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

 Inclusive citizen science

Participants in citizen science projects are not always representative of the general population. The typical citizen scientist is white, middle-aged, highly educated, male, and has a keen interest in science and research. It should not come as a surprise that this profile is strongly represented in citizen science projects; they are motivated and have the time, resources and expertise to participate in scientific research.

Involving disadvantaged groups from low socio-economic classes and ethnic-cultural minorities in policy and research is gaining interest in citizen science. While a bias in the profile of your participants might not pose a problem regarding the data collected in some instances, in some projects this will influence some aspects of the data, e.g. geographical coverage of disadvantaged neighbourhoods, interlinking with social aspects, etc. Additionally, ethical concerns associated with such a bias in the profile of your participants should be reflected upon.

If you want to work inclusively, you need to make explicit choices during your project design, i.e. target the fit between your target group and the opportunity of participation provided to them. In that case, the citizen science activities will need to have a purposeful design, which considers diversity and accounts for the needs and expectations of minority groups. You will need to think up front about how you intend to offer equal opportunities to participate in your project.

If you decide to attract people who are traditionally less well represented in citizen science, it is important that you also reach out to the right partners (cf. communication & engagement plan). Arrangements with local organisations and intermediaries can help eliminate some of the initial barriers to participation.

Tool 17 – Inclusiveness checklist

This template, developed by the Citizen Contact Point of the VUB, helps you to set up inclusive citizen science. The template is a checklist with good practices to reach underrepresented groups, or vulnerable and marginalized communities.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Phase 3 – Launch

In this phase, you launch your citizen science research project. This is the phase where data are collected, and you generate and maintain engagement with participants.

Promote and publicize your project

In this step, you launch and promote the research project. The prepared communication and engagement plan, in which you identified the target groups and communication channels, will now be carried out. You make the necessary communication materials available, e.g., a project website or a social media page, with a clear notion of your data collection and analysis tools.

At this stage of the project, you will also share the supporting materials (instructional videos, how-to guides…) and you make sure that a community manager is available to answer questions.

To promote and launch your project and gain traction, you can exploit the power of the media to the fullest. You can organise a press briefing, send out a press release, invite (local) newspapers, TV stations or influencers, provide visual materials, organise a kick-off event, etc. A strong brand can also help you to build up recognition, for instance by having a clear brand image, a tagline and brand personalities who help you to promote your project.

By promoting your research project, you attract participants and try to build a community. To support this, you need regular communication and interactions. It might be worth asking for an external communication and marketing agency to support you with these matters, or to reach out to the central communication department in your research organisation.

Tool 18 – How the Department of Research – Outreach & Communication (ROC) can help you promote and publicize your project at VUB

ROC believes that you, as a researcher, have something to offer, no matter what stage of your research career you’re in. And we’re here to guide you along the way, to help you interact with society and have a direct impact on the world around you. You’ll gain powerful skills, and your resume and funding applications will be better for it.

Ready to share your passion for your citizen science research project with possible participants and a broader audience? This list provides an overview of all the ways ROC can help you to promote and publicize your project.

Communicate & retain motivation

The motivations of citizen scientists to take part in your project can be diverse. As explained in phase 2, we can distinguish between the initial motivation, i.e. motivation that has led the citizen scientists to first engage with the activities (e.g. curiosity concerning the technology involved) versus continued motivation, i.e. motivation that keeps the citizen scientists engaged in the long term (e.g. working towards a scientific goal).

Depending on its nature and duration, your project might require ongoing engagement with its target audiences. Your communication and engagement plan (cf. Phase 2) should therefore provide this long-term commitment by planning for systematic follow-up, contact moments, and/or prompts for data entry.

Be aware that the number of citizen scientists who drop out is highest at the first contact with the project, or just after. The reasons they choose not to participate anymore are diverse, such as too much jargon used, a complex data protocol, but also a perceived lack of appreciation or openness about the results.

There is thus more needed than just an initial or regular contact with your citizen scientists to foster (long-term) commitment. It is a good idea to take a moment and reflect on your citizen scientists’ motivations for participation in the long run. The motivations of citizen scientists are usually investigated through social science research, by organizing surveys or in depth interviews. Based on these insights, you can foster continued participation and ensure that they do not drop out.

Tool 19 – Long-term engagement

The drop-out rate in a citizen science project is highest at the time of initial participation or shortly afterwards. A lack of openness and understanding of the scientific process and the research outcomes are the most common reasons.

Use this template to reflect on how to foster continued engagement by your participants by considering long-term motivations and barriers to participation.

