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 an emerging 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 local knowledge, citizen science brings about a change in the way research is conducted – 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 using the details on the right.
- 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
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Bentham is an award-winning collaborative initiative that is crowdsourcing the transcription of Bentham’s previously unpublished manuscripts.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.
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.
- 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.
- 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 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.
Thanks to Muki Haklay for their help in compiling the list and creating this page.