Download Free Electronic Document

FormatFile SizeNotes
PDF file 0.2 MB

Use Adobe Acrobat Reader version 10 or higher for the best experience.

Research Questions

  1. What is citizen science?
  2. What purposes does it serve, and what are the potential drawbacks?
  3. What promise does it hold?

Citizen science is public participation in research and scientific endeavors. Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects; collaborate with scientific experts on research design; and actively lead and carry out research, exerting a high degree of control and ownership over scientific activities. The last type — what we refer to as community citizen science — tends to involve action-oriented research to support interventional activities or policy change. This type of citizen science can be of particular importance to those working at the nexus of science and decisionmaking. The authors examine the transformative potential of community citizen science for communities, science, and decisionmaking. The Perspective is based on the authors' experiences working in collaboration with community groups, extensive readings of the scientific literature, and numerous interviews with leading scholars and practitioners in the fields of citizen science and participatory research. It first discusses models of citizen science in general, including community citizen science, and presents a brief history of its rise. It then looks at possible factors motivating the development of community citizen science, drawing from an exploration of the relationships among citizens, science, and decisionmaking. The final section examines areas in which community citizen science may exhibit promise in terms of outcomes and impacts, discusses concerns that may hinder its overall potential, and assesses the roles different stakeholders may play to continue to develop community citizen science into a positive force for science and society.

Key Findings

At Its Core, Citizen Science Is Public Participation in Research and Scientific Endeavors

  • Citizens volunteer as data collectors in science projects, collaborate with scientific experts on research design, and actively lead and carry out research.
  • It is part of a long tradition of rebirth of inventors, scientists, do-it-yourselfers, and makers at all levels of expertise.
  • Instead of working alone, today's community citizen scientists take advantage of new technologies for networking and coordination to work collaboratively; learn from each other; and share knowledge, insights, and findings.

The Democratization of Science and the Increasingly Distributed Nature of Expertise Are Not Without Concern

  • There is some tension and conflict between current standards of practice and the changes required for citizen science to achieve its promising future.
  • There is also some concern about the potential for bias, given that some efforts begin as a form of activism.

Yet the Efforts of Community Citizen Science Can Be Transformative

  • Success will require an engaged citizenry, promote more open and democratic decisionmaking processes, and generate new solutions for intractable problems.
  • If its promise holds true, the relationship between science and society will be profoundly transformed for the betterment of all.

This project is a RAND Venture. Funding for this venture was provided by philanthropic contributions from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted by the Science, Technology, and Policy Program, part of RAND Justice, Infrastructure, and Environment.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation perspective series. RAND perspectives present informed perspective on a timely topic that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND perspectives undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

Permission is given to duplicate this electronic document for personal use only, as long as it is unaltered and complete. Copies may not be duplicated for commercial purposes. Unauthorized posting of RAND PDFs to a non-RAND Web site is prohibited. RAND PDFs are protected under copyright law. For information on reprint and linking permissions, please visit the RAND Permissions page.

The RAND Corporation is a nonprofit institution that helps improve policy and decisionmaking through research and analysis. RAND's publications do not necessarily reflect the opinions of its research clients and sponsors.