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support for this activity.

Receive data, check the quality and provide feedback

Once you launch your research project, participants will start with their contributions. This is the moment when data or metrics are collected and submitted. It is recommended that you monitor the chosen citizen science tools, and regularly check for technical problems in receiving the data. It is also important to check for data quality problems related to the data collection protocol, i.e. are participants following it correctly? Is it correctly implemented? Is it comprehensive? Based on your observations, it might be necessary to put additional data validation and verification mechanisms in place.

At this stage of the project, you will also make sure that you are able to provide quick feedback. This will help motivate participants by demonstrating that their efforts are taken into consideration and are helping the project move forward. You can distinguish between direct feedback, e.g. if you will be working with data submissions, you can send out an automated thank-you email, or a pop-up message indicating that their contribution has been taken into consideration. This serves as a validation to the citizen scientist in being certain that their activity (data collection or data analysis) has been registered and will be considered. A lack of a validation message can lead to confusion about the submission process or a feeling of failure.

For more extensive feedback, you can use a recurring newsletter or intermediate physical meetings and can communicate more generally about the progress of the project, e.g. number of contributions by citizens scientists in the last month, percentage of data analysed so far, etc., showcasing that their combined efforts are contributing to the project in a tangible way. When giving feedback, do not make too much use of personal communication, but bundle your messages and communicate through generic channels.

Tool 20 – Data quality template from the ACTION toolkit

It is useful to periodically evaluate your data quality. Use this Data Quality template by Baroni from the ACTION toolkit to identify data quality dimensions, data quality indicators, and quality control activities.

Further resources on data quality of citizen science data:

  • This article from Downs et al. (2021) describes several quality assessment and quality control issues in citizen science. They also offer recommendations on how to improve the citizen science data quality.
  • This article from Wiggins et al. (2011) lists 18 mechanisms for data quality and validation in citizen science.

Phase 4 – Analyse

In this phase of your citizen science research project, you analyse the data and report the results. This is the moment whereby you can start sharing your data on open repositories – if possible (e.g. no personal data). This is a key trademark of citizen science.

Finally, you can also evaluate the success factors and pitfalls that you experienced along the way: what went well, and what could be improved?

Analyse and report the data

After the data collection, you can start with the analysis and interpretation. The analysis can be done by the knowledge institution which has the necessary experience in scientific data analysis, but also by the citizen scientists. By involving citizens in this phase, you can increase co-ownership and ensure that the interpretation is not one-sided. This is of high relevance when you are tackling a societal issue that is close to the heart of citizens. Through dialogue between scientists and citizens, or other stakeholders, you can generate a broad support for the conclusions.

After the analysis, you communicate the research results. You share the results with your target groups and any involved stakeholder. It is best that the results are tailored to the target group. For instance, you can opt for a more accessible infographic for the general public, while an in-depth report can be sent to a more professional audience. You can also disseminate the results through a personal contact moment with your citizen scientists, contact the press, send out a newsletter, etc.

Tool 12 – Tools for citizen science (cf. Phase 2)

This inventory, developed by the Citizen Contact Point of the VUB, lists the main currently available citizen science platforms, mobile applications, sensors, and open data repositories. Some of these tools also offer built-in analysis and visualisation options. More specialised analysis and visualisation tools are also added in this list.

In the inventory you can find tools applicable to the European context, and freely available unless mentioned otherwise. Platforms, applications or sensors that are project or organisation specific, and thus not reusable, were not included in this list.

Please contact if you have any further questions.

Share and publish your data

Sharing your data usually takes place at the end of a research project. However, open science can be practiced throughout all stages of the research project and the decisions about data publishing should ideally be managed in a data management plan (DMP) at the start.

Within open science practices, the data and metadata are made publicly available through open access. This may include open sharing of research outcomes, peer-reviewed articles and access to software, models, algorithms, workflows, etc. Openly sharing your data is thus only not limited to publishing in open access journals or platforms, but also about boosting innovation and creating greater societal impact. By choosing the appropriate license, you can still retain intellectual property rights.

Before you publish your data, it is best that you appraise your data, attach a license, and select a fitting repository. In this appraisal, you need to document and preserve everything that is needed to verify and/or replicate your study. Data that cannot be completely anonymized cannot be deposited in an open access repository. It is recommended to choose a trusted repository, whereby your data obtain a persistent and unique identifier.

