What is Citizen Science?
Citizen Science is all about research. Citizens and hobby scientists can contribute to new knowledge through their collaboration and their special know-how. They can support researchers while doing something they are interested in. And they will also get the opportunity to connect with others who are interested in the same topics and to learn new things from the world of research.
How it all began
Citizen science is not an invention of the 21st century. In Austria, for example, a network of observers has been supporting the Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG) in monitoring the flora since 1856.
One of the best-known citizen scientists worldwide is the monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who was born in the Czech Republic and also stayed in Austria in the mid-19th century. He is mainly known as the originator of classical genetics. As a passionate plant expert, he carried out cross-breeding experiments with peas, from which he deduced “Mendel's Laws of Inheritance”. They explain the regularities that the hereditary traits follow in simple inheritance.
If you look to the US, there is one major citizen science project which many people will be familiar with: the Christmas Bird Count. Since 1900, volunteers have been invited every year to count all birds they see or hear on a specific day. This enthusiasm for observing birds in their natural environment (“birdwatching”) is also increasing in Austria. On the website of BirdLife Österreich interested people cannot only report their observations but also help with analysing the data or support the team in public relation activities.
The list of well-known citizen scientists and projects which have been carried out with the help of interested and committed citizens could be complemented by a number of other people such as Charles Darwin (1809-1882) – author of the Evolution Theory – and Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) – politician and inventor of the lightening rod – as well as pioneer projects in the field of ecology (reading tip: Miller-Rushing, A., Primack, R., and Bonney, R. (2012): “The history of public participation in ecological research”). Due to the internet and the new technological possibilities such as GPS and smartphones, a new era for citizen science started at the end of the 20th century. With the help of interested volunteers comprehensive data collections can be carried out beyond national borders and great amounts of data can be analysed very fast.
citizen science in Austria
In regard to this development there are many nstitutions that actively support citizen science in Austria stating this in their strategy and development documents. A few examples (in German):
- Ministry of Educaton, Science and Research (BMBWF): Aktionsplan für einen wettbewerbsfähigen Forschungsraum, 2015 (e.g. page 27)
- Ministry of Educaton, Science and Research (BMBWF) & Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (BMVIT): Open Innovation Strategy for Austria, 2016 (z.B. page 78)
Museums and funding organisations
- Natural History Museum Vienna: Citizen Science - Strategy of the NHM, 2017
- Austrian Science Fund FWF: Annual report 2016 (e.g. page 19)
- University of Graz: Performance agreement (e.g. page 14)
- University of Innsbruck: Performance agreement (e.g. page 7)
- University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna: Performance agreement (e.g. page 18)
- University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna: Performance agreement (e.g. page 7)
- University of Salzburg: Performance agreement (e.g. page 5)
- University of Vienna: Performance agreement (e.g. page 10)
So far there are two main citizen science platforms in Austria. The Center for Citizen Science was established by the Ministry of Education, Science & Research at the OeAD-GmbH and serves as an information and service centre for citizen science, open innovation and responsible science. The platform „Österreich forscht“ can be found at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna. It forms a citizen science network of various partners from Austria.
Contact point at research institutions
A growing number of universities, universities of applied science and other research instutions are establishing citizen science contacts.
How can citizen scientists participate?
The requirements differ from project to project. For some projects, you can can collect data without any special skills. In other projects, research questions can be initiated and analyses can be carried out often after just a short introduction; in other cases special knowledge is required.
There is a broad spectrum of activities for those interested. For example, hobby photographers take pictures of animals and thus document their prevalence, people interested in history help to preserve archives from World War II by means of transcriptions or people suffering from allergies talk about their experiences and thereby come up with new research questions.
Current projects you can take part in
Would you like to take part in a citizen science project and work with scientists? Are you interested in animals and plants and enjoy being outdoors? Maybe you like to work from home and have a passion for archaeology or history?
Here you can find a great selection of projects which invite you to take part in research and in which work has been or is done with all sorts of different citizen science participation models:
For citizen science projects aimed specifically at students, visit the Young Science Centre for a cooperation between science and schools.
(Inter)national Project platforms
In the last years several national and international project platforms have developed worldwide. They promote the concept of citizen science among the public and make citizen science projects accessible for interested citizens.