Creating a Citizen Science Project

Creating a Citizen Science Project
by Trinity College Dublin

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you should be able to:

  • Identify different types of citizen science projects and methodology
  • Suggest and structure a new citizen science project
  • Deal with all different aspects of a new project: in particular data gathering and ethical issues, software and data presentation, data and metadata issues, social engagement and recruitment

Creating projects to achieve social and scientific objectives requires deliberate design that is attentive to diverse interests, including why and how members of the public would even want to be involved.

According to the Citizen Science toolkit, the practical steps in creating a Citizen Science project are:

  • Scope your problem
  • Design a project
  • Build a community
  • Manage your data
  • Sustain and improve

The sections that follow will expand upon each of these stages in the context of an arts and humanities-focussed citizen science project.


What kind of project?

There is a wide variety of existing Citizen Science projects that you could join, as well as various platforms that can support and host your project development. From SciStarter to Zooniverse, over a thousand Citizen Science projects have been developed and documented worldwide on all kinds of topics. Browsing these platforms can help or inspire you on new topics and research questions that have not been addressed yet. All this activity can also act as source of knowledge, of guidelines and best practices on how new projects can be best designed to be successful.


According to the literature, the different types of Citizen Science projects are mainly defined by the degree of public participation. This analysis leads to five project models:

  • Contractual projects, where communities ask professional researchers to conduct a specific scientific investigation and report on the results;
  • Contributory projects, which are generally designed by scientists and for which members of the public primarily contribute data;
  • Collaborative projects, which are generally designed by scientists and for which members of the public contribute data but also help to refine project design, analyse data, and/or disseminate findings;
  • Co-Created projects, which are designed by scientists and members of the public working together and for which at least some of the public participants are actively involved in most or all aspects of the research process; and
  • Collegial contributions, where non-credentialed individuals conduct research independently with varying degrees of expected recognition by institutionalised science and/or professionals.

To clarify the different role of public participation in these project types, you can refer to this table (adapted from from Shirk et al.)  matching specific tasks with project types where X = public included in task and (X) = public sometimes involved in the task.


Aspects of scientific research/monitoring process: Contractual Projects Contributory Projects: Collaborative Projects: Co-Created Projects: Collegial Projects
Choose or define question(s) for study X X X
Gather information and resources (X) X X
Develop explanations (hypotheses) X X
Design data collection methodologies (X) X X
Collect samples and/or record data X X X X
Analyse samples X X X
Analyse data (X) X X X
Interpret data and draw conclusions (X) (X) X X
Disseminate conclusions/translate results into action (X) (X) (X) X X
Discuss results and ask new questions X X X


However, above and beyond this participation-orientated typology for defining Citizen Science project types, newer research has attempted to define types of Citizen Science projects by combining both primary goal orientation and degree of virtuality.  As the field progresses and further develops, research to analyse and document this field will continue to expand into investigating new approaches.  Our still emerging understanding need not keep you from engaging in citizen science, however, though being aware of new directions for research and infrastructure development to support public engagement in scientific research will help you to take early advantage of relevant new tools and insights.