Citizen Science Participation is on the Rise
Citizen science is a rapidly growing phenomenon around the world that helps democratize science and encourages everyone from elementary school students to retirees to spend more time outside and get involved in their communities. Citizen science refers to any kind of data collection in which 1) anyone from the public can participate, 2) data contributes to the work of professional scientists, 3) people use standardized protocols to ensure good data, and 4) findings are shared across a wide group of scientists and volunteers.
While citizen science isn’t new, it has grown in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic when lots of people are staying close to home and looking for new ways to spend engaging time outside with the young people with whom they live and work. While more traditional field work has been put on hold for many scientists, data collected by community members observing their local environments is on the rise.
Citizen science doesn’t just benefit scientists, however. Sure, researchers can get big data sets relatively quickly by bringing in the public to help with data collection, but citizen science has also been shown to boost participants' scientific literacy. Participation in data collection through citizen science projects can also lead to increased confidence in the research process and a sense of trust between scientists and the public.
An additional benefit of citizen science may be increased time outside for kids. As many families spend more time at home and schools move to virtual settings or cancel recess and PE, it is critically important to ensure that young people are spending time outside exploring close by nature in their communities. There is so much research out there to support the importance of time outside for kids and getting engaged in a citizen science project could be a fun way for a classroom to share a project together over winter break or provide a fun twist on a family walk around the neighborhood.
The tricky part can be choosing how to get involved. There are thousands of citizen science projects currently available to join and organizations from National Geographic and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to NASA and other federal agencies host citizen science initiatives. One good place to dive into citizen science could be SciStarter. SciStarter can help you find citizen science projects that match your particular interests or needs and it helps you manage participation in multiple projects simultaneously. You can host a project for a classroom, girl scout troop, or community group as well as participate individually or as a family.
There are so many great ways to encourage kids to spend time outside and citizen science is one option that may also get young people thinking a little harder about what they see in their own backyards and pique an interest in science and the environment. There’s a citizen science project out there for everyone!