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What is Community Science? A Blog and a Quiz.

Category: Uncategorized

By Raj Pandya, Director, Thriving Earth Exchange


In U2’s 1983 EP “Under a Blood Red Sky,” Bono introduces a song by saying “There…there’s been a lot of talk about this next song. Maybe too much talk. This song is not a rebel song, this song is Sunday, Bloody Sunday.” It’s a great intro to a great song.

There has also been a lot of talk about community science. But maybe there has been a little too much talk – sometimes the term is being used in ways that don’t live up to the ideals of community science. (Endnote below) Community Science isn’t just citizen science under a new name. It’s something a little more radical. Community science is a rebel song.

Here are some of things that make community science rebellious.

  • Community science honors community knowledge. There is an amazing picture I saw once of a woman holding a sign that said, “We live here. We’re experts, too!” Community science recognizes that people who live in a place may know things about that place that science doesn’t. People who have lived in a place for generations may know a lot of things that science doesn’t.
  • Community science opens science to change. Science isn’t static. Science is an imperfect and evolving body of knowledge that is enriched by new ideas, new peoples, and new approaches. Community science welcomes that, and even invites it. It invites people, especially people without traditional scientific training, to contribute their ideas and practices—not just collect data.
  • Community science respects community agency. Communities have the right to ask and answer questions and use that information to make meaning for themselves. Community science assumes communities are capable and contributes to their ability to exercise their rights. It offers communities a tool they can use in their understanding and decision-making.
  • Community science honors community priorities. Community science projects are never about scientists telling communities what they should do, or even about scientists convincing communities to help science out. It is about designing a project that helps a community accomplish its goals using science.
  • Community science is humble. Community science doesn’t insist that science is the only or even the best way to do anything. It doesn’t think that science or scientists are unique in their ability to make sound decisions, weigh evidence, or think critically. It doesn’t insist facts are more important than values, denigrate religion, or dismiss traditional practices.
  • Community science gets stuff done. Seeking to understand the world and the way it works is wonderful and inspiring, and perhaps one of the transcendent parts of the human experience. Using that understanding to make meaningful, concrete impacts, on a community scale, is community science.
  • Community science advances justice. Every community deserves the right to ask and investigate their scientific questions. Community Science gives all people the capacity to do that.
  • Community science values science. Science is useful and most of the practices of science are helpful. Community science offers science with humility, but with confidence. Community science recognizes the value and power of science.
  • Community science is multi-disciplinary. If you are working on a community science project, chances are you are doing more than one kind of science and doing more than science. Communities seldom have priorities that map to a single discipline. Getting stuff done requires lots of skills and knowledge, not just scientific skills.

One of the coolest kinds of science learning (and, incidentally, a kind of science learning that citizen science is especially good for) is being able to classify things. Activities like species or cloud identification are best learned, it turns out, not by looking at idealized cases in a book, but by classifying actual examples from the real world. So, in that spirit, here is your chance to practice with a community science quiz. (Also embedded below.)


Endnote: Maybe there isn’t too much talk – even when people may not be using the term quite as radically as they could, I think “talking the talk” can lead to “walking the walk”. Second, there are important precedents for this way of working from inside and outside of academia – for example, Public Lab has it roots in community activism and maker spaces, and the UC Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science has its roots in research and evaluation.


mgoodwin editor


Christy BillsOct 14, 2019 at 1:44 PM

I run a citizen/community science project and strongly prefer the term community science. Reading this piece made me say, “yeah! yeah!…yeah! THIS!” Thank you for writing it. You made me feel like taking things to the next level.

Liz MarchioOct 14, 2019 at 2:20 PM

Where does this term fit in with Dickinson and Bonney’s (2012) definitions of Citizen Science? Community Science is completely different? IMO there are WAY too many terms for citsci type community outreach and participation.

Thriving Earth ExchangeJul 20, 2020 at 11:50 AM

[…] Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows are current and future leaders in the community science movement. After being matched with a local community, each fellow is responsible for shepherding a community […]

Thriving Earth ExchangeSep 4, 2020 at 10:25 AM

[…] Earth Exchange Community Science Fellows are current and future leaders in the community science movement. After being matched with a local community, each fellow is responsible for guiding a community […]

Julie VastineOct 14, 2020 at 11:14 AM

Community science can move between the models laid out in the Shirk et al 2012 paper, but fits more in with collegial, co-created, and collaborative approaches – a key element is that the community drives and owns the scientific agenda of their program. An interesting blog post looking at the nuances that define the different terms that refer to “c” science. My organization, Dickinson College’s Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring provides free technical and programmatic support to community members and volunteers interested in investigating their stream health questions.

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