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Citizen Science

Illustration of three people with hard hats and reflective vests stand on an urban sidewalk between two trees and surrounded by residential buildings.
Best Practices for Managing Field Crews

Training and managing volunteers and the data they collect requires careful planning and the dedication of a supervisor for the field season. Watch this video for some best practices. Note: Please be sure to follow all COVID19 safety guidelines. 

 

Two smiling young women are planting tree seedlings in bins of dirt.
2020 Awardees of the Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program

This year's program awarded 11 projects that will have citizen scientists exploring the environmental impacts of fire and invasive species, river monitoring and mapping, understanding traditional use of wood products, and using cameras and web-based systems for wildlife monitoring. 
 


Citizen Science is Sound Science Provided by You

Citizen science is when the public takes part in the scientific process, including forming research questions, collecting, analyzing, and making conclusions about data, or developing new technologies and applications. Anyone can be a citizen scientist; the best part about citizen science is that it can take place anywhere, whether it's in our national forests and grasslands or your own backyard!


  • Projects

    Find projects by state and theme. Learn what tasks are involved and how to join a project near you.

  • Stories

    Read about the science behind Forest Service projects and the experiences of volunteers.

  • Toolkit

    Learn how to plan a project of your own with our Project Planning Guide and other resources.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Citizen Science is defined by the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2017 (5 U.S. Code § 3724) as a form of open collaboration in which individuals or organizations participate voluntarily in the scientific process in various ways, including:

  • enabling the formulation of research questions;
  • creating and refining project design;
  • conducting scientific experiments;
  • collecting and analyzing data;
  • interpreting the results of data;
  • developing technologies and applications;
  • making discoveries; and
  • solving problems.

Crowdsourcing means a method to obtain needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting voluntary contributions from a group of individuals or organizations, especially from an online community. Crowdsourcing provides opportunities for large-scale information collection and rapid problem-solving.

Related terms are also described here.

The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2017 authorizes each federal agency, or multiple federal agencies working cooperatively, to use crowdsourcing and citizen science approaches to conduct activities designed to advance the agency's mission or the joint mission of the group of agencies.

Citizen science is an opportunity to get involved in something you're interested in — whether it’s sharing your observation of butterflies for monarch research or uncovering the mysteries of the past through archaeological digs, volunteering on a local project is a great way to increase your knowledge and share your perspective. Citizen science collaborations can build a better understanding between the community, scientists, and decision-makers about social aspects in environmental issues. It's also a great way to spend time with family and friends!

Citizen science brings together two important Forest Service values — using sound science to guide our management and decision making, and connecting our work to the public that we serve. We are engaged in a wide variety of citizen science projects, including studies of butterflies, dragonflies, watershed health and of course, trees! Citizen science offers a great opportunity to work side-by-side with communities to increase education and interest in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), and to encourage the next generation of environmental stewards. Volunteers help us fulfill our mission by collecting data we couldn’t collect on our own, and by bringing new and innovative ideas to resource management.

Citizen science allows community members with more in-depth knowledge of an area to guide scientists and managers who may not be as familiar. Volunteers can also provide larger-scale data collection over a longer period of time than conventional science, and with more people on the lookout, changes in the environment are more likely to be spotted.

Citizen science projects can create a richer dialog between the public, Forest Service, and environmental organizations. Volunteers can learn from a project's outcomes and in turn, those scientists and organizations receive input from volunteers, providing them with a better understanding of public priorities and social contexts. Below are some public engagement benefits of citizen science.

  • Science Literacy — Citizen science can improve science literacy and build expertise by helping volunteers better access and understand scientific information, even steering some toward science or management careers. Professional scientists are finding that some citizen science volunteers, particularly young adults, show enthusiasm and aptitude for scientific research and could diversify and increase the candidates available for jobs in conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental protection.
  • Shared Knowledge — Citizen scientists can spread knowledge among their friends, family, and colleagues by sharing their citizen science activities and discussing the issues they care about through a wide range of social networks. The information they impart and the example they set can motivate others to get involved or to change their behavior. People are more likely to change their behavior in response to examples set by their friends and neighbors than in response to public information campaigns.
  • Increased Involvement — Citizen Science can engage people in decision-making processes by increasing firsthand understanding of conservation or environmental issues, and encouraging participants to become more responsive to the issues they care about. Participants maybe more likely to appear at public meetings and to provide constructive comments on proposed actions once they have engaged in a citizen science effort.

For more information, see C. McKinley, Duncan, et al., 2016, Citizen science can improve conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental protection.

When citizen science projects are well-designed, the quality of data can match that of conventional research projects. Data integrity in citizen science can be achieved the same way as any other scientific endeavor — through training, standardized sampling procedures, collecting duplicate samples, and quality controls.

Below are links that can help you find a project:

  • Forest Service Projects — Find and filter citizen science projects by subject area. Includes highlights of past projects and ongoing projects that are currently recruiting volunteers.

  • SciStarter — Find, join, and contribute to science through recreational activities and citizen science research projects. This comprehensive, searchable database of citizen science projects includes Federal, non-governmental organizations, private groups and more.

