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Authors: Cerrato S., Balli E.

Cerrato S., Balli E. (2024), The Step Change Navigator, ECSA, Berlin


Key citizen science challenges

Citizen science, while brimming with potential, faces several challenges that demand thoughtful navi- gation. Ensuring data quality, fostering participant diversity, managing project logistics, and maintaining sustained engagement are all crucial aspects requiring careful attention.

Maintaining data quality is the bedrock of any scientific endeavour, and citizen science is no exception. Implementing rigorous data validation and quality control measures, such as data cleaning procedures, cross-referencing with existing datasets, and providing clear instructions to participants, is essential for safeguarding the integrity of the collected information.

Guaranteeing diversity and inclusion within citizen science projects remains an ongoing challenge. Actively engaging with underrepresented communities and individuals, listening to their perspectives, and valuing their unique contributions are fundamental steps towards achieving inclusivity. Additionally, promoting accessible and inclusive project design by offering materials in multiple languages, providing various participation options (online or offline), and incorporating assistive technologies, ensures that the project welcomes individuals of all backgrounds and abilities. Furthermore, providing training and support tailored to different levels of experience empowers volunteers with the necessary skills to contribute meaningfully. Ultimately, fostering a welcoming and respectful environment where diverse voices are acknowledged and appreciated is crucial for creating a truly inclusive citizen science community.

Effective project management is the engine that keeps citizen science initiatives running smoothly. Uti- lising project management platforms, communication tools, and efficient data storage solutions helps streamline processes and ensures that project tasks are completed efficiently.

Sustaining participant engagement over time is vital for the long-term success of citizen science projects. Fostering a sense of community and purpose among participants is key to achieving this. Creating communication channels for participants to connect, share experiences, and learn from each other fosters a sense of belonging and collaboration. Recognizing and celebrating individual contributions further reinforces ownership and engagement, motivating participants to remain actively involved.

Despite these challenges, the potential of citizen science remains significant. By acknowledging and addressing these hurdles, citizen science can unlock the power of collective intelligence, con- tribute meaningfully to diverse fields, and empower individuals to actively participate in scientific discovery.

Key citizen science opportunities

A catalyst for societal transformation

Citizen science, as Dorte Riemenschneider (managing director of ECSA) and Silke Voigt-Heucht (head of the Citizen Science Unit at Berlin’s Museum für Naturkunde) aptly stated in a 2022 European Research Council article, transcends mere data collection. It serves as a powerful tool for uniting diverse stakeholders towards tackling pressing societal challenges. By fostering dialogue and collaboration between science and society, citizen science unlocks a multitude of opportunities, em- powering individuals and communities to become active agents of positive change across various domains:

1. Building a more informed society: citizen science fosters scientific literacy by enabling individuals to engage directly with scientific processes. This firsthand experience equips them with the knowled- ge and critical thinking skills necessary to navigate an increasingly complex world.

2. Empowering communities: active participation in hands-on research empowers communities by giving them a voice and a sense of ownership over issues impacting their lives. This fosters a sense of agency and encourages individuals to take an active role in shaping their communities.

3. Bridging the gap between science and society: citizen science initiatives serve as bridges between researchers and the public, fostering mutual understanding, trust, and collaboration. This collabo- rative approach allows for the exchange of valuable perspectives and fosters a sense of shared responsibility in addressing societal challenges.

4. Democratising research: by actively involving the public, citizen science initiatives demystify the research process, making it more transparent and accessible. This ensures that research activities are aligned with the needs and concerns of the public they aim to serve.

5. Igniting innovation: citizen science serves as a breeding ground for innovation, where fresh per- spectives from the public meet the expertise of the scientific community. This unique combination fosters novel ideas and approaches to addressing complex issues.

In essence, citizen science goes beyond simply aiding scientific endeavours. It empowers individuals, fosters societal transformation, and equips all of us to collectively shape a brighter future.

Transforming education through collaboration

Citizen science is emerging as a powerful tool for public engagement, not only with science and tech- nology but also with education. This approach fosters meaningful collaboration between citizens and scientists, offering a wealth of opportunities for transforming educational landscapes.

Citizen science initiatives in schools create a unique environment where students can generate new knowledge and awareness about scientific practices and methodologies. This firsthand involvement al- lows them to connect science to their everyday lives and experiences, fostering a deeper understanding of the scientific method through active learning and critical thinking.

Citizen science empowers learners to become active participants in authentic scientific research, for- ging a real connection with the research process. This approach transcends the traditional model of passive knowledge transmission, positioning educators as facilitators and collaborators who support learners in their exploration and discovery.

