The development of citizen science, together with its presence in European policies, can be framed in a broader context, related to the so-called participatory turn (Jasanoff 2003) that developed mainly in the 1980s and 1990s. Such a context is reflected in a democratisation of very different areas of society, which involves increased awareness and acceptance of responsibility (von Schomberg 2011) and the necessity of common deliberation on common issues (MacIntyre 2016). While such participation has been developed in practical contexts, its different forms and meanings, as well as its diverse social and political implications, have been comprehensively analysed, including warnings and/or complaints about the instrumentalist interests behind the promotion of citizen participation (De Marchi et al. 2001; Mirowski 2018).
In this section, we briefly present the evolution of policies in Europe related to citizen science. We address European policy support for the funding of citizen science activities, before shifting our focus to the political agenda and the development of participatory aspects with regard to citizen science (both outlining the policy for citizen science perspective). Finally, we highlight the contributory aspects of citizen science in policy-related actions (citizen science for policy perspective).
Citizen Science and European Research Funding
The already mentioned participatory turn is indeed soundly reflected in European policies, which have incorporated notions related to citizen science from diverse sources, including (1) political and economic sciences, co-production (Ostrom and Ostrom 1977); (2) the sociology of science, co-production of knowledge (Jasanoff 2003); (3) scientific governance, the lay-expert relationship (Irwin and Wynne 1996); and, recently, (4) the philosophy of science, the notion of responsible research and innovation (RRI) (von Schomberg 2011). RRI was first introduced in the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) for funding European Union research and development, and integrated as a cross-cutting agenda in its successor, Horizon 2020, forming a primary focus of the ‘Science with and for Society’ (SwafS) stream of the programme.
Interestingly, within and beyond the original RRI/SwafS agenda, a great number of European projects using a citizen science methodology, with a multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary approach, have been or are being funded following FP7. Many RRI-related projects have involved the dissemination of the concept of participation, often including the promotion of citizen science and, more recently, do it yourself (DiY) activities as a further step in public participation, beyond activities that encourage greater dialogue between all concerned, such as science shops.
The idea of co-production or co-creation has been present over the last few decades and now appears – under the notion of codesign – in the preliminary documentation of Horizon Europe (EC 2018a). In fact, these notions not only are a trend in the research and innovation area but also underpin an increasingly general vision for improving European governance (EC 2018b) – a vision already established in the white paper Europe 2000, through notions such as co-regulatory mechanisms, cooperation, coordination, and co-decision, all in order ‘to connect Europe with its citizens, as the starting condition for more effective and relevant policies’ (EC 2001a). Vohland et al. (this volume, Chap. 3) provide additional information about European research funding.
Citizen Science Beyond Research Funding
In citizen science, terms such as co-production and co-creation have often been used, not just in relation to implications in decision-making and consultation with citizens but alongside them, to achieve active involvement in all the steps of the research cycle. Cooper and Lewenstein (2016) have explained how the two different visions of citizen science – Irwin’s, closer to activism and social-political demands (Irwin 1995), and Bonney’s, more linked to the contribution of scientific data by citizens (Bonney 1996) – need not be two distant visions.
In this section, we also offer some more remote precedents of this participatory turn, which has led to citizen science development alongside different policies, not only in environmental areas but also in many other such as health and more recently in the digital realm, all in the context of the evolution of democracy in European countries.
Firstly, the right to science (Wyndham and WeigersVitullo 2018) was established in the framework of human rights, as the ‘right to share in scientific advancement and its benefits’ (Art. 27 in UN 1948) and, then more specifically, in the framework of social and cultural rights (Art. 15 in UN 1966). Until the last two decades, this had been mainly understood as the right to access information and knowledge, as well as the benefits of different scientific and technological developments. By the end of the twentieth century, this understanding had already evolved ‘from the right to access information and knowledge to the right to participate’ (De Marchi et al. 2001), mainly through decision-making regarding risk in environmental and health issues. However, it is true that a citizenry interested in sharing in scientific progress was also being formed, a citizenry capable not only of accessing but also of generating scientific knowledge.
In addition, and also on a global scale, demands for more sustainable development have fostered citizen participation in the field of environmental conservation, significantly since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, known at the ‘Earth Summit’ or ‘Rio 92’. It should be remembered that the origins of sustainable development as a concept go back further due to a confluence of different factors, among others, the impact of Rachel Carson’s dissemination work that led to the formulation of environmental policies around the world and the notion of a principle of responsibility towards future generations (Jonas 1984), which was also key in the emergence of the (controversial, but currently applied) precautionary principle.
In this context, the well-known texts by Irwin (1995) and Irwin and Wynne (1996) are useful. These authors, among many others, claim the recognition of supposedly non-expert knowledge – providing empirical examples – mainly with respect to decision-making in the area of environmental and health-related risks, which are linked to scientific-technological development. The right to participate in environmental decision-making was granted in 1998 by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe when it adopted the Aarhus Convention. But a major step was taken when, as Muki Haklay (2015, p. 17) points out, the ‘National and multinational environmental policy demonstrated, an awareness of citizen science, in particular in a speech in 2008 by Professor Jacqueline McGlade, then Executive Director of the European Environment Agency (EEA)’, who announced the creation of a Global Citizens’ Observatory for Environmental Change, starting with the integration of citizens’ observations with official water quality data. She noted that many times people closest to the problems can give the best information and their own vision to complement the official information, highlighting the importance of taking advantage of this local knowledge.
