Citizen science’s transformative impact on science, citizen empowerment and socio-political processes

authored by
Julia von Gönner, Thora Martina Herrmann, Till Bruckermann, Michael Eichinger, Susanne Hecker, Friederike Klan, Julia Lorke, Anett Richter, Ulrike Sturm, Silke Voigt-Heucke, Wiebke Brink, Christin Liedtke, Matthias Premke-Kraus, Carolin S. Altmann, Wilhelm Bauhus, Luiza Bengtsson, Andrea Büermann, Peter Dietrich, Daniel Dörler, Regina Eich-Brod, Laura Ferschinger, Linda Freyberg, Agnes Grützner, Gertrud Hammel, Florian Heigl, Nils B. Heyen, Franz Hölker, Carolin Johannsen, Thorsten Kluß, Thekla Kluttig, Jörn Knobloch, Martin Munke, Kim Mortega, Carsten Pathe, Anna Soßdorf, Tiina Stämpfli, Christian Thiel, Susanne Tönsmann, Anke Valentin, Katherin Wagenknecht, Robert Wegener, Silvia Woll, Aletta Bonn

Citizen science (CS) can foster transformative impact for science, citizen empowerment and socio-political processes. To unleash this impact, a clearer understanding of its current status and challenges for its development is needed. Using quantitative indicators developed in a collaborative stakeholder process, our study provides a comprehensive overview of the current status of CS in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Our online survey with 340 responses focused on CS impact through (1) scientific practices, (2) participant learning and empowerment, and (3) socio-political processes. With regard to scientific impact, we found that data quality control is an established component of CS practice, while publication of CS data and results has not yet been achieved by all project coordinators (55%). Key benefits for citizen scientists were the experience of collective impact (“making a difference together with others”) as well as gaining new knowledge. For the citizen scientists’ learning outcomes, different forms of social learning, such as systematic feedback or personal mentoring, were essential. While the majority of respondents attributed an important value to CS for decision-making, only few were confident that CS data were indeed utilized as evidence by decision-makers. Based on these results, we recommend (1) that project coordinators and researchers strengthen scientific impact by fostering data management and publications, (2) that project coordinators and citizen scientists enhance participant impact by promoting social learning opportunities and (3) that project initiators and CS networks foster socio-political impact through early engagement with decision-makers and alignment with ongoing policy processes. In this way, CS can evolve its transformative impact.

Institute of Education
External Organisation(s)
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ)
Heidelberg University
Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz
IPN - Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education at Kiel University
Johann Heinrich von Thünen Institute, Federal Research Institute for Rural Areas, Forestry and Fisheries
Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science (MfN)
Wissenschaft im Dialog gGmbH
Helmholtz Association
Leibniz Association
University of Münster
University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna
Forschungszentrum Jülich
Fraunhofer Information Centre for Planning and Building (IRB)
Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI)
Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB)
University of Bremen
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
University of Oulu
Museum für Naturkunde - Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science
DLR-Institute of Data Science
RWTH Aachen University
Stadt Leipzig
Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) in the Helmholtz Association
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Saxon State and University Library Dresden (SLUB)
Science et Cité
Universität Zürich (UZH)
ETH Zurich
Universitat St. Gallen
Wissenschaftsladen Bonn e.V. (WILA Bonn)
Bundesamt für die Sicherheit der nuklearen Entsorgung (BASE)
Friedrich Schiller University Jena
German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig
Helmholtz Zentrum München - German Research Center for Environmental Health
Socio-Ecological Practice Research
No. of pages
Publication date
Publication status
Peer reviewed
ASJC Scopus subject areas
Geography, Planning and Development, Nature and Landscape Conservation, Urban Studies
Electronic version(s) (Access: Open)