Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms

Eitzel, M.V.; Cappadonna, Jessica L.; Santos-Lang, Chris; Duerr, Ruth Ellen; Virapongse, Arika; West, Sarah Elizabeth; Kyba, Christopher Conrad Maximillian; Bowser, Anne; Cooper, Caren Beth; Sforzi, Andrea; Metcalfe, Anya Nova; Harris, Edward S.; Thiel, Martin; Haklay, Mordechai; Ponciano, Lesandro; Roche, Joseph; Ceccaroni, Luigi; Shilling, Fraser Mark; Dörler, Daniel; Heigl, Florian; Kiessling, Tim; Davis, Brittany Y.; Jiang, Qijun


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, we explore these terms to help provide guidance for the future growth of this field. We do this by reviewing 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. While our examples may not be systematic or exhaustive, they are intended to be suggestive and invitational of future consideration. In our collective experience with citizen science projects, no single term is appropriate for all contexts. In a given citizen science project, we 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. We further recommend that a more systematic study of terminology trends in citizen science be conducted.