Citizen Science is members of the public having a greater role within research and recognising the invaluable role they play in providing insights a researcher may not typically have.
Citizen science is a common name for a wide range of activities and practices. It is possible to understand it by considering the characteristics of those activities and practices. Found in different scientific disciplines – from the natural sciences to the social sciences and the humanities – and within each discipline, the interpretation of citizen science can be slightly different. Yet despite these differences, citizen science is a rapidly growing area of research and practice, with evolving standards on which different stakeholders are developing methodologies, theories and techniques – Adapted from “ECSA's Characteristics of Citizen Science”.
Harnessing the advantages of the internet, openly available software packages and combining with local knowledge, embracing citizen science can bring about a change in the way research is conducted – one no longer limited to academic researchers, it encourages active collaboration from groups across society, making members of the public fellow researchers.
Training and Resources
We would like to encourage everyone to consider taking a Citizen Science approach in your research. We have collated the following resources for you to look at, and you can always get in touch.
- UCL Short Course: Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing: an Introduction.
- Online resources: The ECSA Characteristics of Citizen Science.
- UCL Press: Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy.
- Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations.
- Community Research Initiative for Students (CRIS): connects Masters students with London’s voluntary sector to share knowledge and ideas and help shape your research project around a current community need in our capital.
- OpenLearn from the open university have several Citizen Science courses.
- EU-Citizen Science Training platform.
- Guide to training community researchers.
Citizen Science projects at UCL
Citizen science is a growing field and UCL is committed to widening participation in academic endeavours beyond the confines of the university and raising awareness of the concept of citizen science. We have collated a number of projects below to show the variety of ways to use a Citizen Science approach in your research.
If you have a citizen science project that you would like to see featured here or have questions about how you can get started with Citizen Science in your project, please get in touch.
- Transcribe Bentham
Transcribe Bentham is an award-winning collaborative initiative that is crowdsourcing the transcription of Bentham’s previously unpublished manuscripts. The transcription takes place online, so that anyone can join in and contribute to the project. It is hosted by the Faculty of Law and since the launch of the project in 2010 over 23,000 papers have been transcribed by volunteers.
- Colouring London
Colouring London is a web based Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) initiative started in 2018. It was designed by the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at UCL in collaboration with Historic England. It has been inspired by the online trend for city age visualisations and created using property tax data. Its creation has been largely driven by the growing demand, particularly from those working in energy analysis and sustainable development, for information on the composition and long term dynamics of the building stock.
- Histories of Whitechapel
Histories of Whitechapel is an in-depth study of Whitechapel designed to involve the public in compiling information about the area’s sites, to accommodate many voices for many histories. The aim is to bring together individual stories and knowledge about housing, commerce, religion and entertainment, wealth and poverty, dissent, reform and conflict, and more besides.
- Memory Map of the Jewish East End
The Memory Map is a digital resource designed to capture and preserve the history of Jewish East London and to bring the stories and memories of this vanishing landscape to new audiences. The project is a collaboration between the artist and writer Rachel Lichtenstein and three Bartlett research units: the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, the Space Syntax Laboratory, and the Survey of London.
- Monument Monitor
Monument Monitor is a collaborative research project between Historic Environment Scotland and the Institute of Sustainable Heritage at University College London. It aims to assess to what extent we can use visitors photographs of heritage sites to inform conservation and monitoring efforts. This project also now has a page where contributors can help to monitor how the changing climate is affecting Machrie Moor Standing Stone Circles.
CITiZAN (the Coastal and Intertidal Zone Archaeological Network) is a community archaeology project working in the areas of England exposed at low tide but covered at high tide. They actively promote site recording and long-term monitoring programmes led by volunteers and work closely with the public to engage and encourage individuals to better understand, or “own”, their past coastal heritage.
- Heritage Combs
Students from the MSc Data Science for Cultural Heritage programme have developed a project to assess what factors affect the value of combs throughout time. They have gathered hundreds of images of combs from the digital collections of museums around the world and are now utilising crowdsourcing to understand the impact of variables such as age and level of degradation on the perceived value of a comb.
- Great British Creativity Test
The Great British Creativity Test was created in the Psychobiology Group, part of the Department of Behavioural Science and Health at UCL. This BBC Citizen Science project aims to help people find out how getting creative could improve their wellbeing.
- London Prosperity Board
London Prosperity Board – this cross-sector partnership is led by UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP). As part of the project, IGP trains and employs people who live in neighbourhoods where research is taking place, so that they work as social scientists in local communities. The aim of the project is to rethink what prosperity means for London.
- Relief Centre
The RELIEF Centre, another project linked to UCL’s Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP), aims to speed up transitions to sustainable, prosperous societies in the context of mass displacement and to improve the quality of people's lives.
