Citizen Sciences, the participatory science that involves citizens

Scientists and citizens together to collect and analyze data on the environment, nature and animals

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Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Citizen science projects can be an effective response to current trends: in fact, on the one hand, the world of scientific research has opened up more to issues relating to the environment and citizenship, but it finds several difficulties, especially in obtaining funding and resources to be used in research activity; on the other hand, citizens are on average more educated and can be excellent collaborators in studying the environment in which they live.

Citizen science is a recent term, but it has actually been in practice for more than a century. From 1900, in fact, reference was made to the help of citizens to count birds during the Christmas period, at the invitation of the National Audubon Society in the United States.

With this term we mean both the role of the scientist who has the task of involving the public, as well as the scientific training of citizens, who will be formed by citizen scientists. In fact, a close collaboration is created between the scientific community and citizens to carry out scientific research projects and activities: the main objective is the systematic collection of data with the help of citizens and their analysis by specialized personnel. If on the one hand this entails greater possibilities for the analysis and verification of natural phenomena, on the other it also creates a participatory science with greater awareness and knowledge on the part of citizens.

Somehow, the dissemination of scientific knowledge becomes more fully public and “democratic”. Not only that: a more aware citizen is also a much more environmentally conscious citizen; educating and educating citizens has the enormous advantage of improving their approach to nature and environmental issues.

Participants can participate in four different ways, based on the type of research: contributory, collaborative, shared and extreme. Contributory citizen science includes data collection, collaboration in recording environmental parameters by wearing sensors and entering data into specific databases. The collaborative citizen scientist, on the other hand, also assists in the interpretation of the data; if, on the other hand, it is also involved in the definition phase of the problem, it can be defined as shared. Finally, participation in all phases of the project, from problem definition to data interpretation, is defined as extreme citizen science.

Today there are many citizen science projects in place, ranging from astrophysics to medicine, from biology to neuroscience, from computer science to astronomy. We move from environmental monitoring projects in metropolitan areas to the co-creation and management of projects with indigenous tribes in remote areas of the planet.

In Europe, the ECSA (European Citizen Science Association), established in 2014 in Berlin, is responsible for identifying, developing and promoting best practices and excellence in citizen science at a European level. In the world there are also the CSA (Citizen Science Association), of international reach, and the ACSA (Australian Citizen Science Association).

A recent citizen science project is the one carried out by the Department of the Environment of the Municipality of Genoa with the collaboration of the “G. Doria “, of the Department of Earth, Environment and Life Sciences of the University of Genoa (DISTAV) and of the Regional Agency for the Protection of the Ligurian Environment (ARPAL).

With the voluntary help of citizens, the sighting of parakeets and budgies will be recorded (specifying the place, date and time and also sending a photo for a sure identification of the species) which have colonized many areas since the seventies green areas of the city, especially on the coast, but recently also inland and at higher altitudes. The data will flow into the Ligurian Biodiversity Observatory – Li.Bi.Oss., A regional database managed by ARPAL, freely accessible by any user. Obviously, citizens, who will participate in the collection of data, will be updated on the continuation and outcome of the research.

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