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Journal article

Citizen science terminology matters: exploring key terms

This article provides an overview of key terms used in citizen science drawn from a broad range of practitioners.

Sarah West / Published on 9 June 2017

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M.V. Eitzel, et al. (2017). Citizen science terminology matters: exploring key terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. 2(1).

Much can be at stake depending on the choice of words used to describe citizen science, because terminology impacts how knowledge is developed. Citizen science is a quickly evolving field that is mobilizing people’s involvement in information development, social action and justice, and large-scale information gathering. Currently, a wide variety of terms and expressions are being used to refer to the concept of ‘citizen science’ and its practitioners. Here, the authors explore these terms to help provide guidance for the future growth of this field. They review the theoretical, historical, geopolitical, and disciplinary context of citizen science terminology; discussing what citizen science is and reviewing related terms; and providing a collection of potential terms and definitions for ‘citizen science’ and people participating in citizen science projects. This collection of terms was generated primarily from the broad knowledge base and on-the-ground experience of the authors, by recognizing the potential issues associated with various terms.

Whilst the authors’ examples may not be systematic or exhaustive, they are intended to be suggestive and invitational of future consideration. Based on their collective experience with citizen science projects, no single term is appropriate for all contexts. In a given citizen science project, they suggest that terms should be chosen carefully and their usage explained; direct communication with participants about how terminology affects them and what they would prefer to be called also should occur. Furthermore they recommend that a more systematic study of terminology trends in citizen science be conducted.

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SEI author

Sarah West

Centre Director

SEI York

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10.5334/cstp.96 Closed access
Topics and subtopics
Governance : Participation
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SEI York

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