The project is about the prosperity of Lebanon in particular, but is also part of a larger agenda for developing sustainable ways to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. The RELIEF Centre brings Lebanese and UK institutions and expertise together to address this challenge using cutting-edge research and innovation.
ExCiteS (Extreme Citizen Science) brings together scholars from diverse fields to develop and contribute to the guiding theories, tools and methodologies that will enable any community to start a Citizen Science project to deal with issues that concern them. It’s a bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build devices and create knowledge to help local communities. The group links the departments of Geography and Anthropology, and was established in 2010.
- Mapping for Change
Mapping for Change is a UCL supported social enterprise dedicated to participatory mapping and citizen science. The company works with groups and organisations who want to understand, improve and produce information about the places that matter to them. They offer a range of mapping services to voluntary and community groups, business organisations and government bodies. Mapping for Change was created in the department Civil, Environmental, and Geomatic Engineering (CEGE) in 2008 and is closely linked to ExCiteS.
- Euston Voices
Good Life Euston is a participatory partnership with Camden Giving, the London Borough of Camden, Lendlease, the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL (IGP) and Euston’s residents - Euston Voices Researchers - to develop a new wellbeing index for the Euston Area.
The Euston Voices Researchers will identify what the local priorities are for their community, defining a set of measures to be used to shape tangible changes in their neighbourhood to track the impact of major changes that are planned for Euston over the coming 20-30 years. The 18-month collaborative research project will develop a set of indicators to measure wellbeing in Camden, and identify opportunities for local people to prosper while regeneration is underway.
Digital action at HEIs as a catalyst for social change in the COVID-19 crisis (HEIDI) project seeks to investigate potential solutions to the societal challenges affecting all sectors of human activity brought to the forefront by the COVID-19 crisis. Numerous citizen initiatives strive to tackle these challenges through digitally enhanced, community-driven digital action (DA). These initiatives take place at the local, national and international level and highlight the dynamics and strengths of DA as a catalyst for social change in crises contexts.
The project aspires to reposition HEIs with respect to society, offering HEIs a more central role in the ongoing debates about social change through skills development of staff and students and to situate HEIs as co-creators in solutions to the problems that surface with the pandemic. The HEIDI project seeks to create collaborative frameworks between HEIs, voluntary-sector and civic society organizations through a wide range of events including roundtables, webinars, and citizen science training.
TIME4CS is a 3-year project (2021-2023) aiming to support and facilitate the implementation of sustainable institutional changes in research performing organisation to promote citizen science and public engagement in science and technology. TIME4CS has identified 4 intervention areas that alone or combined can stimulate the institutional changes necessary to promote public engagement in Research and Innovation (R&I) activities: i) Research; ii) Education and Awareness; iii) Support resources and infrastructure; iv) policy and Assessment. Focussing on these intervention areas, key features of institutional change, the project will create a knowledge transfer and mutual learning programme which will lead to the development of tailored roadmaps.
TIME4CS is carried out by a consortium integrated by 11 partners from 8 EU Member States and 1 associated country.
SCALINGS is an interdisciplinary research project funded by EU Horizon 2020. Over the course of three years (2018-2021), the project team aims to better understand how co-creation varies across different contexts and explore what is needed for successful scaling. By confronting one-size-fits-all solutions to societal challenges, the project fosters innovative practices that value the social, cultural, and regulatory context in which they are embedded.
- SISCODE was a three-year project (2018-2021) EU funded aimed at stimulating the use of co-creation - a bottom up and design given phenomena that is flourishing in fab labs and living labs - in policy design, to examine the conditions under which the public could pollinate Responsible Research and Innovation, and Science Technology and Innovation Policies.
- Doing It Together Science (DITOS)
- Doing It Together Science (DITOs), was a three-year project (2016-2019) co-ordinated by ExCiteS at UCL, organizing many innovative events across Europe focusing on the active involvement of citizens in Citizen Science. In Doing It Together Science universities and research institutions worked together with science galleries, museums and art institutions to engage people with citizen science in Europe, aiming to affect in the long-term policy actions at different levels.
- Open AFM
Formerly LEGO2NANO, the Open AFM Project is run at the Institute of Making. It aims to design and build a low cost open-source atomic force microscope (AFM) for use in schools in China and now uses this technology to support citizen science projects.
- Engineering Exchange (EngEx)
EngEx matches community groups with engineers and built environment specialists, working together to tackle problems facing London communities. They help with project scoping, and support with achieving deliverables. They have supported a range of research projects looking at topics including air quality, demolition of social housing, green infrastructure, neighbourhood planning, transport and waste, among others. Engineering Exchange is funded by UCL’s Faculty of Engineering and the UCL Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment, and supported by grants.
