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Research Questions

  1. What are key areas of innovation in citizen science and crowdsourcing?
  2. What methodological innovations are happening in citizen science and crowdsourcing projects?
  3. What types of innovative approaches are being used to support the recruitment, retention and engagement of participants in citizen science and crowdsourcing projects?
  4. What new research areas and policy areas are citizen science and crowdsourcing approaches being applied to?
  5. What are important current debates shaping the future direction of citizen science?

Citizen science — an approach whereby citizens actively contribute to the generation of knowledge about important research questions — is gaining increased attention in research and policy communities. Recent years have seen an expansion in the scale of citizen science activity globally, as well as an increase in the diversity of ways in which citizens can contribute to research endeavours. This report, informed by a literature review and interviews with selected experts, explores key areas of innovation and emerging and topical issues in citizen science, with a particular but not exclusive interest in healthcare related applications. More specifically, the report explores innovation related to new areas of applications of citizen science; novel methods of data gathering and analysis; innovative approaches to recruiting, retaining and enabling participation in citizen science projects; and building capacity for citizen science. The report also considers emerging themes and topical issues within the field and their implications.

Key Findings

  • There is a growing interest in adopting citizen science in studies that involve personal health data and in epidemiological studies, and new technological platforms and models of governance are emerging to facilitate safe and data collection and use.
  • Citizen science is also receiving increased attention in policymaking and in evidence-based advocacy by local communities.
  • Citizen science can contribute to improving research quality, for example by complementing traditional research methods.
  • Advances in smartphone capabilities and sensor technologies, together with new opportunities for integrating diverse data sources, are enabling new methods of data collection in citizen science projects. Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are also allowing for efficiency gains.
  • There are also increasingly innovative approaches to recruiting and retaining participants in citizen science projects, including raising awareness about opportunities via large media organisations; using gamification; smartphone apps that remove barriers to underrepresented groups contributing; and using virtual peers (i.e. 'bots') to influence the levels of engagement.
  • As the field of citizen science evolves, opportunities are arising to increase its scope, scale and impact. However, new challenges are also surfacing, especially in relation to effective governance and management.
  • Topical issues receiving attention in the field include: enabling diverse types of involvement across the research process; ensuring that citizen science research is of an appropriate quality; supporting diversity and the involvement of hard to reach populations; ensuring effective governance and ethical practice; and managing risks and mitigating unintended consequences.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Research context and aims

  • Chapter Two


  • Chapter Three

    Innovation in citizen science and crowdsourcing for research

  • Chapter Four


Research conducted by

This research was commissioned by The Healthcare Improvement Studies Institute (THIS Institute) and conducted by RAND Europe.

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