Citizens take pictures of the sky that allow an app to calculate the particulate pollution. Photo: Jörg Farys / BUND

YES! topic 2018

Involving Citizens in Research: Improving Science and Society?

by Henry Sauermann, a researcher at ESMT Berlin.

Selected by Alfred Nobel Gesamtschule Potsdam and Oberstufenzentrum Lübben/Königs Wusterhausen

For the last century, scientific research has been done primarily by professional scientists such as professors in academia or scientists and engineers in large firms. More recently, science has opened up through the involvement of citizens in research, a phenomenon that is called “citizen science” or “crowd science”.

For example, hundreds of thousands of people have helped scientists on the platform Zooniverse with the coding of galaxy images produced by the Hubble Telescope, with the identification of animals on photographs taken in the Serengeti, or the discovery of new planets. Citizen Science is getting much attention because it may accomplish two critical goals. First, it can help with the production of more and better research because citizens provide valuable inputs such as labour and time, ideas, or knowledge about real-world problems.

Second, being involved in research may also benefit citizens by allowing them to learn about the research process, to get a better understanding of the value of data and evidence-based decision making, and to feel more connected to the research enterprise. Despite high hopes, however, it is not clear how well Citizen Science achieves these goals. The challenge is to understand potential barriers to the success of Citizen Science and to develop ideas on how these barriers can be overcome.

Current research and policy reports on these issues

Crowd science: The organisation of scientific research in open collaborative projects

Crowd science user contribution patterns and their implications

European Commission green paper on Citizen Science:


Henry Sauermann

Henry Sauermann is an associate professor of strategy (with tenure), who joined ESMT Berlin in May 2017. In new projects, Henry studies the dynamics of motives and incentives over time and explores non-traditional innovative institutions such as Crowd Science and Innovation Contests. Additional work is underway to gain deeper insights into scientific labour markets and to derive implications for junior scientists, firms, and policymakers.

Institution: ESMT – European School of Management and Technology

YES! Participations: 2018