The Bigger Picture
It is worth now remembering Irwin’s rationale for focusing on environmental and health risks (1995). Among other reasons, he indicates that these issues represent other areas of social and technical debate. In fact, a few years after publication, the documents related to the creation of the European Research Area (ERA) in 2000 clearly mention ‘openness, participation, accountability, effectiveness and coherence’ (EC 2001a, p. 8) and the ‘participation of civil society’ in science and technology policies (EC 2001b, p. 14), even though they do not explicitly use the term ‘citizen science’. Gradually, participation is increasingly understood in a more active and all-embracing way, including participation in all stages of the scientific process.
In fact, specific reports on citizen science and environmental policies have been published by the European Commission. The Science for Environment Policy In-depth Report: Environmental Citizen Science offers a comprehensive picture of environmental citizen science in Europe (EC 2013). The report explores research into citizen science and provides a wide range of citizen science projects showing the variety of approaches and topics covered. By emphasising the so-called contributory projects (designed by scientists but replying on volunteers to collect data), mostly in the environmental field, it reveals the potential added value of such projects and their benefits to society, science, and policy decision-making that still need to be evaluated. Benefits include large data sets for science, an increase in public engagement and interest in research and policy, and the improvement of policy decision-making by including various sources of knowledge and by providing evidence to support regulatory compliance and inform policymaking.
Building on the 2013 In-Depth Report (EC 2013), the report Citizen Science for Environmental Policy: Development of an EU-wide Inventory and Analysis of Selected Practices (Bio Innovation Service 2018) undertook a wider survey of studies and provides further insights into the relevance and usefulness of citizen science for environmental policy. The two main aims were to create an inventory of environmental citizen science projects relevant for environmental policy and assess how these projects contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the United Nations (UN) General Assembly (UN 2015).
While the inventory affirms the predominance of contributory projects in environmental citizen science, it also points out that citizen science is covering all engagement types including collaborative (i.e. designed by scientists with volunteers contributing) and co-created (i.e. scientists and volunteers collaborate throughout all stages of the scientific process) projects in all fields of environmental sciences (Bio Innovation Service 2018). The report found that environment-related SDGs are currently unevenly represented by citizen science projects. For example, citizen science projects in the inventory contribute less to goals with a strong socio-economic focus, while marine and terrestrial nature conservation are the goals that received the best direct contribution from citizen science projects – given a predominance of monitoring citizen science projects. For the uptake of citizen science project outcomes (including data), the report identifies the importance of governments to be involved in projects from inception. Among other key results, it also shows the crucial role of NGOs in the governance of citizen science projects, while scientific excellence also increases the extent of policy use of citizen science data. The report closes with recommendations regarding the operability of citizen science projects and data management, as well as capacity building in the field of citizen science, including stakeholders from science, society, and policy. It laid the grounds for the recently published European Commission Staff Working Document on best practices in citizen science for environmental reporting (EC 2020a).
Together with these more visible examples, there are many other reports in specific fields – such as agriculture, invasive species, land use, fisheries, etc. – in which the term citizen science is not directly introduced, but the concept is present through other terms such as participatory action research or community-based research or co-management among many others (e.g. Nielsen and Vedsmand (1999) show co-management as the tool for explaining the successful results in some Danish fisheries). In this sense, we could cite as examples the LIFE projects, in which citizen participation is increasingly present (LIFE Programme 2019).
Following the original Science and Society Action Plan (EC 2001b), the funding opportunities of the last three framework programmes (FPs) – ‘Science and Society’ (SaS), FP6 (2002–2006); ‘Science in Society’ (SiS), FP7 (2007–2013); and ‘Science with and for Society’ (SwafS), FP8 (2014–2020) – reflect some of this evolution, which is being widely studied both in academic papers and in policy reports (Owen et al. 2012; Rodríguez et al. 2019; EC 2016). Since 2010, citizen science has been explicitly placed in different European science policy frameworks, both aligned with the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy and related to more specific areas such as the Digital Agenda, Science 2.0, RRI and Open Science, and SDGs. Interestingly, the genesis of Fig. 18.2 traces back to 2010 (RIN/NESTA 2010), passing through different documents related to Science 2.0, Digital Science, and, ultimately, Open Science. It seems clear that European science policy still considers the Digital Agenda as a key route for citizen science and that European science policy is focusing on Open Science as the framework under which citizen science is justified (EC 2018a).
Today, irrespective of the different understandings and consequent definitions assigned to citizen science initiatives, the use and application of citizen science practices is increasing – at European as well as at national and local levels. This is due to a number of emerging factors, including a better understanding of the benefits stemming from the use of citizen-generated data and the increasingly economic value attributed to them, citizen science’s support of the growing phenomenon of social innovation, and the impact of digital technology on citizen science practices.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that there are many more citizen science practices not yet catalogued or even known about and that there may be thousands of people researching outside institutions, sometimes well aware of their capacities, duties, and rights: farmers, hunters, fishers, makers, hackers, and many others contribute to the growth and dissemination of knowledge, as well as to the direct or indirect formulation of policies. As some authors have explained in different ways (see, for example, Lafuente and Estalella 2015), the history of science, research, and innovation has gone through a 200-year hiatus, in which the participation of ordinary people had been excluded – but things are already changing.