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How Citizen Science is Changing the Way We Do Research

The European Citizen Science Association was set up six years ago in the hope of engaging people and organisations across Europe to take part in citizen science projects and research, providing support, resources and a network of like-minded people. That influence has now gone global, and the association is engaging not just scientists and citizens, but NGOs and policymakers too.
Scientific research topics such as climate change and the diversity of life require massive amounts of data to understand. Citizen science, research conducted by large numbers of non-professional scientists, harnesses the power behind volunteer collaborative research to collect and explore huge datasets that couldn’t possibly be put together or used by small professional research teams. Think, for example, of wildlife surveys filled out by thousands of participants countrywide in their back gardens, that help us understand population changes in some of our most beloved species.

The European Citizen Science Association was set up to encourage the growth of this type of research, recognising just how important it might be to address some of our most pressing challenges today. In this interview, Research Outreach found out some more about what the association does and how to get involved.Can you tell us a bit more about why and how the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) came about?
The origins of the association are in the realisation, around ten years ago, that citizen science is a growing area of public engagement in science in general, and in environmental science and management in particular. The UK Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) demonstrated that the engagement of a million people as possible, and with the encouragement of Prof Jacquie McGlade, the then head of the European Environment Agency, discussions about setting up an association started in 2011. It was ready to be launched in 2013.ECSA exists with and through our members. We rely on around 150 individual and organisational members from over 30 countries in the European Union and beyond. Launched during ‘GREEN WEEK’ in June 2013, ECSA has evolved in recent years from an informal network of researchers and practitioners interested in citizen science to an official association under German law in 2015. Today, it is a well-developed European network of citizen science initiatives and practitioners.

What are the association’s main goals and strategies?
ECSA is a membership association that works at various levels to strengthen citizen science. We want to promote the growth of the citizen science movement in Europe and improve public participation in scientific processes.

We maintain working groups that do research and engage in different fields of citizen science. We also organise a citizen science conference every two years. Lectures on current developments, exciting workshops and interactive events will be held. As a European association, we are committed to advancing a network of networks in citizen science. Together with existing citizen science associations and institutes in Europe, the USA and Australia, as well as emerging associations from Latin America, Africa and Asia, we are developing the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP). We put a lot of our energy into implementing projects that involve citizen science, either on a practical or scientific level.

Citizen science is a growing area of public engagement in science in general, and in environmental science and management in particular.

Could you explain how you came to be involved with the association personally?
I heard about the plans from Dr Linda Davies, who was coordinating the OPAL project. By February 2013, the idea of a European Citizen Science Network had evolved rapidly, with 15 countries supporting a network during a workshop in Copenhagen that was supported by the European Environment Agency, as noted. It was the current chair, Prof Johannes Vogel, who volunteered to support the new organisation through the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin. I was, therefore, involved and heard about ECSA before it was created, and followed its board as a close friend. In a major Horizon 2020 project that I put together and coordinated (Doing It Together Science), I made sure that significant funding was provided to ECSA, ensuring that the organisation could start developing and growing. As the project came to a close, I put myself forward as a member of the ECSA board, and when the previous executive vice-chair (Lucy Robinson of London’s Natural History Museum) left temporarily, myself and Luigi Cecceroni became the co-vice chairs.

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