Measuring the impact of citizen science

Is citizen science an important mechanism to inform and support society, governance, the economy, the environment, and science? The answer is yes, it probably is! But no one has really measured the impact… 

The River Restoration Centre is working with 6 partners across Europe to develop tools and metrics to measure impacts of citizen science (MICS) on environmental projects

Citizen Science

Citizen science activities provide a great opportunity for the public to learn about science and the environment as well as collecting valuable data to support scientific research. The term ‘citizen science’ is defined by the European Citizen Science Association as an umbrella term capturing a range of citizen activities and different levels of citizen participation for example from long term monitoring, one-off experiments, to citizen led or co-designed projects. Citizen science plays an important role in environmental research, as well as providing benefits for the citizens involved and other stakeholders. Citizen science is used in many river restoration schemes. The multiple benefits of citizen science activities are widely recognised, however, there are no clear methodologies to evaluate the impact of these interactions for the projects, the citizens involved or on our wider society.

Measuring Impacts of Citizen Science

The MICS project explores the impact of citizen science activities on:

To develop a methodology to measure impact it is important to understand what people perceive impact is and how it manifests itself in citizen science activities. To do this, the RRC invited citizens from the Outfall Safari citizen science project to a workshop to discuss their understanding of ‘impact’ in January.

What is Outfall Safari?

Outfall Safari is an innovative citizen science method for locating, assessing the impact of, and reporting on polluted surface water outfalls. Polluting surface water outfalls often occur when household appliances are incorrectly plumbed, ‘misconnected’, into surface water drains, which flow directly into rivers. Citizens use an app to score outfalls based on the appearance and flow. The polluting outfall scores are reported to local water companies who work to trace misconnected pipes to remedy pollution hotspots.

Since Outfall Safari began in 2016 over 200 citizen scientists have been involved in surveying over 150 km of rivers across Greater London. The project helps raise awareness of the issue, collect valuable data and helps water companies target efforts to reduce pollution and improve our rivers. Outfall Safari is one of the MICS case studies.

More information about Outfall Safari can be found here:

The impact workshop

The MICS project partners joined with citizen scientists and the coordinator of the Outfall Safari project to discuss impact. The workshop began with an overview of the MICS project, followed by a presentation about Outfall Safari. This introduction set the context for the session. We then split into small groups to discuss the five impact themes with the citizens and MICS project partners.

What did we learn from the workshop?

We asked the citizens to write a summary sentence (below) of the discussion related to each impact theme. The sentences capture the citizen views and perspective of impact related to the Outfall Safari project.

“Outfall Safari contributes to the ECONOMY by identifying problems early before the solution becomes more expensive, via cheap labour, although the reduction of economic costs is not a primary motive for the volunteers”

“SOCIETY is divided; some [citizens] are interested and motivated to take action, some [citizens] are disconnected – the key is to connect the “bubbles” and networking to generate real impact”

 “Citizen science provides an opportunity to fill the evidence gap which enables a positive action on policy, GOVERNANCE, and the redirection of resources to tackling the issue”

“We learnt about pollution in our rivers and this is an environmental concern, however, the action of collecting data does not immediately impact the ENVIRONMENT, learning about how the data is used from our [citizen] involvement to improve the environment is important”

“Citizen science provides the opportunity to collect scientific data over large spatial and temporal scales supporting SCIENTIFIC discovery and TECHNOLOGY development.”

The workshop was a great opportunity to explore impact. The citizen scientists found the session useful and many had not considered their role as ‘impactful’ before. The outputs of this workshop are being used in the development of the MICS method. We would like to thank all the volunteers who joined in!

MICS: next steps

We are working to develop the toolbox and impact assessment for MICS so watch this space, and for further updates!

Are you a citizen scientist? Are you coordinating a citizen science project?

If yes, we would like to hear from you! Your views and experience in citizen science projects will help us develop the MICS tools. Please email to get involved!



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