Review of Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy – Citizen Science Salon

book coverSusanne Hecker, Muki Haklay, Anne Bowser, Zen Makuch, Johannes Vogel & Aletta Bonn. (2018). Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy. University College London Press.

Scientific progress is intertwined with the triad of the state, the scientist, and the citizen, all of which are emphasized in the field of citizen science. Taking a largely European perspective, Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy by Hecker at al., is informed by Francis Bacon’s motto, “Knowledge is power,” and offers solid theoretical and experiential recommendations for governments to enact policy to induce cooperation between the state, the citizen, and the scientist.

Hecker and her co-editors examine foundational concepts in citizen science. Chapters in this edited book provide theoretical and experiential recommendations to foster open science, to develop inclusive policies, to advance technologically-aided education of participant citizens, and to ensure respect for local and indigenous knowledge. Their contributions are motivated by a democratic ambition to empower laypeople with scientific methods and tools. With such methods and tools, anyone can participate in citizen science projects by contributing accurate observations and gathering valid data about issues related to the environment, health, and urban space.

The book is divided into five parts, each summarizing several studies. Part I explores the theme of innovation in citizen science.This section strategizes about inclusive participation in citizen science projects to involve “different people, with different life histories, interests and responsibilities” to engage at all levels of participation (pg. 60). We learn here that  “information technology infrastructure” is a key enabler of successful citizen science projects because it allows for impressive data gathering. Part II further explores “innovation” in citizen science with an interdisciplinary approach informed by the social sciences. Science currently may alienate the scientist from the society, reducing trust in science and policies on sciences. A rhetoric of respect is offered as remedy. The imbalanced power-relations between the expert and non-expert participants need to be refashioned to elevate the citizen from a mere sensor to a self-empowered project participant. The section profiles inclusive participation strategies, such as ThinkCamps, that encourage and train citizens to co-design and co-create projects with experts.

Part III scrutinizes the theme of “innovation at the science-policy interface,” evaluating how technology connects citizens and policymakers. The goal is to empower the public, to foster engagement, to train responsible actors and institutions, and to generate ethical, sustainable, and socially desirable research outputs. Part IV, “Innovation in Technology and Environmental Monitoring” further elaborates on technologies and new opportunities for participation. The authors emphasize openness and accessibility as criteria of validity in citizen science data. To improve reliability in citizen science projects, the section offers technological equipment and education of participants as a solution to reduce errors. Part V explores “innovation in science communication and education” through case studies. I find this section the most useful in its pedagogical aspirations, particularly in that it explains educational means to increase inclusive participation in citizen science projects.

Intended for a diverse audience, which could include policy-makers, researchers, practitioners, and universities,  Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy is an important contribution to literature about citizen science. The authors effectively evaluate innovations in technology, participation, education, and policy focused on expanding the impact of citizen science. The writers’ theory of learning is especially useful; they describe educational techniques to enhance and improve project participation and the participant experience.

A significant achievement of the book is its recommendation to democratize citizen science. The authors advocate involving all interested citizens, including less experienced and less privileged participants. I found the book’s emphasis on “education of attention” particularly enlightening: if citizens’ observation skills are sharpened, more reliable citizen data will be available to scientists and policy-makers to confidently fund citizen science projects. With the depth and scope of perspectives that Heker et al use to approach the frontiers of citizen science (its contribution to science, engagement of diverse citizens, and its collaborative possibilities), the writers elucidate new paths for the development of the field and its impact on our environment, urban space, and health.

While the large number of articles in the volume expand our perspective about citizen science, unnecessary repetition of important literature review across chapters could be minimized. Having explored the book from a multimodal method of science communication, I believe additional chapters on the use of effective means of science communication could expand the impact of this book. While the book theorizes on the effectiveness of visuals in communication of citizen science in the Part V, aural means are unexplored.

This review is part of an ongoing series of book reviews written by members of Dr. Ashley Rose Mehlenbacher’s research team in partnership with SciStarter. If you have a recommendation for a book to review, please contact SciStarter Editor Caroline Nickerson at [email protected]. This work has been partially supported by the Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science’s Early Research Award program, and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada Insight Grant program. Views expressed are the opinions of the author and not of the funding agencies.


HeadshotAbout the Author

Comments are closed.