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Wageningen University

Transformative Citizen Science for Sustainability

Wageningen University via edX


Citizens & scientists join forces

Citizen science has become an essential approach to address urgent sustainability challenges. It is critical that science and society work together. Science becomes more relevant as scientists and citizens upscale data collection, co-create knowledge and collectively act on outcomes.

" Transformative citizen science goes a step further. It is not just about knowing and 'doing things better' but also about 'doing better things' altogether."

For example, the BigO project ‘Big data against childhood Obesity‘ massively increased data collection, reaching out to over twenty thousand children from different countries to contribute over 107.000 pictures and other data on the impact of lifestyle and living conditions on health and well-being. It led to more awareness of schools on promotion of healthy behaviours across different income groups, and sparked changes on public health policy.

In this course you will explore several such successful examples of citizen science, including projects on:

  • water and air quality
  • disease
  • climate change and
  • loss of green spaces and biodiversity

Transforming society together

Well-designed citizen science enables citizens to collect, interpret and share data. Transformative citizen science goes a step further. It allows citizens to contribute to change on issues that matter to them. It is a process that challenges our assumptions and values, to co-create innovative solutions that can tackle sustainability challenges. It is not just about knowing and doing things better but also about doing better things all together

Your project and WUR's Citizen Science Hub

Citizen science can be used in a range of contexts, involving multiple stakeholders representing the world of civic society, governance and education. In this course you will develop a deep understanding of CS, the diverse ways of using it in practice, and the principles that make it work.

As course participant you gain access to a community of practice established by the Wageningen University & Research’s Citizen Science Hub, in which practitioners engage and support the development of new projects from across the globe.

Having this expertise will help you in gaining a position in governmental and non-governmental organisations as well as in institutions of higher education who are exploring ways to develop and utilize CS in an ambition to contribute to the transformation of the society at large. In other words, organisations and institutions that go beyond self-gain, with an intrinsic drive to help communities in becoming more sustainable, including the well-being of the collective and the planet.

For Whom

Are you:

  • a policy maker interested in developing broadly supported and informed solutions to sustainability issues?
  • a concerned citizen or professional working in an NGO or activist organization wishing to support citizens in working towards healthier, greener and more sustainable communities?
  • or an academic wishing to have more societal impact with your research by working more closely with citizens?

This course will help you take the next steps in making citizen science work for you.


MODULE 1: Citizen Science Basics

Increasingly, non-scientists are contributing to the scientific process in a myriad of CS initiatives worldwide. Given the urgency of the sustainability challenges of our time, opening up the scientific process to non-scientists is a powerful way to address these wicked problems. In this module you will learn the basic definitions and terms to understand different CS practices. You will know about setting goals and research questions to be tackled by a CS endeavour, how to identify who is directly and indirectly involved, and what ethical concerns to bear in mind when developing and deploying a CS project.

MODULE 2: Project strategy and design

This module will help you to decide on your overall project strategy and design. Given the CS goal, you learn how to define the appropriate level of engagement of scientists, citizens , policy makers and other stakeholders in different phases of the CS project, and find a gamut of possible communication tools. You will also learn how to define a strategy for the data collection, the recruitment plan, and the mobilization of citizen scientists in the project.

MODULE 3: Methods and tools

In this module, you will learn about the technical part of CS, including the requirements for platforms and methods for collecting data of good quality. This module helps you to oversee the data flow and specific expertise that you may need to handle and interpret collected data. Lastly, it will also help you to identify data privacy issues. These topics will be illustrated by many examples of existing CS projects.

MODULE 4: Communication and Impact
In this module we focus on practices of monitoring, evaluation, and communication linked to the envisaged impact of the CS project. How to mobilize knowledge and expertise from citizen scientists, engage them in action but also ensure their needs are met? How to connect with policy makers and their political agenda? And what about mass - and social media, informing the wider public to put issues on the societal agenda or create trust and political support? What is the right content, language, format and timing of your message? We also reflect in this module on ethical issues involved in these practices.

Transversely to the theoretical modules 1, 2, 3 and 4 this course also contemplates the practical application of the acquired knowledge in a continued practical module called Transformative Citizen Science Project. In this continued module you will have the opportunity to choose a sustainable challenge of your interest and context to practice the tools and skills acquired to create and implement a citizen science project.

Taught by

Arjen Wals, Daniele Tubino de Souza, Arnold van Vliet, Annemarie van Paassen, Monica Mars, Verina Ingram and Eira Carballo Cárdenas


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