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Credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

About the Citizen Science Interest Group

The citizen-science IG will facilitate the development and application of standards and best practices for collection and use of biodiversity data in partnership with our TDWG colleagues, the broader citizen science community via collaboration with the Data and Metadata Working Groups of the Citizen Science Association (CSA), information scientists and a host of other interested parties, including biodiversity scientists, resource managers, indigenous groups, natural history museums, GBIF, government agencies, and NGOs.

This interest group will focus on the intersection between various TDWG data standards and the PPSR-Core standard [link needed] which is being developed by the CSA in partnership with other citizen science associations in partnership with global standards organizations and key institutions such as the Wilson Center.

The scope of this group includes all aspects of data collection, data quality, metadata and social computing as it pertains to the biodiversity domain.

The objectives of the Group are:

  1. to ensure that the biodiversity domain is appropriately accommodated and proscribed within the broader citizen science ecosystem, in particular ensuring that the data requirements of the biodiversity domain are included within the PPSR-Core data and metadata standard initiative (see the PPSR-Core project and associated wiki page in this repository);
  2. to develop tools and feedback mechanisms that can be deployed across different citizen science applications, and the ways that new data generated from these projects can be seamlessly linked into existing resources and the broader network of biodiversity data, information and knowledge (see the Tools & Services project and associated wiki page in this repository); and
  3. to produce documents outlining “best practices” and standards as the group deems worthy for any aspect of the citizen science biodiversity data lifecycle (see the Best Practices project and associated wiki page in this repository).

This Interest Group will liaise closely with related and overlapping TDWG Interest Groups, including the Taxonomic Names and Concepts Interest Group, Imaging, Annotations, Observations & Specimens, Data Quality, Technical Architecture and Vocabulary Documentation and Maintenance. It will also support Open Source and Creative Commons licensing wherever possible.

The group also plans to post their products and findings on Github.


The blossoming of citizen science around the world presents new opportunities for the general public and scientists to work together on scientific endeavours. Rapid technological advancements have accelerated the adoption of the citizen science approach across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Hundreds of projects are now focused on gathering biodiversity data.

While citizen science has some clear advantages, in particular the comparatively large scales at which it can operate and the efficiencies with which it can complete tasks, it is still an approach that is relatively new, and thus still being refined. Citizens contribute in a variety of ways but because their training is limited compared to professional scientists, the tasks they undertake such as counting fish or transcribing text information, usually requires less training and expertise than one expects from scientists. This is not to say that citizen scientists cannot be experts, indeed there are many cases where amateur naturalists have more field skills than trained professionals, whose positions often require them to be in the lab sequencing DNA or analyzing data instead of logging observations.

The lack of formal training and certification of citizen scientists often results in professional scientists questioning the quality of citizen science data and disqualifying it from analysis without fairly assessing it’s suitability and fitness for purpose. Thus, a clear challenge for the citizen-science interest group is to work with the data quality interest group to include practices and standards that can be applied specifically to citizen science data.

A logical consequence of the general lack of formal scientific training in citizen science is that the use of common names is more palatable for non-professionals than using scientific names. Thus another of the early tasks of the citizen-science IG is to develop a working group that can focus on standards for use of traditional taxonomic resources with common names resources. This focus aligns with other TDWG activities as TDWG and its members have been continually addressing the complexities of the established scientific taxonomic system.


  • Robert D Stevenson ( Dept. of Biology University of Massachusetts Boston 100 Morrissey Blvd. Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA

  • Libby Ellwood ( La Brea Tar Pits and Museum 5801 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA

  • Peter Brenton ( Atlas of Living Australia, CSIRO Canberra, Australia


Participating in this group

This group welcomes participation from all interested parties from the biological, educational, government resource agency, library, information science, computer science, and web and application development communities, as well as citizen science practitioners from the biodiversity and environment domains.

TDWG members interested in data annotation and observation standards are particularly encouraged to participate. If you are interested in contributing to the activities of this Group, please contact one of the above conveners.

To participate in the communication system of the group, "watch" the group's Issues tracker on GitHub. The issues tracker is the mechanism for suggesting specific changes to the standard as well as to raise issues for discussion by the group.


Associated initiatives and web links

Background and context

Some might suggest that this group has it origins in TDWG’s 2010 meeting at Woods Hole during which the local organizing committee ran TDWG’s first bioblitz . Some might feel it was earlier efforts in 2008 by Steve Kelling and others to bring organism observations into bioinformatics networks. Still others might think that it was Arthur Chapman’s draft of a citizen science interest group charter in 2014 that marks the beginning of the group. Finding origins may be like asking when did the wind start to blow, but what is clear is that interest has continued to grow since the first decade of this century. For five years in a row (2014-2018), the annual conference has sponsored successful symposia and workshops devoted to citizen science. Now there are willing conveners and a critical number of participants to begin more formal discussions and documentation of how TDWG can shape best practices and develop standards for citizen science projects collecting and curating biodiversity data. Extending TDWG’s history in fostering best practices and standards for the biodiversity community to include citizen science efforts seems like a natural extension and builds from experience and strength.