- Bottom Up Infrastructure
Bottom Up Infrastructure is a project based out of the Bartlett Institute for Environmental Design and Engineering that aims to create resilient and sustainable environments under conditions of uncertainty. It provides resources for academics, local infrastructure project managers and community organisers to apply the bottom up approach, methods and tools in new projects that bring together community engagement and engineering design to improve neighbourhoods.
- The Big Compost Experiment
The Big Compost Experiment is a nationwide citizen science research experiment in compostable and biodegradable plastics, which allows members of the public to combat plastic waste and help shape the future of the planet. The experiment has two parts. The first part is a short 5 minute survey for everyone, whether you compost or not. The second part is a home composting experiment for those who compost.
OpenStreetMap is a project aiming to create a free and open map of the world – the Wikipedia of maps. The project began at UCL in 2004 – and UCL has been hosting the servers since the beginning of the project, and support its ongoing development.
- School Air Monitoring Project
School Air Monitoring Project – A joint project between UCL EEE and UCL Institute of Education which ran in 2018 focused on PhD students teaching year 8 secondary school children how to build a wireless sensor network for measuring air pollution in their schools in both London and Kent.
- Age Innovation Hub
Age Innovation Hub is an engagement platform led by the UCL Institute of Healthcare Engineering. UCL engineers and scientists are developing technologies that help people live for longer and with a better quality of life. But, to make these as useful as possible, they need input from the people this would impact the most – in particular, older people and healthcare workers. Users can share their thoughts, vote for others, and provide feedback. The emerging themes will go shape real research projects undertaken at UCL in the future.
- Pond Restoration Research Group
Pond Restoration Research Group, in the Department of Geography, leads a number of Citizen Science related projects such as ‘The Great Twin Pond Dig’ and ‘Adopt a Pond’ as well as supporting environmental volunteer groups and communities.
- Sea Hero Quest
Sea Hero Quest is a citizen science project in the form of an online game, dedicated to helping global dementia research. Playing the game will help understand how our brains navigate space, and help to build the largest crowd-sourced database on human spatial navigation. The game, developed in UCL Experimental Psychology, was nominated for a British Academy Games Award at the BAFTA Games Awards, 2018.
- Bat Detective
During the Bat Detective project, led by UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment, volunteers listened to audio recordings and viewed spectrograms in order to pick out, mark, and label different bat and non-bat calls.
- #UCLChemAirPoll project
ChemAirPoll – Starting in 2015, first year undergraduate Chemistry students visit primary school classes across London in teams of three to discuss air pollution and to get the children to inform the process of where air pollution should be measured in their neighbourhood. Measurements across a wide swathe of London are mapped to give both the students and the children and their families a richer idea of the problem of air pollution in our city.
- The Big Wasp Survey
The Big Wasp Survey was set up in 2017 by scientists in the Centre for Biodiversity and Environment Research at UCL, and scientists at the University of Gloucestershire. At the end of August each year, members of the public are asked to hang out a home-made wasp trap in their garden for seven days, and then identify their own insects at home; the data are providing important insights into wasp diversity and distributions (e.g. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/icad.12345). The project raises awareness about these important insects, as well as helping people learn useful skills in insect identification.
The ActEarly project, led by the Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care focuses on behaviour change, interventions & environment. Building on insights from the Born in Bradford study of over 30,000 local people, the project aims to find out what influences health and wellbeing over time. The project team is working to develop a clearer picture of what action can be taken to make sure communities, health systems and services can support healthier childhood.
- Personal Genome Project UK
Personal Genome Project UK, based at the UCL Cancer Institute, provides open genome, trait, and health data. They invite participants to openly share their personal genome data for the greater good and maintain relationships with their participants to track health, and other traits over time.
- CHAMPIONS (Children in Homeless Accommodations Managing Pandemic Invisibility Or Non-inclusive Strategies)
The CHAMPIONS study is working across England to discover the impact of COVID-19 on an often-overlooked population: children living in temporary accommodation while experiencing homelessness. This study is co-produced with families and practitioners, while a community engagement digital platform provides a space for dialogue, advocacy and advice for families, professionals and policymakers.
Study partners include:
ORBYTS is an education programme in which secondary school pupils work on original research projects under the tuition of PhD students, Post-Docs and other young scientists. With a wider goal of engaging pupils from under-represented groups, ORBYTS has gathered momentum every year and now partners more than 25 schools with space scientists. Since 2018, these partnerships have produced 10+ publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals, with 100s of secondary school students authoring these papers. Many of the schools involved report dramatic (~100%) increases in uptake of STEM A-level subjects following the programme.
Thanks to Muki Haklay for their help in compiling the list and creating this page.