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Citizen science projects are collaborative projects where members of the public and researchers work together. People contribute their observations about the world around them. Researchers use this data to develop explanations and solutions to research questions. Citizen science has grown to include humanities topics too like archaeology, psychology, astronomy, ancestry research and more. Research projects go by many names including: community science, crowd science, crowd-sourced or crowd-fuelled science. People also call them civic science, volunteer monitoring, online citizen science and community-powered research projects.
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Why does it matter?
Community-powered research projects help us to better understand the world around us. The data and information they generate can help us make better decisions for our communities. Collecting observations also gives us an opportunity to pause and witness the little things that sometimes go unnoticed. Like the kaleidoscope of colours in a butterfly’s wing, or the universe of organisms living under a dock. Community-fuelled research projects help us to see the importance of sharing our experiences to create a better world.
How can you get involved today?
There are so many active community-powered research projects and platforms all over the world. The opportunities to get involved are (basically) endless! These are our top 7 picks for the most popular and easy to join projects and platforms.
Ornithology: Study Birds and the Environment
Count the birds you see each February during the Great Backyard Bird Count to create a real-time snapshot of bird populations.
The Great Backyard Bird Count is a free event for bird watchers of all ages. In February of each year, participants count birds over a four day period and report their sightings online at birdcount.org. Each submission helps researchers learn about the health of bird populations, and how we can protect birds and the environment. You can explore real-time maps and charts that show what other people around the world reported.
The event is hosted by the National Audubon Society, which also hosts one of the oldest early-winter bird census counts. The Christmas Bird Count began in 1900, and takes place each year between December 14th to January 5th. People in Canada, the United States and other countries across the Western Hemisphere can participate for free by joining a census count team.
The National Audubon Society also provides education about bird species all year long through its website, magazine, conservation initiatives, kids activity hub and the Audubon Bird Guide App. The free app is a field guide to more than 800 North American bird species. You can download it from Google Play and the App Store.
Psychotherapy: Improve Mental Health and Wellbeing
Send soothing photographs to Project Soothe to help improve mental health and wellbeing.
We know that people soothe themselves to stay healthy and well when they’re feeling distressed. But how do people soothe themselves in everyday life? This is what Project Soothe is trying to figure out. Project Soothe is creating a gallery of soothing photographs that can help to improve mental health and wellbeing through research and psychological therapies.
Project Soothe is run by a team of clinical and developmental psychologists based at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Anglia Ruskin University in England.
Anyone from around the world can participate as many times as they want, as long as they’re 12 years of age or older. Simply submit a photograph that you find soothing with a brief description of why it makes you feel that way.
Astronomy: Search for Extraterrestrial Life
Donate your computer’s spare processing power to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence by downloading SETI@home.
Do you think we’re really alone in the universe? You can help figure it out by joining the SETI@home project. All you have to do is download the SETI@home application (BOINC) on your computer, and the software will use your computer’s spare processing power to help process data from radio telescopes worldwide.
The SETI@home program, based at the Berkeley SETI Research Centre, is part of a larger Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (“SETI”) project. Today, conservatories and research institutes are continually collecting data. So much data that they have a massive backlog that needs to be processed and analyzed.
The search for other life forms started with the creation of radio in the early 1900s, and coordinated international efforts have been going on since the 1980s.
The SETI network would need thousands of computers (and funding!) to analyze their data. So instead, SETI@home is asking you to contribute your computer’s internet connection and processing power to help comb through this massive data pool.
Archaeology, History and Heritage: Explore Human History
Use your human intelligence and skills to help solve the mysteries of human history with MicroPasts
MicroPasts is a crowdfuelled and crowdsourced archaeological data project based in the United Kingdom. This web platform brings together researchers, archaeological and historical societies, and members of the public to collaborate on research about archaeology, history and heritage. People from around the world are invited to participate in ongoing research projects that need human intelligence to do tasks that are beyond the capabilities of today’s computers. Activities include identifying locations and objects in photographs and transcribing historic records. You can also submit your own photographs of archaeological sites or objects around you.
Enthusiastic community members are welcome to co-design and fund entirely new research projects in collaboration with academics and professionals. The MicroPasts team also shares free learning resources that explain data collection methods and techniques, and how the data is being used and shared with researchers around the world.
iNaturalist: Observe and Identify Plants & Animals
Observe and identify the plants and animals around you with iNaturalist to build up biodiversity knowledge
iNaturalist is an online social network with a community of more than one million scientists and naturalists. Its members share biodiversity information to help each other learn more about nature. You can participate by using the iNaturalist website or app in more than 35 different languages.
You can share your observations through maps, calendars, journals and life lists, and ask for help with identifying species. Join an ongoing citizen science project or start your own to keep tabs on species in your neighbourhood. iNaturalist even provides a guide for how to do a bioblitz of your community park, where you record as many species within a specific area and amount of time as possible.
Scientists use your observations to create biodiversity data to better understand and protect nature. iNaturalist is a global network of websites supported by local institutions in countries around the world, such as Canada, Panama, Argentina, Portugal, Israel and Australia.
Zooniverse: Contribute to a Variety of Research Projects
Contribute to Zooniverse research by classifying project data, being a beta-tester or moderating discussions
Zooniverse is a people-powered research platform. It connects volunteers and professional researchers to do research that would not be possible or practical without collaboration. Check out the Zooniverse website for ways to contribute, including volunteering to classify project data, being a beta tester or moderating project discussions and answering project questions for the public.
Some of their recent projects include:
- Galaxy Zoo: Clump Scout – Help find where in the universe stars are being born
- African American Civil War Soldiers –Reveal hidden stories about African American history by transcribing military records
- Invader ID – Help track changes in coastal environments by identifying marine organisms
Anyone can build a project and invite volunteers to collaborate.
Earth Challenge 2020: Observe Your Environment
Share observations about your environment through the Earth Challenge 2020 app to help scientists answer complex, global questions.
For the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, the Earth Day Network launched the Earth Challenge 2020 app. The app shares ways to contribute to citizen science projects looking at the health and wellbeing of the environment. It started with six key topics: plastics pollution, air quality, food supply, drinking water, climate change and insect populations.
The app also has learning tools for the public and research community. You can access lesson plans, “how to” materials, open data analysis and visualization tools to help you learn more. Researchers can share their citizen science data through a Citizen Science Cloud to help make existing data more FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Reusable).
There are plenty of ways to get involved—the key is to find the right activity for you.
Do you have any special skills like research or data analysis, identifying insects or reading historic text? Or do you want to amp up the benefits of your daily walk by supporting the protection of the environment? No matter how much time you have to give, there’s an opportunity out there for you.
Every little bit helps!