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Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms

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Much can be at stake depending on the choice of words used to describe citizen science, because terminology impacts how knowledge is developed. Citizen science is a quickly evolving field that is mobilizing people’s involvement in information development, social action and justice, and large-scale information gathering. Currently, a wide variety of terms and expressions are being used to refer to the concept of ‘citizen science’ and its practitioners. Here, we explore these terms to help provide guidance for the future growth of this field.

Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms

Featured In Citizen Science: Theory and Practice

Authors: M V Eitzel , Jessica L Cappadonna, Chris Santos-Lang, Ruth Ellen Duerr, Arika Virapongse, Sarah Elizabeth West, Christopher Conrad Maximillian Kyba, Anne Bowser, Caren Beth Cooper, Andrea Sforzi, Anya Nova Metcalfe, Edward S Harris, Martin Thiel, Mordechai Haklay, Lesandro Ponciano, Joseph Roche, Luigi Ceccaroni, Fraser Mark Shilling, Daniel Dörler, Florian Heigl, Tim Kiessling, Brittany Y Davis, Qijun Jiang 

Abstract 

Much can be at stake depending on the choice of words used to describe citizen science, because terminology impacts how knowledge is developed. Citizen science is a quickly evolving field that is mobilizing people’s involvement in information development, social action and justice, and large-scale information gathering. Currently, a wide variety of terms and expressions are being used to refer to the concept of ‘citizen science’ and its practitioners. Here, we explore these terms to help provide guidance for the future growth of this field. We do this by reviewing the theoretical, historical, geopolitical, and disciplinary context of citizen science terminology; discussing what citizen science is and reviewing related terms; and providing a collection of potential terms and definitions for ‘citizen science’ and people participating in citizen science projects. This collection of terms was generated primarily from the broad knowledge base and on-the-ground experience of the authors, by recognizing the potential issues associated with various terms. While our examples may not be systematic or exhaustive, they are intended to be suggestive and invitational of future consideration. In our collective experience with citizen science projects, no single term is appropriate for all contexts. In a given citizen science project, we suggest that terms should be chosen carefully and their usage explained; direct communication with participants about how terminology affects them and what they would prefer to be called also should occur. We further recommend that a more systematic study of terminology trends in citizen science be conducted. 

Keywords: crowdsourcing, community-based participatory research, epistemology, public participation in science and research, ontology, participatory action research 

How to Cite: 

Eitzel, M.V. et al., (2017). Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. 2(1), p.1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.96

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Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms

About the Author

Anne Bowser bio photo

Anne Bowser

Deputy Director of STIP, Director of Innovation and Innovation Specialist

Dr. Anne Bowser is a Deputy Director with the Science and Technology Innovation Program (STIP) and the Director of Innovation at the Wilson Center. Her work investigates the intersections between science, technology and democracy.

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