Although natural history data have been collected by volunteers for centuries, recently there has been an increase in the number of projects that rely on volunteers for data collection, correction, annotation, and transcription.These efforts take many forms including projects in which citizens put recording devices such as microphones and camera traps in the field, annotate photos (e.g., Floating forests, Snapshot Serengeti), transcribe text from specimen labels (Notes from Nature and DigiVol), or share their field observations (eBird,, REEF and iNaturalist). Biodiversity themed projects comprise in excess of 85% of the more than 2000 known citizen science projects worldwide, spanning all populated continents. A small number of international projects have brought citizen scientists together for targeted biodiversity events (e.g., City Nature Challenge, WeDigBio, etc.).

Citizen science is already having a large impact in the arena of biodiversity science because of its role in making data available. For instance, about 30% of the total observations in GBIF come from eBird alone and preliminary estimates suggest that 70% of all GBIF data depend on citizen science efforts. These proportions are expected to grow because of the scale of research that is taking advantage of citizen science efforts.

Data collected by citizen scientists may have additional criteria to meet before they can be considered fit for use; however, these additional criteria remain under-explored. There is a need for best practices in curating these data to ensure that they are maximally reusable by researchers after they are collected.

[1] [2]

Relevant publications

Bonney, R., Cooper, C.B., Dickinson, J., Kelling, S., Phillips, T., Rosenberg, K.V., Shirk, J., 2009. Citizen science: a developing tool for expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy. Bioscience 59, 977–984.

Bonney, R., Shirk, J.L., Phillips, T.B., Wiggins, A., Ballard, H.L., Miller-Rushing, A.J., Parrish, J.K., 2014. Next steps for citizen science. Science 343, 1436–1437.

Chandler, M., See, L., Copas, K., Bonde, A.M., López, B.C., Danielsen, F., Legind, J.K., Masinde, S., Miller-Rushing, A.J., Newman, G. and Rosemartin, A., 2017. Contribution of citizen science towards international biodiversity monitoring. Biological Conservation, 213, pp.280-294.

Groom, Q.,Weatherdon, L., Geijzendorffer, I.R., 2016. Is citizen science an open science in the case of biodiversity observations? J. Appl. Ecol.

Haklay, M., 2015. Citizen Science and Policy: A European Perspective (Case Study Series No. Vol. 4). Commons Lab.Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars,Washington, D.C.

Huntington, H.P., 2000. Using traditional ecological knowledge in science: methods and applications. Ecol. Appl. 10, 1270–1274.[1270:UTEKIS]2.0.CO;2.

McKinley, D.C., Miller-Rushing, A., Ballard, R., Bonney, R., Brown, S., et al., 2016. Citizen science can improve conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental protection. Biological Conservation (In press).

Meyer, C., Kreft, H., Guralnick, R., Jetz,W., 2015. Global priorities for an effective information basis of biodiversity distributions. Nat. Commun. 6, 8221. 1038/ncomms9221.

Michener,W.K., 2015. Ecological data sharing. Ecol. Inform. 29 (Part 1), 33–44.

Miller-Rushing, A., Primack, R., Bonney, R., 2012. The history of public participation in ecological research. Front. Ecol. Environ. 10, 285–290.

Mistry, J., Berardi, A., 2016. Bridging indigenous and scientific knowledge. Science 352, 1274–1275.

Nature, 2015. Rise of the citizen scientist. Nature 524, 265.

Peterson, A.T., Soberón, J., Krishtalka, L., 2015. A global perspective on decadal challenges and priorities in biodiversity informatics. BMC Ecol. 15, 15.

Shirk, J.L., Ballard, H.L., Wilderman, C.C., Phillips, T., Wiggins, A., Jordan, R., McCallie, E., Minarchek, M., Lewenstein, B.V., Krasny, M.E., Bonney, R., 2012. Public participation in scientific research: a framework for deliberate design. Ecol. Soc. 17.

Theobald, E.J., Ettinger, A.K., Burgess, H.K., DeBey, L.B., Schmidt, N.R., Froehlich, H.E.,Wagner, C., HilleRisLambers, J., Tewksbury, J., Harsch, M.A., Parrish, J.K., 2015. Global change and local solutions: tapping the unrealized potential of citizen science for biodiversity research. Biol. Conserv. 181, 236–244.

Thessen, Anne E. David J. Patterson. Data issues in the life sciences ZooKeys 150: 15–51 (2011) doi: 10.3897/zookeys.150.1766

Thomsen, P.F.,Willerslev, E., 2015. Environmental DNA – an emerging tool in conservation for monitoring past and present biodiversity. Biol. Conserv. 183, 4–18.

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