Working towards inclusion and diversity in the Citizen Science Association

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Diversity and inclusion are prominent topics across fields and are highly relevant to the Citizen Science Association. All the questions about diversity that you’ve been asking? I have them too, so I’m helping to kick off a series of blogs on this theme.

I’m the Executive Director of Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab), a nonprofit organization that supports a global community of people interested in collaborating to create low cost, Do-it-Yourself (DIY) style tools for environmental health monitoring. The community is from diverse backgrounds and fields — we’re social and natural scientists, technologists, designers, educators and activists.

Although our work closely aligns with the spirit of citizen science and working with people to understand, explore and engage with the communities they care about, we’ve never considered ourselves a straightforward citizen science organization. The two terms that we’ve used progressively to describe ourselves are civic science (Fortun and Fortun, 2005) and community science. Over the years, as we’ve shifted, grown and learned from each other, I’ve continued to examine how Public Lab and other community and civic science groups fit within the frameworks of evaluation, education and critical public inquiry created by citizen science researchers, and how we can contribute to help expand ideas about models of engagement, scientific access, and open, transparent means of cooperative and collaborative research.

I formed my career as a professional in the environmental movement, whether working as a freshwater educator, monitoring invasive species or on the BP oil disaster. In the amount of time I’ve been doing this work, it’s exciting to see how fields are changing and benefiting from one another. Since starting Public Lab almost five years ago, I’ve watched openness, transparency and access come to the forefront as makers, developers, and designers join forces with scientists and environmental health advocates. This combination of forces is working  to reimagine, through high, low and no tech projects, what it means to take science out of the lab and into the field. We’re finding more and more people that are collaborating to design and create projects around specific topics that concern them, working jointly to frame conversations about our communities in a new context and allow people to meaningfully participate and contribute in the decision making process.

Public Lab may be an outlier within the Citizen Science Association (CSA) membership, with our focus on cooperatively developing low cost, DIY methods for addressing community environmental health concerns.  Even so, I’ve been on the CSA web and communications working group since 2012 and I’m excited to think through how groups like Public Lab can interface with CSA.

Many of us are bending previous definitions of citizen science and are identifying unique issues and concepts in how our work relates to the larger field. To begin addressing this question about inclusion and diversity of project types, the CSA is launching a series of blogs leading up to a session at the February 2015 meeting that explores the different faces of citizen/civic/community science. As more and more projects pop-up, there is no better time than now to think about diversity within this field and how we can jointly broaden the conversation about what constitutes “citizen science.”

So if you consider yourself an extreme citizen scientist (Haklay, 2012), an upscience practitioner (Grey, 2014), a citizen cyber-scientist (Newman, 2014), a civic science or community based monitoring organization, an activist, artist, designer, developer, a maker or an open data enthusiast, I’d like to invite you to contribute a forward thinking post to a series of blogs, reflecting on how you envision your organization or work interacting with the larger membership of CSA. To start with, we’re looking to highlight one post per week leading up to CitSci2015. If you’re interested in contributing, please email And if you’re attending CitSci2015, there’s the chance to join this conversation in person, during a session entitled, “Creating a Welcoming, Inclusive, Diverse and Just Association.”


Fortun, K. and Fortun, M. 2005. Scientific Imaginaries and Ethical Plateaus in Contemporary U.S. Toxicology. In American Anthropologist, vol. 107, issue 1, pp. 43-54. [Abstract]

Grey, F. 2014. Upscience: Inverting the pyramid of scientific inquiry. On Billion Brain Blog:

Haklay, M. 2012. Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic Information – overview and typology of participation. In Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge: Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice. Eds. Elwood, S. and Goodchild, M.F. Berlin: Springer, pp. 105-122. [Online]

Newman, G. 2014. Citizen CyberScience ─ New Directions and Opportunities for Human Computation. In Human Computation Issue 1, Volume 2. In Press.

Posted on: December 18, 2014  |  Category: CitSci2015, Conference, MyCitSci
Tags: diversity, inclusion