Blog Post

Reintroducing this Association: Advancing Participatory Sciences

The Citizen Science Association launched a global movement. To expand and grow that movement, we are now the Association for Advancing Participatory Sciences. 

The Citizen Science Association is now the Association for Advancing the Participatory Science see our new logo

For more than ten years, this Association has engaged practitioners from many related traditions, including crowdsourced science, volunteer monitoring, amateur astronomy, community-based research, citizen science, and more. Our new name reflects that broad scope, and helps reveal and engage the rich landscape of practices across the many participatory sciences.

What are the Participatory Sciences?

Participatory sciences combine the strengths of scientific inquiry with the knowledge, insights, and observations of members of the public. Some efforts are scientist-driven, with researchers inviting volunteers to submit data, categorize images, or otherwise assist in answering research questions. Others are community-driven, where communities (of place or interest) leverage science processes to compile evidence and address problems. All efforts are borne from seeing common interests, and developing working relationships, between scientists and public groups to answer questions, accelerate discovery, monitor change, or inform decisions.

Participatory science projects and traditions can be found in almost every field of research. Natural history projects come to mind for many, but research collaborations of these kinds advance work in biomedicine, astronomy, environmental health, history, geography, archaeology, and more. In almost all disciplines, these projects depend on breaking down historic barriers between scientific institutions and members of the public. They also depend on building up new relationships, platforms, strategies, and skills to bring together people, information, and knowledge–difficult work made easier when we can learn from others who have done this before.

Building a connected field: the role of the Association for Advancing Participatory Sciences

This Association emerged from a grassroots movement among practitioners–scientists, community leaders, educators, data managers, and others–who suddenly realized they were not alone in their vision and work for these promising but challenging projects. Until the mid-2000’s, participatory science efforts were largely isolated, struggling for recognition within their own disciplines or communities. The success of web-enabled, large-scale projects brought the promise of citizen science into the limelight, and sparked a thriving community of practice among people eager to connect with others doing this work. 

From the beginning, this Association worked to build connections across different research approaches, disciplines, and traditions, with the goal of bringing together the people, resources, and information needed for powerful projects. In less than ten years, these efforts inspired the birth of other Citizen Science Associations around the world as part of a global movement, with thousands of projects and millions of participants mobilizing new knowledge for science and society. Over that same period, practitioners in the US and other spaces have become keenly aware of even more efforts known by different terms, resulting in confusions as well as missed opportunities to connect with new people and important ideas.

Adopting “participatory sciences” in our name as an intentionally plural term opens the door to a more inclusive conversation. Citizen science will continue to be a touchstone for many, but a quick search for community science, public participation in scientific research, volunteered geographic information, community-based participatory research, crowdsourced science, co-production of knowledge, or any of a long list of other terms will reveal decades-worth of related models and lessons learned, as well as new technologies and emerging ideas. To date we haven’t had a great way to recognize or talk about what we share. As we start to see and appreciate both the commonalities and distinctions of related traditions, we gain a wealth of options and opportunities for improved work.

Advancing participatory science practices

With a name that now acknowledges that there are many terms used to describe this work, we can begin to bring clarity back to what we stand for as an Association. No matter what a given project is called, or the scale at which it operates, we share and advance the promising practices for research and monitoring done by, for, and with members of the public. This includes, but is by no means limited to:

  • strategies for scientific success (protocols, analyses, platforms, sensors, and more)
  • practices for impactful data (decision making, discoveries, compliance, publications, etc.)
  • ensuring integrity in engagement (education, equity, ethics, evaluation, and other ways of improving the relationships on which these projects depend)

We are excited to focus attention once again on the transformative work that this Association and its members have long been doing. We are proud to also reflect the maturation of this field that can be seen even in just the past ten years. In addition to sharing the foundations for effective projects, many members are asking deeper questions and having more nuanced conversations — including about sophisticated analytics, ethical data standards, multilateral agreements, equitable partnerships, and other complex dimensions of practice — across all of our program areas.

For one, our annual Conference for Advancing the Participatory Sciences (CAPS) hosts a rich and vibrant exchange of ideas, focused on facilitating connections and deep discussions among practitioners. These member-led events marry the scientific tradition of presenting emerging ideas with a focus on building connections and facilitating engaged discussions. CAPS is a touchstone for what those in the field are currently doing, while also establishing a path for future collaborations and new directions. Conference-goers come to be exposed to perspectives, tools, ideas, and colleagues from different contexts they rarely have a chance to encounter elsewhere.

Our open-access and peer-reviewed journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice (CSTP), continues to be a critical venue for advancing knowledge about this field. Leading and emerging scholars and practitioners author papers available to anyone interested in and contributing to citizen science across all disciplines and in all nations. A team of volunteer editors, reviewers, and advisors foster the publication of individual articles and special collections on a wide range of relevant topics, including Law and Policy concerns, Sustainable Development Goals, Artificial Intelligence, and much more.

At any point in the year, foundational insights can also be found via the refreshed AAPS website which showcases a wealth of resources on topics relevant to all projects. This includes such things as data quality, platforms for hosting projects, project evaluation, building equitable partnerships, data and metadata standards, and more. Many of these resources were created by our member-led working groups, which advance big ideas, establish best practices, and convene topical conversations that move this field forward. 

The future of AAPS

We are steadfast in the work that first launched this Association: helping people find and share the information needed to succeed in these challenging but powerful projects. The foundations of our conference, journal, website, and working groups allow us to highlight the broad range of practices and traditions in this field, and consolidate and build on the strength of what we know works.

Our new strategic plan, soon to be released, will highlight the people, practices, and partnerships that form both the core and the future of this field. We will amplify the successes and resources of our member community, and ally with other disciplines, organizations, and leaders, to push boundaries and advance these practices as a whole. 

Together, we work to inspire new collaborations, address shared challenges, and raise awareness of the merits of these projects to pave the way for future shared outcomes for both science and society. We look forward to growing this movement with you.

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