Learning Circle Citizen Science Audience Summary

Karin van den Driesche, Elke ter Huurne and Ria Wolkorte (TOPFIT Citizenlab), Tim Jongman (Twentse Noabers) 30-11-2020

Josien has set up a project in her neighborhood with other local residents, with which they try to reduce loneliness among local residents. The project is growing rapidly and many participants are very enthusiastic. Now Josien notices that there is a lot of volunteer work. She wonders what the reason is and how she could change this. This is just one of the many questions that can arise with citizens’ initiatives. Scientists often wonder how their research can best connect with questions from society. In the learning circle, representatives of citizens’ initiatives and scientists have researched where and how they can reinforce each other.

In the citizen science curriculum, we started working on the theme of citizen science in 4 meetings with citizens and citizen initiatives. The learning circle was organized by the Twente Noabers and the TOPFIT Citizenlab.
Twentse Noabers is a cooperative of and for citizens’ initiatives (initiatives from citizens to tackle (local) issues) with the aim of making Twente stronger together. They do this by finding, connecting and strengthening citizen initiatives in Twente, supporting craftsmanship in neighborhoods and districts, and offering expertise, network and connection for companies, (semi) government and social organizations.
TOPFIT Citizenlab is a collaboration of various parties in Twente, including knowledge institutions, healthcare institutions, foundations and companies. The goal of TOPFIT Citizenlab is to realize a sustainable Citizenlab, focused on care, welfare, health & amp; technology. In doing so, it wants to contribute to making the population of Twente healthier and increasing the quality of life in this region. In the coming years (end date early 2023) the structure and infrastructure of the Citizenlab will be set up and preconditions will be arranged. In various pilots, knowledge and experience are gained to shape the structure, content and business cases of the Citizenlab.

Citizen Science

Citizen science, also called citizen science , has several definitions. Within TOPFIT Citizenlab it is defined as “ research activities in which citizens and scientists (and possibly other parties) work together to generate valuable knowledge: valuable for individual citizens, valuable for science, valuable for society.

Important components of citizen science are the central role of citizens and the added value it must have for citizens (participants) as well as researchers and society. An initiative can arise from a question from citizens, but it can also be started from science. It is important to involve citizens throughout the project and to appreciate and recognize their contribution. An accessible and practical approach to the project, clear communication and good feedback of the results are also preconditions for successful citizen science.

Citizen science can lead to new knowledge development and education , but also to improvement of the personal situation , or the situation of others and / or society . It can also affect policy .

Roles of citizens and scientists in citizen science

In citizen science, citizens and scientists can have different roles to suit their needs & amp; possibilities and the research question. The extent to which citizens and scientists are involved in citizen science projects is interrelated and can range from intensive to limited. Citizens can be involved in data collection , eg by participating in censuses. In this way, a lot of data is collected with the help of a large group of citizens. Citizens can play a role in thinking along with researchers , for example in formulating the research question, drawing up a questionnaire, or recruiting participants for a project. When citizens are also involved in decision-making , they stand next to researchers. Decisions are made together about subjects, methods and content of the research. Finally, citizens can also be initiator and performer of the research. They then start their own research, for example, and ask researchers to join in. Citizens are then at the helm, which is also referred to as extreme citizen science.

Citizen initiatives & amp; citizen science, citizen initiative or citizen science

Citizen initiatives do not immediately see the need to set up an initiative entirely as a citizen science project. However, they do see the added value of collaboration with scientists at specific moments in their project. They prefer using methods from citizen science, as they would like to use the knowledge and experience of the people in the project to ensure that research matches the context of the project as closely as possible. Citizens also experience more ownership and awareness is created.

The added value of citizen science from the perspective of citizens’ initiatives

Citizen science can be used at different times within a citizens’ initiative, where it is often desirable to start early on the collaboration between citizen initiatives and science . During a project, questions may arise at various times that lend themselves to (scientific) research. In the preparation or implementation phase , for example, science can contribute to substantiating choices within a project or to give direction to the project. For example, science can help figure out how to keep volunteers on a project, or how to reach certain people to participate in a project. Science can also help provide insight into existing knowledge on the subject. In addition, science can provide support in interpreting important concepts, so that all those involved ‘speak the same language’. In the evaluation phase science can help to demonstrate the effectiveness of a project. This is – especially towards (potential) financiers – important in order to substantiate the impact or effect of a project. It is also motivating for participants and volunteers to see what a project has delivered. In addition, science can help at a transcending level in the transfer of knowledge between the various initiatives. There is currently no central place for knowledge exchange, where the different projects can learn from each other’s approach.


