Citizen science projects can engage with policy processes in several ways and can thus generate different forms of policy impact. Generally speaking, policy impact occurs when decision-makers employ the data, knowledge and results from a citizen science project as the basis for their policies, political decisions and activities.
Impact on policy processes is achieved through the mobilization of knowledge and information for policy making. Citizen science projects collect large amounts of data, including tapping into distributed knowledge domains and previously untapped and local or experiential knowledge. This data provides policymakers and politicians with an evidence base to address (new) problems. Access to citizen science generated data is often considered cost-efficient. Furthermore, governments often do not have the type and extent of data provided through citizen science.
Citizen science projects can exert influence throughout the whole policy cycle:
- Policy formation (new or changed policies): Impact on policy formation means that the data from the citizen science project were effectively used for new or changes to existing policies (e.g. regulatory, management or conservation actions). For example, as a result of a citizen science project that involved the recreational fishing community in Puget Sounds, Washington State, USA, federal managers changed regulation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
- Agenda setting (new policy discourses and problem definitions): Citizen science projects can also contribute to the problem definition and agenda setting stage of the policy cycle by triggering new policy discourses and concerns regardless of the policy goals at which they were initially directed. In the past, citizen science has supported the identification of new environmental problems, such as farmland bird decline, and has promoted issues such as pesticide use and intensive farming practices. In the “Botellon no me deja dormir” project in Barcelona, local residents were able to demonstrate how noise pollution was not a perception-, but a real problem. This helped to objectivize the level of noise tolerance which was previously considered to be subjective.
- Policy implementation and enforcement: Citizen science can support policy implementation and enforcement, for example by reporting breaches to relevant authorities, raising awareness and civic mobilization for action.
- Monitoring and evaluation of policy implementation: Citizen science projects can contribute to the monitoring and evaluation of policies. It can especially address the data limitations of traditional monitoring programs, and thus enable the evaluation of the impacts of policy decisions. Several citizen science monitoring programs have been instrumental in informing the designation of protected areas (e.g. eBird, Seasearch). The Common Farmland Bird Index is an example of recognized citizen science indicators for biodiversity monitoring in Europe, which is used to assess the impacts of the Rural Development Plans.
The toolkit on citizen sensing by the Making Sense project includes a section on ‘action’, which outlines tools for action that can bring about policy change.
GUIDELINES & RECOMMENDATIONS
Guidelines to achieve policy impact from citizen science projects
How can you ensure that the data, knowledge, and results of your citizen science project are taken up by policy makers? Here we outline four important steps.
- Aligning citizen science with policy priorities, agendas and processes
Influencing policy processes requires linking the citizen science project to existing policy agendas and processes. This means first, to understand the policy agenda, and its associated activities. Linking and communicating how the project relates to ongoing or emerging policy debates and priorities can attract the attention of policy makers. In this step it helps if the citizen science community is already aware of what policy makers find useful.
- Clearly defining roles and responsibilities in collaborations between policy makers and citizen science
The interests, needs and work procedures of policy makers, citizen scientists and researchers are not always compatible. It is therefore important that the aims and expectations, as well as roles and responsibilities in policy and citizen science collaborations are clearly, and jointly established. These roles, aims, and expectations are different for every collaboration, so it is important to define them. For example, the role of public organizations can range from being clients paying a fee for the service, to co-creating and implementing solutions, to providing institutional support and offering mentorship.
- Continuous collaboration and engagement
Citizen science activities should link to policy-making processes in an ongoing way, for example by involving policy makers and civil servants in the citizen science project design. Ideally, policymakers and the citizen science community would iteratively and jointly discuss and communicate policy needs for data and knowledge and the opportunities that citizen science represents. Collaborations can be diverse, including lasting and formal partnerships but also more informal collaborations and engagement activities. Especially when working on specific policy issues such as environmental monitoring, policy makers can seek strategic partnerships with citizen science organizations. Face-to-face events are important for providing information and spaces for interaction, increasing awareness about the relevance of citizen science data, and fostering exchange and networking between decision-makers, project leaders and practitioners.
- Communicating and disseminating knowledge and results
As a basic condition, policymakers and public servants need to be aware of citizen science, the opportunities it offers to help them achieve their policy priorities and goals, as well as how they can engage with citizen science. Benefits, needs, best practices etc. of citizen science for policy development need to be clearly and widely communicated. The combination of publications (e.g. policy briefs, guidelines), advocacy work, and face-to-face activities (e.g. stakeholder roundtables, discovery trips) can help introduce policy makers to the practices of citizen science. These documents and activities can help them see the relevance of these approaches and provide resources to convince their colleagues. Importantly, the terminology used may need to be adjusted to describe citizen science in a way that is relevant to policymakers.
NoiseMaps has had substantial political impact in terms of citizen empowerment, and enlarging political support for citizen science. The community in Raval, Barcelona, had problems with sound pollution. NoiseMaps empowered these citizens with skills such as open technology and know-how, in order to be able to collaborate with the city council. The relationship between the community and the city council was contentious, but the project was able to build bridges between them and change the attitude of both parties to one of collaboration.
By giving these citizens an evidence-based voice, they were able to contribute to policy agenda setting – reframing the problem of noise pollution. Through their work, NoiseMaps also increased general political support for citizen science. The city council has given positive feedback, and the project even became one of the official citizen science projects in the Citizen Science office of Barcelona. The project is a success story that spreads via public administration, and thus paves the way for better integration between citizen science and policy.
This project is a good example of citizen science impact on the policy processes. It involved almost 2000 residents in measuring air quality across the city of Antwerp, Belgium. Antwerp has high levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, owing to the extensive and busy road systems that span the city – a cause for concern among local residents. Participants mounted an air quality measurement device outside of their street-side window to measure Nitrogen Dioxide levels. The project drew national media attention that increased its political impact beyond project participants. Politicians supporting more sustainable modes of transportation publicly endorsed the project, and the data and scientific results have been considered in local policy decisions. In addition to receiving valuable data, the organisers also documented changes in participants’ awareness of pollution problems and in attitudes towards public policies and infrastructure projects. Moreover, participants reported plans to change their own behaviours, including using cars less frequently and approaching government officials about air quality problems.