Coming to Terms: Exploring language and practices

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Post by Jennifer Shirk, Executive Director, Citizen Science Association

Throughout 2022, CSA has been leading a connected conversation about the wide array of traditions, practices, and terms that people in this field apply to their work, a far richer range of options than the name of this Association reflects.

Exploring this field in terms that go beyond community science and citizen science can open up a broader set of research and engagement options for your work.

Screenshot of a presentation slide from the platform Mentimeter, showing a colorful word cloud of responses to the question: Enter three words that you think might describe the heart of this work. The largest response, in the center, is the word science, followed closely by the words collaboration, public, participatory, community, connection, collaborative, and data. The much larger range of words includes many things, including the phrases knowledge generation, ecoliteracy, belonging, place, reciprocity, inclusive, exploration, and stop centering academia.
Responses from a C*Sci22 audience participation session on terminologies and practices in this field.

Whether you are new to this conversation or you want to explore it more deeply, this community is full of thoughtful people who have explored and shared thoughts on different terms and how to better understand both their implications and their related practices. Their work can introduce you to the thinkers and traditions they themselves have drawn on or are exploring – invitations for you to learn more.

Below is a short, starter list that can help each of us deepen and inform our choices about terms and practices, no matter where we are in this exploration. We invite you to engage with these ideas out of a sense of curiosity and appreciation for the opportunity to learn from others, even if their perspectives may differ from your own.

And, if you’re a CSA member (learn more here), you can engage directly with many of these individuals (and many of their co-authors – too many to list!) as part of a more active conversation. We invite you to be part of where this thinking leads us as an Association into 2023 and beyond.


Just getting started? Try these:

A 3 minute blog by Muki Haklay asking, “What are the boundaries of citizen science?” This post summarizes and links to a longer article, “Contours of citizen science: a vignette study.”

A 2 minute video of Miguel Ordeñana sharing why he and his colleagues at the LA County Museum of Natural History use the term – and the intentions – of community science.

M.V. Eitzel and many others published in CSA’s Journal about ways that, “Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms.”  

Want to explore terms and traditions across disciplines?

Here’s an overview of terms and practices related to, “Participatory Research for Environmental Justice: A Critical Interpretive Synthesis.”

Linda Silka wrote about the problem of, “‘Silos’ in the Democratization of Science,” and the ways we might benefit from learning about and across different practices.

Interested in how terms might relate to project design choices?

Along with a team of many colleagues, I had a chance to look at some of the many terms and practices described in ecological and conservation work to consider, “Public Participation in Scientific Research: A Framework for Deliberate Design” (as an aside, the term PPSR – and its vision – is what launched this Association).

Kris Stepenuck invites some tough reflection on the practices scientists need to lead with and champion if they are to overcome polarizing dimensions in science, in article provocatively called, “Is Citizen Science Dead?

Considering changing the term you use? 

Caren Cooper and many others others have published on, “Inclusion in citizen science: the conundrum of rebranding.” 

Raj Pandya offers some principles and questions about practices to help draw some distinctions via a blog and a quiz entitled, “What is Community Science?

Want to understand the history, and potential future, of some terms?

Shannon Dosemagen has helped the field in the process of, “Exploring the Roots: the evolution of civic and community science.”  

Rick Bonney dissects his choice – and the limitations – of the term citizen science in the last section of the article, “Expanding the Impact of Citizen Science.” 


Again, this is just a starter list. Want to add to it? Share your suggestions of additional resources with us on Twitter or on LinkedIn.

Posted on: December 30, 2022  |  Category: Blog, CSA Blog, news, News