A Democratic Process Framework for Enhancing Public Engagement in Citizen Science

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Wing Cheung, University of California, Irvine, Irvine, CA
Despite claims of citizen science’s potential to increase participants’ understanding of science and increase public support for research, the mechanisms in which citizen science achieves these objectives have not been sufficiently documented or assessed. This study surveys two citizen science projects within the field of Ecology that are funded by the National Science Foundation: The Birdhouse Network (Nestwatch) and Project Budburst. These projects are assessed on the basis of the four democratic process criteria: (1) involvement of non-experts, (2) collective decision-making, (3) deliberation between experts and non-experts, and (4) participation on the basis of equality. By comparing the citizen science project process to this democratic public policy process, the study draws upon the stages model to develop a framework for increasing public engagement and deliberation in various stages of a citizen science project. Ultimately, the study seeks to explain ways in which the proposed framework can maximize the normative, substantive, and instrumental benefits of citizen science through increased public deliberation. Specifically, the study addresses how the proposed framework can (1) enable citizens to influence research that is partly supported with public funds and efforts, (2) enhance quality of research findings by integrating contextual knowledge, and (3) result in scientific outputs that are more legitimate and relevant to the public.