About Nesta

Nesta is an innovation foundation. For us, innovation means turning bold ideas into reality and changing lives for the better. We use our expertise, skills and funding in areas where there are big challenges facing society.

Citizen science is a collaborative approach to research. It involves the public in designing research, gathering data and acting on evidence to achieve individual behavioural change and broader societal impact. From monitoring plastic waste in marine environments to advancing women's health, it is already enabling people to make significant changes — but it has the potential to do so much more. 

Growing evidence shows its value towards meeting social and environmental policy targets, such as the European Green Deal and UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). However, citizen science is still chronically underused as a tool to support social innovation.

Tapping into the potential of citizen science

One way to set new paths for citizen science is by imagining different options for citizen science futures. To envision this, we mapped key trends that are likely to impact this over the next six years. We created four alternative scenarios that imagine how citizen science will be used to address environmental challenges. 

We expect two key trends to shape the worlds that the scenarios describe: 

  • institutionalised/bottom-up citizen science: the extent to which citizen science is recognised and regularly used by official authorities such as government departments, regulators and environment agencies. This trend also refers to the extent to which citizen science is driven by grassroots, community-led groups.
  • open/closed data: the extent to which the data generated by citizen science initiatives is openly available for reuse or held securely, with opportunities to sell access to the data.

Axes showing the scenarios on a spectrum of open to closed data and institutionalised to bottom-up science

Read the text-based description of this image

Why have we done this?

We want to catalyse more creative and imaginative discussions about how to support citizen science by:

  • exploring how citizen science can better address priority issues linked to the SDGs and Green Deal
  • considering how key actors (citizens, government, business, NGOs and others) might behave under different conditions or circumstances
  • identifying the key requirements of policies that could support citizen science.

This work is part of the IMPETUS accelerator programme. It aims to strengthen the ecosystem for citizen science across Europe and build pathways for citizen science to contribute to local and national sustainability targets.

How to use the scenarios

Each scenario includes a brief description of the challenge for citizen science, an example citizen science initiative and the opportunities and risks involved. 

We have included the scenarios below as a reference to use in your activities, such as:

  • holding a roundtable/seminar to explore the opportunities and risks for these alternative futures
  • running a backcasting workshop to explore the steps required to reach a particular desired future (see more below about getting involved)
  • using them as inspiration for designing new citizen science projects.

Get involved

We are using these scenarios and our exploration of AI trends as inputs for workshops with policy stakeholders to identify suitable policy interventions and stimulate discussions about the future of citizen science. These workshops will take place over the next 12 months.  

If you are interested in following up on any of the ideas presented here, or how we got to them, please get in touch at [email protected].