  • Volunteer websites — For general volunteer stewardship opportunities, like trail maintenance and invasive species removal, visit the Volunteers page and Volunteers.gov.

Given the collaborative nature of citizen science, partnerships are often key to citizen science efforts. Partners in citizen science include schools and teachers, local and national non-profit groups, universities, state and local government, and other federal agencies. Partners contribute to Forest Service citizen science projects in different ways including helping to form research questions and designing protocols, recruiting, training, and managing volunteers, collecting and analyzing data, and much more.

  • How to Work with Us — The Partnerships 101 page of the Forest Service website provides “How to” information for any stage of collaboration starting with understanding the Forest Service, legal requirements, funding, and other details. To learn more about our Volunteers program, visit the Volunteers homepage.
  • Land Use Permits — If your project takes place on National Forest System land, check with the local national forest or grassland office to see if there are any land use permits and permissions you must obtain before starting your citizen science project. Permit requirements vary by local unit.
  • Who to Contact — If you are interested in starting a partnership, see list of partnership contacts. If you are interested in coordinating a volunteer opportunity, see list of volunteer coordinators. To find contact information for the specific national forest or grassland where you are interested in working, visit the Forest Service homepage and select the location from the drop-down, once you're on their website look for the ‘Contact Information’ located on the bottom left of the page. The local district office will also likely connect you with the resource specialist (i.e. District Wildlife Biologist, Forest Botanist) who is the local Forest Service expert.
  • To find a list of Forest Service Projects — Visit our Projects page and the Federal Catalog of citizen science projects where you can search by Agency sponsor. You can also check Volunteers.gov.

  • FSCCSJoin the Forest Service Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Community of Practice (FSCCS), these monthly webinars are open to all audiences. The goal of the FSCCS is to create a virtual meeting space where participants can network, learn from colleagues and partners, connect to resources and information, and be inspired to develop new projects or expand their current crowdsourcing and citizen science projects. We hope that these webinars will help you to learn more about the Forest Service and the programs and projects that we support. View past webinars. Forest Service staff - visit the FSCCS internal site. Do you have a great citizen science project that we should highlight? Let us know! Send an email to FSCCS@fs.fed.us.
  • CitSci Fund — Apply for the Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program (CitSci Fund). The CitSci Fund is a collaborative approach to resource management – each project will have one USFS Project Lead and one Partner Project Lead, and demonstrate how volunteers are meaningfully involved. Projects that support a Forest Service information need can request up to $25,000 in funds. Participants will be part of a Learning Journey Cohort that will learn and share ideas together. This is a pilot program in 2017/2018 that directly supports National Priority #3: Promoting shared stewardship by increasing partnerships and volunteerism.
  • Our Mailing List — Receive our Citizen Science Newsletter where we share information about Agency programs and related crowdsourcing and citizen science information: www.eepurl.com/c5H8db. Find out about upcoming webinars, funding opportunities and updates about this growing community of practice.

  • Natural Inquirer: Citizen Science (link is external) — Download the Natural Inquirer, a free science journal is written for middle and high school students, Natural Inquirer follows the same format as a scientific article to help kids learn and love science. It includes examples of projects to get involved in and classroom activities.
  • My Public Lands Junior Ranger: Citizen Scientists at Work! (link is external) — This activity book created by the Bureau of Land Management is perfect to take with you when visiting your public lands. Read about people who are volunteering as citizen scientists to help the BLM manage and protect public lands. Learn about cool citizen science projects that you and your family can do-- like observing the night sky, creating monarch habitat, surveying stream life, and photographing birds’ nests.
  • Girl Scouts - Think Like a Citizen Scientists Journey (link is external) — The Girl Scouts have launched a small list of projects on the SciStarter Journey Dashboard. After you and your troop select one of the projects, you will enter data, together, online. After the first citizen science project is completed as a troop, they can move on to Take Action and document their Take Action projects on SciStarter, too. Then, all girls will be free to discover, find, and participate in all types of citizen science projects with their families.
  • Celebrating Wildflowers — This Forest Service page has information and materials for forest visitors and educators about wildflowers including excellent teacher guides and citizen science projects for the monarch butterfly.
  • PLUM Landing (link is external) — PLUM is a USFS partnership with WGBH, the primary provider of PBS Kids programming for Public Television provides science activities designed for children ages 6-9 (and their families), and most are available in both English and Spanish. There are apps and videos, and activities for families, after school programs, clubs, and summer camps.
  • FSNatureLive (link is external) — FSNatureLive brings nature learning to you through our series of webcasts, webinars, and online education resources. No matter where you are in the world, visit our LIVE programs for exciting, on-site learning about bats, butterflies, climate change, wetlands, and more! Each topic area contains teacher resources including related citizen science projects that.

  • Forest Service NatureWatch - Learn about cool places to watch nature, access teaching materials, and find apps that will enhance your outdoor experience. You'll also find the Freshwater Snorkeling Toolkit and Curriculum.

 

https://www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/citizen-science