Imagine a world where all people are able to understand, value and participate in science. This is the vision that inspires the Citizen Science Association (CSA), an emerging organization that will support organizers advancing scientific research that involves the public. It isn’t so hard to do. There are many prominent ornithological programs that engage bird watchers in research. These are not the only ones. There have been many scientific contributions of amateur astronomers. These are not the only ones. Right now, you could look at almost any scientific discipline, and if you look deeply enough and carefully enough you’re going to see some aspects of citizen science happening.
As announced at a February 16th AAAS meeting:
“The CSA is offering free inaugural membership for 2014 to grow, unite, and guide this global community of practice focused on public participation in citizen science. The CSA recognizes all forms of citizen science and focuses on building the community of practice involving those who organize volunteers. Whether organizers are scientists, educators, data managers, technology specialists, evaluators, or enthusiastic volunteers, the CSA welcomes those who want to benefit form a network based on the diverse practices of citizen science.”
The work of building the association is just beginning. While four committees have begun to coordinate planning, the CSA is soliciting the involvement and leadership of future members. Membership requires no financial contribution at this point, and people receive complementary membership by completing a short survey. According to the CSA, this survey will help the association understand the diverse needs, interests and expertise of the citizen science community; gauge the energy, initiative and commitment to CSA activities; and inspire potential funders.
Documenting the characteristics of the incoming membership is crucial because citizen science is a remarkably diverse field in terms of disciplines, sectors and communities engaged. Panelists at the AAAS meeting included an astronomer, a neuroscientist and an ornithologist — an unusual combination for a single panel. It sounded so much like a “walked-into-a-bar” joke that these practitioners jested they should crowdsource the best punch line. Even though research topics differ, the methods used and the challenges faced are similar. The panel also included professionals involved in computer science, informatics, human-computer interaction and education. These are some of the fields enabling innovations in how citizen science is put into practice.
The CSA will foster exchange, collaboration and professional development across the compelling diversity in order to support parallel practices in various fields. To this end, the association will establish an open-access, peer-reviewed journal dedicated to advances in the theory and practice of citizen science. The association will sponsor international conferences that disseminate findings and innovations and act as networking events. By building a digital community of practice and compiling tools and resources to further best practices in the field, the CSA hopes to serve as an umbrella organization, drawing members from diverse communities including Scistarter, The Citizen Science Alliance and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).
Early support for the association is generously provided by National Geographic, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Data Observation Network for Earth, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Schoodic Institute and the National Ecological Observatory Network.
These organizations have common hopes for a world full of people engaged in citizen science. You may say these organizations are dreamers. If you are organizing citizen science activities, you are not the only one. With more than 1,300 members already, we hope someday you’ll join us!
About the Authors
Caren Cooper, a research associate at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, uses citizen science to study birds across North America. Anne Bowser is a graduate Research Assistant in the Commons Lab and a PhD student at the University of Maryland’s College of Library and Information Science.