"Community Science" vs "Citizen Science"


I see that our iNatForum has used the term “community science” in the description of this part of the forum. I just followed a conversation among Audubon and Phenology Network people about switching from using the term “citizen science” to “community science” on the grounds that “citizen” status is clearly not a real criterion for inclusion in these activities. I was never very fond of the term “citizen science” so I think this is an improvement. I just wanted to point it out explicitly for folks who are planning upcoming events or publicity, if you haven’t thought about this before.



I like the idea overall, but the thing I don’t like about ‘community science’ is it seems to me to devalue a little those of us who are just doing this stuff on our own, rather than bioblitzes and such. Though, once we hit upload we are part of the community for sure :) I never thought of ‘citizen’ as having a legal status in any given country since this is a global website, but Ic an see why that name would be problematic or non inclusive.



Good point!



the other thing i don’t like about ‘citizen science’ is it seems to differentiate ‘amateurs’ (some of whom are so skilled’ and ‘professionals’ who get paid or are scientists etc to do this stuff. I think of community science as INCLUDING scientists, land managers, city planners, landowners, farmers/foresters/ranchers, and anyone else in the community as part of conservation. I think that’s important. iNat has a ton of all those sorts of people.



I’m really glad people are talking about this! In the Portland (OR) area, we have been making a large effort to always use “community science”. This is inclusive, and highlights the fact (as Charlie has said above) that it’s ALL KINDS of people who are contributing to our knowledge base. Thanks for bringing this up!



One problem with switching names is that only in a last couple of years has the phrase and the concept “Citizen Science” been introduced to, and accepted by, the general public.

If we switch names on them now, I think it could be confusing.

Also, to be honest, to me, “Community Science” sounds sort of wimpy, as if you go to a community center to do it.

Citizen Science has a nice crisp sound about it.



How about just change it to “global citizen science,” to get rid of any possible implication that citizenship status is an issue, and to emphasize that we are all in this together?



i kind of doubt that added wording would ever take off, people would just still call it citizen science. Not that i care that much either way. If it were ‘US Citizen Science’ maybe, but that would be silly.

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In our area, we have been using both citizen science and community science for over a decade. Community science was later to the game, but I can say from experience that is was an easy transition for people to make. It only takes one good conversation at a meeting with professional partners and volunteers to explain the difference.
“Citizen science” may seem harmless to people like myself (white, cis, born in the US), but others may think twice before signing up and participating in this work.

Our partnership in the Northwest has been using “community science” for many years, and our volunteer programs are only getting bigger and more diverse. Words do matter, and when people are out in waders, breaking ice in wetlands to do wildlife surveys, I know they don’t consider their work wimpy.



I just joined iNaturalist a few weeks ago. It is exciting to be doing citizen science because it means (to me) that I am personally involved in something real. The term community science insinuates (to me) that a group is doing the observation – deemphasizing the individual input. Just my perspective. :slightly_smiling_face:



it’s interesting, in a way it reminds me of the music scene, in that there are ‘indy’ independent bands - the band in your basement, and also the more well known band on the radio that has a million fans, but sometimes the music in the basement is better or more talented than the ‘professional’ boy band or whatever. Other times not, but many people start there. It’s a bit like that except sometimes the big popular band comes and plays in your basement too. (except high-level naturalists and scientists don’t get as much money or attention as a popular music group). So in some sense, it is ‘independent science’, ‘alternative science’, ‘grassroots science’ ‘participatory science’ etc etc. I’ve found throughout my life that small scale ‘scenes’ and groups tend to have the same sort of dynamics, from the music scene to things as different as non-professional drag racing, iNaturalist, native plant growing, weather nerds, all kinds of stuff. I don’t think ‘community science’ is something that resonates with me that much, but if the term ‘citizen science’ is pushing people away because of other political or social issues, I agree it isn’t a good one to use.

I also think iNat is more than ‘citizen science’ or ‘community science’, it is a slate, a tool, a guitar might be part of an indy band but it might also be something you play alone with your kid, something you play on the street for dollars tossed in a hat, a symbol, a tool, whatever. In a sense, iNat and to a lesser extent eBird are part of a whole movement and yes, community, starting to look at the world in a different way given a tool that makes it easier to do that. Most of us aren’t here only to contribute to a science project, but also because we find it deeply satisfying, to find, record, and map living things for a variety of other reasons as well. It’s available to nearly anyone to do nearly anything with as long as they follow the rules, and the data is for everyone (somewhat overzealous auto obscuring nonwithstanding). It’s about citizen science but not only that, it’s about connecting people with nature (the mission statement i kinda don’t love) but not only that, and in a very unique and specific way. It;s about a lot of things. So i think this conversation is important but i also am not sure whatever phrase is chosen is even the best way to refer to iNat anyway.



Yea “citizen science” has always struck me as an exclusionary term developed by scientists, either consciously or unconsciously, to keep the “experts” and “amateurs” separate.

I welcome the term “community science” and I think I’m going to use that from now on.



Grassroots science has a nice ring to it.



It’s an ongoing discussion and has been for many many years - it gets brought up at pretty much every conference or meeting I go to (especially the Citizen Science Association conferences) where we’re talking about this type of work. I fully recognize that the term “citizen” can be very problematic in places, no matter how often we include the caveat that it’s “citizen of the world,” and I understand why people are looking for another term.

But I’ve also heard from quite a few people that citizen science and community science are NOT synonymous - you can’t just switch from one to the other. That the characteristics of community science are that the community itself is the one who sees a problem they want to fix or a question they want to answer to make their community a better place in some way, and methods to do so are created by or co-created with the community. Thus, some people who do this type of work and interact directly with communities have felt that “community science” is being co-opted as just another term for citizen science.

For awhile the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (considered by most the grandaddy of citizen science) was trying to adopt “public participation in scientific research” as the catch-all term. It doesn’t have the alliteration of “citizen science” and trying to say the acronym “PPSR” is pretty amusing, so it never really caught on.



I appreciate that “citizen” may be a loaded word in some cultures, but I prefer the term “citizen science”. It simply means that any citizen (i.e. any person) may participate in it.



What if we just call it ‘science’ or ‘ecology’ or whatever the verb of ‘naturalist’ is (naturalizing?) Why make a distinction between iNaturalist and the plant releve i do for work anyway? Half the time they blur together for me in any event, in both directions. Maybe we just need to recognize it as science and inventory (sorry that’s a jargony word) that everyone can do.



I love this idea! I’m a HS science teacher and I’m giving a talk at NSTA in a couple weeks about how Citizen Science aligns with the Next Generation Science Standards (especially regarding student interest and identity). The framework that led to NGSS is very equity-minded and I am definitely going to add this point to my talk. Thanks again!



Which is the spirit of the term “citizen science”. :)



As far as I’m concerned, I’m an independent citizen scientist who contributes to a number of community science projects.

I don’t see any contradiction between these terms, nor any need to change how either of them are used. If you haven’t already done so, I would recommend reading the Citizen Science Wikipedia article before jumping to any conclusions.



And in some ways even more importantly, connecting people with people. Whether through learning, or teaching, or observing, or identifying, or everything else we do, the core of it is the people and the relationships we form with each other as we do those things together. Already in just a few months I feel as though I have friends here. Granted, I don’t get out much, but the sense of a shared passion forms connections that transcend distance :-)