Examining innovation in citizen science

A group of people in the shape of the brain, illustration by tai111/Adobe Stock

tai111/Adobe Stock

To explore key areas of innovation and emerging and topical issues in citizen science, researchers conducted a scoping exercise focusing especially (but not exclusively) on areas relevant to health and healthcare improvement research.

The study discusses new applications of citizen science, innovative methods for gathering and analysing citizen science data, innovative ways of recruiting and retaining participants, and important governance issues and wider debates affecting the evolution of the field.


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.


Following a 2018 report by The Healthcare Improvement Studies (THIS) Institute and RAND Europe, which provided an overview of the use of citizen science and crowdsourcing in research, THIS Institute commissioned RAND Europe to conduct a scoping exercise to explore key areas of innovation and emerging and topical issues in citizen science. In light of THIS Institute’s focus on healthcare, the study primarily focused on areas of innovation that are likely to be relevant to health and healthcare improvement research.

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?


The study team conducted a literature review in order to identify key recent developments in citizen science, complemented by interviews with experts in this area.


  • 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 data collection and use.
  • Citizen science is also receiving increased attention in policymaking (as a model for conducting research on socially relevant issues and of informing policy decisions) and in evidence-based advocacy by local communities.
  • Citizen science can contribute to improving research quality, for example by complementing traditional research methods and core study teams.
  • 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 in analysing data.
  • 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 to encourage participation; smartphone apps that remove barriers to underrepresented groups contributing to citizen science; and using virtual peers (i.e. ‘bots’) to influence the levels of engagement by individual participants.
  • 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 ensuring effective governance and management of citizen science projects.
  • Key topics receiving the attention of scholars, policymakers and practitioners of citizen science include: enabling diverse types of involvement of citizen scientists 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 within citizen science projects; and managing risks and mitigating unintended consequences of participation.

Project Team