Rethinking "Citizen" Science

Why Knology advocates for a shift in how we study a popular science approach

by Rebecca Joy NorlanderJohn FraserRupu GuptaKate Flinner
Sep 10, 2019

When people hear the phrase “citizen science” they tend to think about individuals who are not professional scientists contributing scientific knowledge through a crowdsourced model. But characterizing people by what they are not might not be the most helpful way to really support the scientific enterprise, in particular when it comes to solving environmental problems. On top of that, the concept of citizenship is becoming more complex and exclusive.

The field of citizen science has traditionally embraced this deficit-model of learning focused on individuals collecting and analyzing data. At Knology, we suggest that shifting the focus to an exploration of the principles of civic engagement can change the way the field interprets the impact of citizen science, towards a different approach we think of as civic science. We challenge the assumption that learning is situated in the individual, wanting instead to think critically about how communities seek scientific input and use scientific reasoning. We ask how co-created civic science can facilitate communities learning together and also serve as a pathway to becoming a fully engaged and productive member of a society. Essentially, cultivating community and its members through science rather than the other way around.

We believe this approach could result in helpful new strategies for measuring the outcomes of public participation in science, where identifying the values of civic engagement is just as important as building scientific knowledge.

Photo by Elevate on Unsplash

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