The role of scientists and experts also undergoes a shift in citizen science education. Scientists become partners who provide essential scientific expertise and materials, ensuring the accuracy and effective- ness of data collection and other scientific processes. They also play a crucial role in contextualising the activities within the curriculum and everyday classroom experiences.

Numerous pioneering citizen science projects in various fields, from conservation biology and biodiversity to economics, astrophysics, and computer science, showcase the transformative potential of this approach (Scientix report, 2019; Roche et al, 2020). These projects demonstrate that citizen science can be a powerful catalyst for structural change and democratisation within society.

Citizen science empowers learners and educators to move beyond being mere observers of science. By actively engaging in scientific projects, they become contributors who shape the objectives, strate- gies, and values of the research endeavour. This shift in roles fosters deeper engagement, meaningful learning, and a more inclusive and collaborative approach to scientific exploration.

In essence, citizen science in education offers a powerful framework for transforming learning by fo- stering active participation, collaboration, and connection between learners, educators, and scientists. This collaborative approach empowers individuals to become active agents in their own learning jour- neys and contribute meaningfully to the advancement of scientific understanding.

A collective force for tackling global challenges

The 21st century presents us with a multitude of complex global challenges, the most pressing of which is the climate emergency. Thankfully, individuals now have the opportunity to contribute significantly to addressing these challenges through citizen science. This collaborative approach is gaining recognition at various levels, including the 2018 IPCC report which emphasised the crucial role of citizens in tackling climate change.

Citizen science empowers individuals to contribute to addressing global challenges in several ways:

  • Sharing knowledge: individuals can contribute their knowledge and expertise, including indigenous knowledge, to inform research and decision-making processes.
  • Shaping policy: citizens can actively participate in shaping environmental policy through advocacy and engagement with policymakers.
  • Taking action: by participating in data collection, research activities, and advocacy efforts, individuals can take concrete actions to address global challenges.


Citizen science demonstrates its versatility and effectiveness across various sectors.


  • Citizens are collecting valuable data on energy use and efficiency.
  • Individuals are actively involved in researching and developing renewable energy technologies.
  • Citizen advocacy efforts are influencing the creation of sustainable energy policies.


  • Citizen-collected data helps monitor environmental conditions and track changes.
  • Individuals participate in efforts to protect endangered species and ecosystems.
  • Citizen advocacy plays a crucial role in influencing the creation of environmental protection policies.


  • Citizens contribute by collecting data on diseases and their risk factors.
  • Individuals actively participate in clinical trials for new treatments.
  • Citizen advocacy strengthens public health initiatives through promoting relevant policies.

The Step Change project serves as a prime example of how citizen science can be harnessed to ad- dress multiple global challenges simultaneously. This project fosters collaboration between citizens, scientists, and policymakers, uniting them in seeking solutions to some of the world’s most pressing issues related to energy, health, and the environment.

By empowering individuals to contribute their knowledge, skills, and passion, citizen science offers a power- ful and promising avenue for tackling the complex challenges facing our planet. Through collective action and collaborative problem-solving, we can collectively shape a brighter future for generations to come.

A bridge towards a more democratic science

(source: ECSA, Frequently asked questions on citizen science)

Citizen science helps to make scientific research more democratic, inclusive and accessible. Rather than research projects only being undertaken by academic researchers (perhaps with some citizen par- ticipation in the final phases), citizen science strives to involve citizens in many phases of a research project. Citizen science projects also raise awareness on specific relevant topics and issues such as climate change, protecting biodiversity and transforming our urban surroundings.

By involving a broader range of people, citizen science projects benefit from different kinds of knowledge and different sources of information, such as practical and experiential knowledge.

In addition, by involving more people in the scientific process, research can be facilitated on a broader scale and generate far more data. This is essential if we are to tackle some of the biggest societal and environmental challenges that we face, particularly the climate crisis.

As mentioned in the 10 Principles of citizen science, citizen science projects have a genuine scientific outcome, and both professional scientists and citizen scientists benefit, e.g. from the publication of research, learning opportunities, addressing local and international issues, and influencing policy. Aca- demic researchers and scientific institutes can gain a better understanding of the areas of society they are working with, and citizens can benefit from increased engagement with the scientific process and satisfaction from contributing to scientific evidence.

User Type
  • Citizen scientist/civil society organization
  • Researcher/research institution
Resource type
  • Case studies
  • Projects/project examples
Research Field