Keen to try out citizen science? Let’s find out what it’s all about.
Issued: 8 Feb 2018

Have you heard the words ‘citizen science’ being used more lately but are unsure what it’s all about? The phrase is not new. In fact, the term citizen science, as we know it today was coined by Rick Bonney, an ornithologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995. However, the act of citizens (or non‑scientists) participating in science has been around much longer.

Have you heard the words ‘citizen science’ being used more lately but are unsure what it’s all about? The phrase is not new. In fact, the term citizen science, as we know it today was coined by Rick Bonney, an ornithologist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995. However, the act of citizens (or non‑scientists) participating in science has been around much longer.

These days, equipped with smart phones and do-it-yourself sampling kits, everyday people are collecting mosquito eggs, finding weeds and measuring hail, to name just a few activities. These volunteers are part of a growing group of people we call ‘citizen scientists’.

What is citizen science? Well, the Australian Citizen Science Association’s (ACSA) definition is:

“Citizen science involves public participation and collaboration in scientific research with the aim to increase scientific knowledge. It’s a great way to harness community skills and passion to fuel the capacity of science to answer our questions about the world and how it works. To be involved in citizen science you don’t need a science degree. Citizen scientists work with scientists or the scientific framework to achieve scientific goals.” (ACSA website, 2017)

Citizen science provides immense benefits to the participating citizen (be these adults or students), the scientist/researcher and the research project itself. Citizen science is a unique way to make scientific discoveries, add to our scientific knowledge, communicate science to the broader community and engage in science outreach.

Are you thinking about getting involved in citizen science but not sure how? Here’s a list of useful resources to get you started:

#1 Browse the Australian citizen science project finder

Here you will find a diverse set of projects ranging from recording sightings of birds or insects through to weeds, to recording information about mangroves, and even working towards the preservation and recovery of the endangered Richmond Birdwing Butterfly and its host plant. Each of the individual projects listed has details about how you can get involved.

This database showcases projects from all over Australia (and some international) so there’s something for everyone. If you happen to manage a project not yet in the finder, don’t hesitate to add it!

#2 Become a member of the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA)

Membership is open to anyone with an interest in citizen science. ACSA is a vibrant and growing community of citizen science professionals and enthusiasts. The benefits to becoming a member is the ability to share ideas, pose questions, collaborate on projects, attend networking events and connect with people working, volunteering or interested in citizen science.

#3 Follow hashtags like #citizenscience, #citsci and #citscioz

By following these hashtags on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook you will get a sense of how people are involved. Many people who are recruiting for citizen scientist involvement will put the call out on social media channels such as Twitter. For example,

Just be sure to check out the location for field-based projects (vs online ones) as social media has no geographical boundaries. If you are interested in seeing information about citizen science in your social media news feeds, you can also follow Queensland Science Facebook as well as the ACSA Facebook , Twitter, and LinkedIn channels. Both of these groups regularly post about citizen science projects.

#4 Check out the Reef Citizen Science Alliance

As the umbrella organisation for many of the field-based projects conducted along Queensland’s coastline. There are a range of programs you can get involved in. From mangroves to manta rays, from coral to coastal habitats — you can join like-minded people for group activities, or collect data in your own time, in or out of the water. Citizen scientists collect data which is used by professional scientists, reef managers, communities, conservation groups, and/or decision makers.

#5 Download one of the many citizen science apps available

There are numerous fun and engaging projects which you can get involved with by using apps on your smart phone. Here are just a few Australian examples:

  • Questagame — is a mobile game which takes you outdoors to discover species, providing challenges, adventures and even prizes for your discoveries.
  • Aussie Backyard Bird Count — an annual event (usually in October) in Australia where thousands of Australians count birds of all shapes and sizes in their own backyards and log their data using the Aussie Backyard Bird count app.
  • FrogID — is Australia’s first national Citizen Science frog identification initiative. FrogID utilises a mobile app to help identify frog species by their call and geotagging to map species distribution. Each species of frog has its own unique call. By using the FrogID app to record frog calls you can help identify frogs and their habitats.

We all have the ability to be involved in citizen science in some way or another. We encourage you to take a look through these resources and get involved in a project in your area. The information you provide as a citizen scientist is not only fun, it’s invaluable to scientific research!