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What is citizen science, and what isn’t?

Citizen science characterization

Is it really citizen science?

What is, actually?

Can we consider a certain activity citizen science if it requires a financial contribution from participants / it involves the use of their medical data / it has a commercial purpose?

If you have ever worked with citizen science, you have certainly heard or asked yourself such questions.


"Citizen science" has always been a broad term and the variety of activities involved makes it impossible to have a clear definition of this notion.

But the blurriness around this topic can lead to confusion, and a common understanding is needed.


A working group lead by ECSA and including EU-Citizen.Science partners recently published a set of characteristics for Citizen Science.

“The demand came from this need that is emerging, from funders and from practitioners, and from projects like EU-Citizen.Science, to have some set of criteria for citizen science,” says Muki Haklay, ECSA’s co-vice-chair, who leads the project. “Funders needed it for decision-making, particularly when choosing to fund citizen science projects. Practitioners in the field will be able to identify with more confidence that what they are doing is citizen science.” 

This document, instead of giving a strict definition, reflects the plurality of the field, showing how projects can be very different and yet, based on current opinion, can still be categorised as citizen science. It is the result of a vast survey that was conducted a few months ago during which participants were given a set of different activities and were asked to express whether, in their opinions, those activities could be considered citizen science.


You can find the "Characteristics of citizen science" on ECSA's website, along with explanatory notes. Find more explanations in this Twitter thread.


  • citizen science
  • Characteristics