"Community Science" vs "Citizen Science"

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 :-)


I could see that being very amusing, especially with the younger (teenaged) set lol

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I definitely see citizen science and community science as being different entities, though ones that can, and often do, intersect. But for this reason I don’t see “community science” as being a good swap for “citizen science”.

I’ve heard comments (in many venues, not just here) about how the term “citizen science” could be perceived as exclusionary in some contexts, and I can see the issue. However, most of this conversation that I’ve heard comes from within the US. I think it’s important to remember that at this point citizen science is a global term (and was at least partially developed and popularized in Europe). Some of the conversations about renaming citizen science come across as US-centric to me, maybe placing our problems ahead of the potentially difficulties for others if we changed the term. I think the discussion about how to refer to this process (currently called citizen science) is not just up to people in the US; we need to hear from others users of the term as well. It’s entirely possible that the problem (the term potentially being exclusionary) is worst in the US, and maybe we in the US should engage in some of the hard work of both ensuring that everyone is welcome in citizen science and actively recruiting people from all walks of life to the process (which might get more to the core of the issue).

Also, as a side note, are there any data about how different terms for citizen science are perceived or might be more effective? I’d be interested to hear about them!


For what it’s worth, I have always taken the “citizen” part of “citizen science” to mean simply that you don’t have to carry any special title, position, or post in order to participate and contribute. We are all citizens (of something…)


[…] yeah, okay.
PS, on request: I was making fun of you folks.

For what it’s worth, my own thoughts on the topic align most closely with @parisrebl’s post above. While “community science” may be what is de-facto happening here, calling it that does de-emphasize an individual’s (well, my) contribution, which makes me feel less enthusiastic about it. Speaking only for myself of course.


Thank you for the clarification @schoenitz

I’ve thought about it the same way. “Citizen” being used to describe regular people who aren’t actively doing research for their job or as part of a university (i.e. they don’t have any pressing reason to research other than personal interest).

I also have some feelings about what @charlie mentions about the term differentiating amateurs from professionals. For me, it’s being uncomfortable including myself into the “citizen science” category because what I am is more like something between amateur and professional - I’m an undergraduate student doing research, I’m leading the Iowa Mycoflora Project, but that by no means suggest I have any more expertise than non college-educated people that have been in love with mycology longer than I’ve been alive.

But just like taxonomic classification, we can only fit things into our made up little categories so well. So I think giving this target demographic, regular ol’ people, a category to make them feel like they are really having an impact and contributing to science is an important goal, but we could do that better with more of an eye to include all skill levels, and not just shoehorn amateurs into the category where they are, in spirit, separate from the real scientists.

Citizen science feels to me like something you grow out of. Community science, however, feels more like an inclusionary term instead of an exclusionary one, where the emphasis would be on people of all skill levels coming together for a common goal.


Community sounds good to me also
Here recently I’ve been approached and offered
A contact to go in and GIS a area for certain types of cactus this is not the first time this has happened but what they are offering is very amazing too me

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I prefer ‘Citizen Science’ as a term over ‘Community Science’. For me the term ‘Citizen’, in this context, just means the average person devoid of any particular titles, regardless of whether you are an expert or not. It is a reminder that all of us, no matter our skills, income, ethnicity, political allegiance, etc are all citizens together.

To me it’s an inclusive and equalizing term.

“Community Science” seems more place based and somewhat isolationist or even exclusionary to me. Communities, especially in the modern setting, can be very large, but the word ‘community’ carries with it connotations of small size and an us-vs/and-them mentality (eg, this is “our” community), sometimes with a bit of that NIMBY mentality as well.

For a global type system, such as iNaturalist, I much prefer “Citizen Science” to “Community Science”

We are all citizens, but we have to be invited to join a community.

Of course, we could change it over the “Comrade Science”.


Funnily enough, I was thinking the same thing, Comrade lol.

I think this is heavily influenced by one’s situation. As an example, I am a naturalized US citizen, living in the US. I applied for and was granted that citizenship in advance of a certain presidential election. I have also lived as a foreigner in other countries, including a dictatorship in which I was not a citizen (just as well, as it turned out). To me, the word citizen is a very significant and meaningful term. It probably is to the many refugee migrants around the world. Granted most of them are probably not on iNat, nor doing much science either, but my point is that any/every term will have baggage, and we need to explore the ramifications (as we are here) of any term we choose, and include definitions or explanations.

And on that note, have indulged in a great deal of pontificating tonight, I shall retire :-)


Reminds me of a TV series called “Community”, and the attitudes regarding that form of Tertiary Education generally!

What about “Crowd-Sourced Science”?

or for that matter… “Open Science”

I’m ok with “Citizen Science”, and I’m also ok with “Community Science”… as long as I get to play too, they can call the game what ever they like!


Believe it or not I actually have no formal training in botany or ecology. I went to school for urban planning and fell in love with botany and kind of fell into what I do now. So by some definitions, I’m not technically a scientist…but I still do science…at least I think I do.


I like “open,” I was going to say “Free Science” As in, I do it for free and it is free to be used and it’s free and open to all participants. I don’t feel a particular need to deviate from “Citizen” but as someone else said, I’d be very interested to see data on how people broadly feel about the issue of citizen and whether that’s a U.S. centered issue because of our social climate or something larger. As someone who doesn’t really want to adopt the term “community” because I don’t do the activity with a community (mostly, and by preference) I don’t feel it adequately represents the solo nature of my contributions and evokes things like bioblitzes not the enjoyable everyday grind of delicious daily nature observation on my own.

The term citizen in my mind is independent of issues of borders and nationalism but if there is a major perception issue I’m unaware of I’m open to other terms that aren’t “community.”