What is Citizen Science

What is Citizen Science

Citizen Science has grown rapidly yet many of us don’t know what it is or how we can become engaged in citizen science activities.  

What is citizen science? In its fundamentalist form it is a collaboration between someone who is conducting scientific research and the general public. It is proving to be a valuable contribution made by non-scientists to all areas of science including natural history. Nature Vancouver in fact has already engaged in citizen science projects which you can read about in the past issues of “Discovery”. This team will strive to help those who are not yet familiar with the opportunities that exist to engage with relevant projects and initiatives, general resources to learn more about citizen science, and what tools are often used. Citizen science is open to everyone: no matter where you live, how old you are, your knowledge of science etc. You choose a project that interests you, sign up, and decide how to participate. You get to choose how much effort to contribute, and you get to explore your own areas of interest. For more information, you can contact the advocacy team at: CitizenScience@NatureVancouver.ca

1. What is Citizen Science?

There are a number of ways to learn about this topic so just pick your favourite.

Online Search

  1. Start with Citizen Science BC and take it from there. Note: we have strived to list entries already below in different areas but there may be new ones since our last search.
  2. Google Scholar has many articles and here are two for starters. You can use other search strings to find your favourites. a) Google Scholar: https://scholar.google.ca/scholar? b) Google Scholar BC: https://scholar.google.ca/scholar?
  3. One example of an Open Source article: Decolonizing Digital Citizen Science  https://www.mdpi.com/2075-4698/12/2/71/htm
  4. Citizen Science 101: an overview of what is citizen science http://www.goodfellow.com/blog/2121/citizen-science-101-how-anyone-can-contribute-to-scientific-research-and-development


We will list easy to read and relatively short texts we (or you let us know about) find. You can find these in many libraries or online such as Amazon.

  1. The Field Guide to Citizen Science” by D. Cavalier and Eric B. Kennedy. Published by Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes, 2016.
  2. The Rightful Place of Science: Citizen Science” by D. Cavalier, Catherine Hoffman and Caren Cooper. Published by Timber Press Inc. in 2020.


As with online searching you can try many variations in the search box to find citizen science related videos.

  1. iNaturalist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DS3SfMCS4BQ
  2. iNaturalist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS_9KpXgPdk
  3. City Nature Challenge https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kcKELrzCR94
  4. The Awesome Power of Citizen Science: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZwJzB-yMrU

Ted Talks

There have been many Ted talks over the years but here are some to start with.

Media Stories

Smaller Media outlets often online have some good stories and provide yet more ideas but there are also great stories in mainstream media to give you a source of inspiration.

  1. The Narwhal”: https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-skeena-watershed-citizen-scientists/
  2. Planetizen”: https://www.planetizen.com/blogs/107858-6-examples-citizen-science-work
  3. CBC News: https://www.cbc.ca/news/science/5-easy-ways-to-become-a-freelance-scientist-1.2508191
  4. Science Connected Magazine: https://magazine.scienceconnected.org/
  5. Times Colonist: https://www.timescolonist.com/bc-news/
  6. CBC News: https://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/the-nature-of-things/

2. Supporting Organizations in the Vancouver Area

Nature Vancouver

  1. Annual Christmas Bird Count with local naturalist or natural history groups like Nature Vancouver are a great entry.
  2. Refer to past issues of Nature Vancouver journal “Discovery” for many examples and ideas. https://naturevancouver.ca/publications/
  3. Check out Nature Vancouver Birding section on this web site for information on monthly bird surveys at UBC. https://naturevancouver.ca/birding/

NatureKids Vancouver


Stanley Park Nature House


Hakai Institute

The Hakai Institute is a set of interlocking programs that blend technology and science to better understand the coastal margin of British Columbia and beyond. We eschew both scientific and geographical artificial boundaries, as our interdisciplinary teams work from icefields to watersheds to the nearshore and coastal oceans. We link with regional and global networks. We integrate the disciplines. We fill the seams of coastal science. https://hakai.org/

Sentinels of Change

As part of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, Hakai Institute has launched Sentinels of Change – a decade-long community-centered initiative investigating patterns of invertebrate biodiversity, change, and resilience across the Salish Sea. The project establishes a network of community partners to work together to observe and investigate patterns of invertebrate reproduction and recruitment within this complex and dynamic natural and social seascape. https://sentinels.hakai.org/

3. Citizen Science Tools

Common Software Tools

Applications for Mobile Devices 

Apple and Android based applications available through their stores. These are just suggestions since they appear to be used fairly frequently. You can enter these in the search area of either online store for each platform.

  1. iNaturalist
  2. iNaturalist SEEK
  3. eBird
  4. Merlin (uses eBird)
  5. LeafSnap
  6. BC Wildflowers
  7. Trees of the Pacific North West

Applications for Desktop Devices

Both Apple and Microsoft based computers should have these.

  1. iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/
  2. iNaturalist: https://inaturalist.ca/projects/city-nature-challenge-canada-2022-defi-nature-urbaine
  3. iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/metro-vancouver-regional-parks-bc
  4. eBird: https://ebird.org/home
  5. E-Flora BC: https://ibis.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/eflora/
  6. E-Fauna BC: https://linnet.geog.ubc.ca/biodiversity/efauna/
  7. E Butterfly: https://www.e-butterfly.org/
  8. Mushroom Observer (Fungi) – https://mushroomobserver.org/

Devices and Sensors

Many new smartphone devices like USB based microscopes, echolocation sensors are becoming available for the general public to use. We suggest searching for these or seeing what a project is expecting you to use for data collection. In many cases it will just be the cameras built into our phones.


There can be many ways that data is collected for any project but the most common is photographic data. These need to be tagged with date / time of capture along with location info via latitude and longitude (GPS coordinates) information.

Any type of camera can be used so guidance here varies. If you are new to photography, start with letting the camera control all the settings. Of course your photography will get better the more you take charge and control the camera’s settings, but don’t let this stop you from starting.

Some of the tools mentioned in the Common Tools Section allow you to combine more than 1 photo in an observation so please check the capabilities for what you use.

As an aid, we have added the following guide which we found in the resource section on the iNaturalist BC Parks project website to help guide you on how to approach photography of many living taxa (different types of living things). The primary website page is: https://www.bcinat.com/ At the top select “resources” or use this link: https://www.bcinat.com/resources Scroll down and you will see a link to iNat Photo Guide.

Note: The guidance here is considered general and appropriate in most cases, but some researchers may have other requirements or approaches they will want you to use and that is okay. We encourage you to check and use what your project leader requires.

Nature Vancouver