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Cornell Lab of Ornithology

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What is Citizen Science and PPSR?

The growing field of public participation in scientific research (PPSR) includes citizen science, volunteer monitoring, and other forms of organized research in which members of the public engage in the process of scientific investigations:  asking questions, collecting data, and/or interpreting results.

PPSR collaborations yield new knowledge by providing access to more and different observations and data than traditional science research. PPSR often focuses on a question or issue that requires data to be gathered or processed over long periods of time and/or wide geographic areas. Although projects vary in the degree of collaboration between science researchers and volunteers, in most projects volunteers receive some

boy with nestbox
degree of training in project procedures to ensure consistency in data collection and accuracy in data analysis. Current projects cover a breadth of scientific content ranging from aquatic invasive species to native bees, from pollen to stardust, and from urban birds to arctic glaciers. Projects may engage a handful of participants in a small watershed or many thousands of observers located across several continents.


PPSR projects have goals for science—for example, to document changes in populations of plants or animals or variations in the quality of air or water—and/or goals for learning, for instance, to improve participant understanding of scientific content or capacity for addressing scientific issues. Many projects also have goals for actions based on resulting scientific outcomes and/or learning. Over the past few years several models for PPSR have been developed to meet varied goals. All models share the same basic strategy, however, in which volunteers collect and share data that can be analyzed by scientists, project participants, or both.

Flickr photo by anikarenina   PPSR projects have achieved notable outcomes for both science and education. In recent years over one hundred articles have been published, in peer-reviewed scientific literature, that analyze and draw significant conclusions from volunteer-collected data. Many articles and book chapters describing learning outcomes for
participants also have been published. Numerous publications document action outcomes as well, and offer strategies for linking research findings with management and decision making in different contexts.


Designing PPSR projects to achieve specific goals is not a simple process. Ensuring that projects will be meaningful to all participants, that project data will be collected accurately, that data will be analyzed with rigor, and that project results will be communicated to participants and to the greater scientific community all take careful planning and “intentional design.”


Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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