Citizen initiatives and concerned citizens are generally open to research. It is desirable that the research has a practical approach and is in line with the issues that arise in society . In this way, citizens immediately experience the added value of citizen science. In order to get citizens involved in the conduct of the research, it is also important to communicate the benefits of the research ; for example why the extra (time) investment outweighs the results of the research. Representatives of the citizens’ initiatives can play an important role in the communication about this, because they know the participants of the initiatives well and know best which language use and which approach best suits the different target groups.

Example: measuring effectiveness
A large part of all citizen initiatives receive financial support, for example from the municipality or province. These funders are increasingly asking initiatives to demonstrate how effective the project is, either in terms of social impact or in terms of cost-effectiveness. Financiers are on the one hand sensitive to hard facts, but on the other hand, concrete examples also help to clarify the value of the project. While citizen initiatives often operate from emotion and practice, policymakers and scientists often work from rationale and theory. It is precisely by bringing these perspectives together and allowing them to complement each other, added value is created. In order to evaluate a project, it must be determined which outcome measures are important for this. This must be investigated from the perspective of both the initiatives and the funders. It is possible to opt for both social and cost-effectiveness outcomes. Different interests sometimes play a role in outcome measures. For example, a municipality sometimes wants to know whether certain vulnerable groups or minorities are being reached. However, initiatives do not always want to register this data because it can create a barrier to participation or be stigmatizing.

Possible role of science:

  • Find out which effects are relevant for the specific project according to different stakeholders and choose the necessary outcome measures accordingly;
  • Conduct effectiveness study;
  • Produce report that can be shared with funders;
  • Share possible areas for improvement with the citizens’ initiative.

In citizen science, the emphasis is on collaboration on an equal basis , so that both citizens and scientists feel involved and feel ownership of the project. When drafting the question and choosing a suitable method, close cooperation with citizens helps to make it match the context as closely as possible. Various methods can be used in the research, depending on the question. Qualitative methods are suitable for describing eg opinions, experiences or motives and eg interviews or focus groups or observations are made. Co-creation, storytelling, future scenarios or affinity mapping are also methods that fit well within citizen science. When factual data is needed, e.g., reduction in loneliness, number of participants per activity, or rate of weight change, quantitative research is appropriate. Methods that can then be used are questionnaires, sensors (eg pedometers) or cost-effectiveness analyzes. These methods are also used in traditional research, but in citizen science there is an active role for citizens . Questionnaires or interviews are, for example, drawn up, carried out and / or analyzed together with or by citizens

The added value of citizens’ initiatives from the perspective of citizen science

Citizen initiatives can be a good entry point for scientists who want to come into contact with different target groups in society. Because citizens’ initiatives are founded by and for citizens, they can form a bridge between researchers and citizens. Citizen initiatives are also good at naming the current topics that play a role in society. Because citizens’ initiatives often focus on involving all stakeholders from the start, contacts with other stakeholders are already regularly present. It also offers knowledge institutions the opportunity to have students conduct research within a citizens’ initiative, as part of their studies. In this way, students get to know social issues and gain practical experience.

Future collaboration TOPFIT Citizenlab and citizen initiatives

This learning circle has been experienced as valuable by both the participating citizens and citizen initiatives and by the researchers of the Citizenlab. All parties like to stay in touch with each other and see the added value of (exploring) a future collaboration. Especially the combination of the practical approach of citizens’ initiatives and the rational science approach of researchers is seen as potentially very successful in achieving results in the long term.

Points of attention for the TOPFIT Citizenlab from the citizens’ initiatives

The TOPFIT Citizenlab will be designed over the next 2 years. During the learning circle, citizens’ initiatives have given the Citizenlab a number of points of attention. They indicate that it is important that the Citizenlab ensures more visibility in society. Communication about the Citizenlab is seen as crucial, so that citizens get to know the Citizenlab and what the Citizenlab can do for them. For this it helps if concrete projects can be used as examples. Attention should also be paid to increasing the accessibility of science from citizens and to making participation in citizen science as accessible as possible. The advice is to put the ideas for the future into practice and evaluate them now.

Next steps

In the short term, representatives of the Citizenlab and citizens’ initiative Wijk Facility ‘t Doesgoor will consider whether there is a possibility for a joint study into demonstrating the effectiveness of citizens’ initiatives. In addition, citizens’ initiatives can, if they so desire, be brought into contact by the Citizenlab with departments or study programs within the knowledge institutions. In order to be able to further shape the Citizenlab, representatives of the Citizenlab would like to stay in touch with the citizens’ initiatives. Future contacts for this will take place through Tim Jongman of Twentse Noabers. Finally, a follow-up appointment will be scheduled in the spring of 2021 to see to what extent further collaboration between the Citizenlab and citizens’ initiatives is desirable and possible.


For questions or comments regarding this summary, please contact one of the researchers or the Twentse Noabers, via the email addresses below:

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