20. November 2023 | Press releases:

Does citizen science strengthen trust in science? A new research project on trust in citizen science examines potentials and reservations

How many hedgehogs and foxes live in the neighborhood? How is climate change affecting trees in my city? More and more people are doing Citizen Science: They count mosquitoes and birds, photograph plants and document changes in the city and nature and thus provide important information for research. Can citizen participation in science also help to strengthen trust in science? Scientists from the Technische Universität Braunschweig, together with researchers from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, want to investigate this in the joint project “Trust in Citizen Science (TiCS)”. The project is being funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with around 900,000 euros.

Experiencing how research really works, contemplating together with scientists on research questions, collecting data: citizen science projects are diverse. In some projects, for example, citizens are involved in collecting or analyzing data. For example, scientists want to know more about the distribution of flies in Germany and are calling on people to collect insects. Or they ask citizens to document water levels and soil moisture at certain locations to improve early flood warnings. In other projects, citizens actively contribute their knowledge, help develop research questions and thus shape the research process together with scientists. For example, in a project on socio-ecological housing in Lüneburg, the research question and design were developed in a participatory manner with stakeholders in the city.

Citizens actively help shape research

“Citizen science is really shaking up the standard procedure of research,” says Dr. Friederike Hendriks, junior research group leader at TU Braunschweig and head of the new project. “Research is no longer just produced in an ivory tower and then communicated to a wider public. In citizen science, citizens are actively involved in shaping research. This has a lot of potential for building trust within science, in the projects and beyond”. This potential is now being investigated in the consortium project. “We want to investigate how trust is built, but also whether there can also be moments when trust is jeopardized,” says Professor Monika Taddicken, Head of the Institute of Communication Science at TU Braunschweig and also an applicant in the Braunschweig sub-project.

How is Citizen Science received by the public?

The joint project will approach the topic of trust in the context of citizen science on three levels. Firstly, it will investigate how relationships of trust develop in citizen science projects. It is not only interested in the extent to which citizens trust scientists, but also how they develop relationships with each other and how participation processes can support this. Secondly, the research team analyzes how scientists see the input from the public and what benefits they derive from citizen science, but also whether reservations still exist. Thirdly, it looks at how research findings from citizen science are perceived by a wider public.

Friederike Hendriks: “Since the potential of citizen science is not only to process large amounts of data with the help of citizens, but also to bring social issues into research, we are interested in how evidence from citizen science is perceived by a more general public. That is our research topic here in Braunschweig. To investigate this, we will be conducting large-scale surveys and psychological experimental studies, as well as analyzing media coverage”.

From psychology to practical research

The team of the joint project is interdisciplinary, and some project modules will be worked on jointly by scientists from the three locations. In addition to Dr. Friederike Hendriks and Professor Monika Taddicken (Psychology and Communication Science) at TU Braunschweig, Professor Mario Gollwitzer and Dr. Marlene Altenmüller (Psychology) are responsible for the sub-project at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München. Dr. Susanne Hecker and Silke Voigt-Heucke (Citizen Science Practice Research) from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin are furthermore involved.

“Interdisciplinarity is our great strength and is also very appealing to me. In my Junior Research Group here at TU Braunschweig, we already experience how positively interdisciplinarity affects the work we do. In psychology and communication science, we bring together expertise in trust research and metascience. Together, we also have the methodological tools to investigate the effects of science communication and media reporting on the perception of citizen science in different publics. And without the team from practice research, we wouldn’t be able to get so intensively involved in the accompanying research of citizen science projects,” says Friederike Hendriks.

The research team will not only present the findings gathered in the project to the specialist community and publish them scientifically. At the end of the three-year project, there will be a workshop with researchers and practitioners from the field of citizen science and a major closing event. Here, the team will present practical recommendations developed in the project for trust-sensitive communication within Citizen Science projects, but also for science communication about Citizen Science.

Project data

The consortium project “Trust in Citizen Science (TiCS)” is being funded for three years by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the Science Communication funding guideline with around 876,000 euros. Around 413,000 euros of this will go to the TU Braunschweig. In addition to the Institute of Communication Science and the Junior Research Group fourC from Braunschweig, the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin are involved in the project.