Research data repositories

A research data repository is a database infrastructure for managing, storing and disseminating research data. It allows you to search for data based on the attached metadata.80 Research data repositories exist in all shapes and sizes. To easily select the most suitable research data repository for your research data, you can find an overview per research discipline on this page on the VUB SharePoint.

Tool 21 – Open Science starter guide

The Open Science Office at VUB is coordinating Open Science policies and activities. The Open Science Office advises on strategic issues and priorities, works on practical solutions within the university, and engages with the academic community around Open Science.

On the VUB SharePoint, you can find more information about open science policies and resources. Join the open science movement and check the Open Science Starter Guide online! For more specific questions, you can contact

Further resources:

  • This training guide “Understanding data repositories: A beginners’ guide for researchers & data stewards” explains the basics of data repositories: what is the difference between a data repository and an archive? What are the different types of repositories? How can data in repositories apply FAIR principles? A similar guide is “Understanding Metadata: A beginner’s guide for researchers & data stewards”, explaining the basics of metadata. Both guides are published by the EUTOPIA European University, Research Data Management & Open Science Community at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel.
  • This short guide ‘Open Science in Horizon Europe’ introduces the open science requirements of the Horizon Europe programme. It explains mandatory and recommended practices and gives practical examples. The guide was developed with the support of the EUTOPIA-TRAIN project, an initiative of the EUTOPIA European University. Furthermore, on the OpenAIRE website, you can find more specific information about how to comply with open science principles within Horizon Europe proposals. The European Research Council partly deviates from the default Open Science layout for the evaluation of its proposals.

With the research and the generation of knowledge, your research project can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The collected citizen science data can help monitor the SDG indicators, often with a higher level of granularity and at a lower cost in comparison to traditional data sources. If citizen science data is published in line with FAIR principles, then they can be a new resource for specific indicators. Get inspired by the following examples:

  • This article from Fritz et al. (2019) presents a roadmap that outlines how citizen science can be integrated into the formal Sustainable Development Goals reporting mechanisms. »
  • This article from Fraisl et al. (2020) maps the citizen science contributions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. »
  • The following report published by the European Commission (2018) developed an EU-wide inventory with an evidence base about how citizen science can support environmental policies in the EU.

Evaluate your research project

In this step, you evaluate the success and effectiveness of your citizen science research project. The assessment, either process-based or outcome-oriented, can take place at the beginning of your study, half-way, or at the end of it. An evaluation at the start of your research project can help to identify the participants’ expectations, and this will enable you to make early adjustments to the project design. With this baseline, you can periodically evaluate the project against a predefined set of metrics and, if necessary, apply any deviation mechanisms. An evaluation in the live phase of the project can provide an impulse for change. If you solely perform an end evaluation, you will be able to understand what worked and what went wrong, but without tracking any process of change.

Performing an assessment of your citizen science research can offer many benefits:

  • You acquire new ways of thinking and understanding, or new attitudes about certain practices. For instance, you gain deeper understanding about the importance of the data collection protocol.
  • You can take direct action or decisions to improve activities, for instance when evaluation reveals that too many participants drop out due to jargon.
  • You can use the evaluation outcomes to legitimize, justify or convince others, for instance to convince funders or external financiers of the impact of citizen science.
  • You are actively involved in the development and implementation activities, and therefore gain a better understanding about the participants’ efforts.

It is best to do an evaluation with the entire project team. Every partner shares its perspective and can reflect on the objectives and results achieved. It is also recommended that you draw up several indicators that you will monitor and evaluate. These indicators can be both qualitative and quantitative and can serve different purposes. Your evaluation can focus on the success of the citizen science project by evaluating the (intermediate) outcomes, the operational processes, the engagement strategy, etc. When your research project is up and running you will get a better feel of the type of indicators you wish to monitor. Allow for adequate flexibility in your evaluation and add or modify indicators as you go along.

Tool 22: MICS

Through the MICS (Measuring the Impact of Citizen Science) platform you can assess the impact of your citizen science project through metrics and indicators across different domains: society, economy, environment, science and technology, and governance.

You receive an individualized score and can compare the outcome with similar projects.

The tool is available via the MICS platform,and you can read more about the underlying impact domains and indicators in this scientific publication by When et al. (2021).

Tool 23: CSISTA Impact Inquiry Instrument

To capture success stories of citizen science in relation to policy and decision making, the WeObserve project developed the CSISTA approach, or the Citizen Science Impact Story Telling Approach.

By using the following template, you can collect qualitative information necessary for the creation of an impact story.

