Blog Post

Reflections on Language, Semantics, and Membership

Photos: Kids crossing log – Exmoor_29 | UC Davis Steel Bridge Team | CitSci2015 HackFest – Sarah Newman

Monthly Letter from Greg Newman (the CSA Board Chair) to all CSA members…
January 26, 2017 • Fort Collins, Colorado

As you know, we have plans to invite you and the entire citizen science community of practice across the globe to join as paid members of our growing association. While the majority of current benefits will still remain free, a paying membership base will support and provide new services and also help support strategic initiatives to advance our shared goals as a community passionate about advancing citizen science.

One of those initiatives, championed by our Integrity, Diversity, and Equity (IDE) Working Group, is to focus on the development of thoughtful and intentional use of language in our communication as a crucial component of building an equitable Citizen Science Association (CSA). By understanding how language can alienate and deter individuals, we can avoid using such language and be the welcoming organization we strive to be. This includes consideration of widely used terms that seem welcoming to some, but off-putting to others, such as “inclusion,” “empowerment,” and even the two words that are the foundation of the CSA, “citizen” and “science”. The term “citizen”, for example, takes on contextual meanings, regardless of the intention of those using the word. Similarly, unexamined use of the term “community” may result in misunderstandings or misrepresentation because it is both ubiquitous and imprecise.

Another ambiguous and imprecise term is the word member. Recently I read an article about the use of the word member with respect to its use in associations. I found the article thought-provoking. It articulates that a member of an association can mean many things to many people and asks us to reflect on a few core questions:

What does member mean to you?

Is the connotation of belonging most important?

Or is a member simply someone who buys a membership?

We would love to hear your voice on the notion of membership as we embark on this new journey with each of you. As a reminder, we are taking this year to listen and learn how changes in our membership structure  affect each of you and the Association as a whole. Leave your thoughts in the comments section below, start a thread on our discussion listserv, or send us an email at

Your Board Chair,

Greg Newman

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