Investing in citizen science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection

Duncan C. McKinley, Abraham J. Miller-Rushing, Heidi L. Ballard, Rick Bonney, Hutch Brown, Daniel M. Evans, Rebecca A. French, Julia K. Parrish, Tina B. Phillips, Sean F. Ryan, Lea A. Shanley, Jennifer L. Shirk, Kristine F. Stepenuck, Jake F. Weltzin, Andrea Wiggins, Owen D. Boyle, Russell D. Briggs, Stuart F. Chapin, David A. Hewitt, Peter W. PreussMichael A. Soukup

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Citizen science has made substantive contributions to science for hundreds of years. More recently, it has contributed to many articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and has influenced natural resource management and environmental protection decisions and policies across the nation. Over the last 10 years, citizen science—participation by the public in a scientific project—has seen explosive growth in the United States and many other countries, particularly in ecology, the environmental sciences, and related fields of inquiry. The goal of this report is to help government agencies and other organizations involved in natural resource management, environmental protection, and policymaking related to both to make informed decisions about investing in citizen science. In this report, we explore the current use of citizen science in natural resource and environmental science and decisionmaking in the United States and describe the investments organizations might make to benefit from citizen science. We find that: • Many people are interested in participating in citizen science. • Citizen science already contributes to natural resource and environmental science, natural resource management, and environmental protection and policymaking. • Citizen science is a rigorous process of scientific discovery, indistinguishable from conventional science apart from the participation of volunteers, and should be treated as such in its design, implementation, and evaluation. When properly designed and used, citizen science can help an organization meet its needs for sound science. • Citizen science can contribute to natural resource and environmental organizations’ goals for public input and engagement. • Many types of projects can benefit from citizen science. When planning to utilize citizen science, organizations need to match their needs and goals for science and public input and engagement to the strengths of particular citizen science projects and the ways in which the public can participate. Depending on the organization’s needs and goals, citizen science can efficiently generate high-quality data or help solve problems while fostering public input and engagement. • Organizational leadership is needed to provide realistic expectations for citizen science, including its limitations as well as its benefits. Leadership is also sometimes needed to lessen administrative hurdles and to create a safe space for learning from project inefficiencies and failures. Citizen science requires strategic investments. Beyond project-specific investments, organizations should consider developing or modifying policies and technologies designed to facilitate the field of citizen science as a whole.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-27
Number of pages27
JournalIssues in Ecology
Issue number19
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology
  • Pollution


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