Tool 24: Evaluating learning outcomes

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology created a toolkit to measure participants’ learning outcomes, such as interest, motivation, self-efficacy for learning and doing science, skills for scientific inquiry, etc. A set of evaluation instruments, with specific scales, is available on request through the following website – together with a user guide.

These instruments were developed in the DEVISE project (Developing, Validating, and Implementing Situated Evaluation Instruments Project).

Further resources:

  • This article of Schaefer et al. (2021) provides an overview of the diversity of the citizen science evaluation approaches, explained through a few case studies.
  • Kieslinger et al. (2018) developed a citizen science evaluation framework with three dimensions: scientific, participant and socio-ecological and economic. Each dimension is operationalized through a set of criteria and supporting questions.
  • In the state-of-art of Somerwill & When (2022) an overview is provided of how to measure the impact of citizen science on environmental attitudes, behaviour and knowledge.

Phase 5 – Sustain

This is the final stage of your citizen science research project.

In this phase, you reflect on whether you would like to continue with the citizen science activities in the long run, and how you can fully exploit the research results. You can write a valorisation plan about the outcome, financial and community sustainability of your research.

Citizen science in the long run

After you finish your citizen science research project, it might be that there is still an interest from your side or the community to continue.

In this regard, there are some questions you need to consider:

  • Will we repeat this project, and with which frequency (e.g. annually)?
  • Should we develop a follow-up project with a different focus?
  • How can the project be kept alive in the community?
  • Can the project be linked to other (future) projects?
  • Who will take care of the citizen science tools (e.g. sensors) and their maintenance?
  • Should we apply for extra funding?

It is not always necessary to write a long-term plan for a citizen science project. A one-off initiative may be sufficient to answer your research questions. The advantage of writing out a vision for the long term is that projects can be better aligned, expertise from multiple services can be bundled, and there is a constructive collaboration between knowledge institutions and citizens.

Case study: Curious Noses

CurieuzeNeuzen (Curious Noses) is an example of a citizen science project with long-term planning. Their f irst measurement campaign started in 2016, focusing on measuring air quality in Antwerp. In 2018, they repeated this measurement campaign for the whole of Flanders, and later also in the Brussels-Capital-Region. After that, the measurement campaigns got a new thematic focus, i.e. heat stress in private gardens.

The advantage of having long-term planning is that the same platform can be re-used, and subsequently extended with more advanced features, as well as having a growing contact base of citizen scientists who like to participate.

Curious Noses is coordinated by the University of Antwerp, with the support of other academic partners (VITO), the media (De Standaard) and governmental partners (VMM, Departement Omgeving, Departement Economie, Wetenschap & Innovatie), and also private companies (Orange, DPD, Aquafin, Bio-Planet & Natuurpunt).

You can find more information about this project on their website.

Valorising research for society

At the end of your research project, you try to maximize the transformation of research and innovation results into solutions that benefit society. The collected data, know-how and research results can be valorised into sustainable products, services, solutions, or knowledge-based policies.

The valorisation of these outputs can be guided by open science principles, whereby you promote the broad dissemination of your publications, collected data, databases and software through open access publishing. If your research project pursues a commercial objective, it is advised that you look into intellectual property rights, such as patents and trademarks.

With regards to sustainability of your citizen science research project, you can reflect on its outcome, community, and f inancial sustainability. Depending on your set-up and chosen objectives, the way you keep the research project sustainable will look different:

  • The outcome sustainability focusses on keeping the results of your research project available for future usage.
  • The community sustainability focusses on supporting the community of citizen scientists after the project’s ending, in case there is an interest or need for further data collection.
  • The financial sustainability focusses on finding the necessary monetary resources for keeping the project up and running.
Tool 25 – How to make your citizen science research (project) sustainable

Use the following template, developed by the Citizen Science Contact Point of the VUB, to reflect about the outcome, community and financial sustainability of your research (project).

Please contact if you have any further questions, or if you need personalized support.

Further resources:

  • The VUB Tech Transfer brochure: it provides information about knowledge and technology transfer through the creation of spin-offs, the licensing of intellectual property, contract research, etc.
  • Keep an eye on the ‘Community of practice on citizen engagement for knowledge valorisation’ which will publish a guide on principles and recommendations for knowledge valorisation by the end of 2023.
  • You can watch this webinar, from the ACTION project, on citizen science and financial sustainability. • If you apply for European funding, you can receive free advice on how to boost the exploitation potential of your research results through the Horizon Result Booster programme.
  • This handbook from the European Commission provides a good overview on the impacts of open innovation and open science.


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