A sense of community is at the heart of citizen science

Sandra de Vries

Yes, all fine here. Strange how soon I am getting used to this situation
The Netherlands in lockdown isn’t that bad

Perhaps you have heard people say similar things? My first response is to start laughing, hysterically… There are numerous reasons why the above isn’t the case for me, but mostly I think it has to do with how small my world has become. Just as for everyone else in the global community, life has changed drastically for me during the #CoronaCrisis. My entire world is now my 56 square meter house, and with good weather, my garden. And of course, the cloud. What would I do without the cloud?

I am not lonely, as I live together with my boyfriend, and half of the week also with his daughter. Friends, family, and colleagues I speak to via phone calls, Teams, Zoom, Jitsi, WhatsApp, and so on. But I feel caged and although online communication is better then none, I miss the community around me. Yes, you can have a great online community, but that's not enough. Online should enhance, not replace personal presence in communities. You cannot touch people, cannot read body language, cannot share food and drinks, cannot do things together, and so on.

And in this period, I feel even more strongly that my work related to citizen science is also dependent on communities and meeting one another. To research things together, to practice citizen science, you need a community. You need to give people the sense of community you get when you become part of such a community, which is difficult to do online. Citizen science is therefore often defined as community-based observatories. A sense of community gives people a feeling of belonging, and that the other members in the community feel they matter and that their needs will be met through their commitment to join forces.

The #CoronaCrisis has initiated many citizen science platforms and initiatives to promote all the citizen science projects that you can join from home, or outside in nature with the children that are not going to school now. Others, like some of my projects as well, are trying to change some of their CS projects into an online or home version. We also see how the #CoronaCrisis inspired new citizen science research altogether to help tackle the Covid19 pandemic. You can also start gaming to help find a cure for Corona, such as via the game Fold-it where you can start your own Corona puzzle. Iedereenwetenschapper.nl is an organisation based in the Netherlands and Belgium that shares many citizen science projects that you can join, one of which was Fold-it.


To organize citizen science projects, it is easier to motivate the individual to join a community, a community that has similar interests and goals concerning a specific topic, and that wants to reach the same goals. Communities need a certain centre of activity or interest, a focal point, a hub.
A hub as a centre for citizen science activities, projects or research, is certainly not a new idea. Universities with science shops do it all the time. Scistarter.org (an online community dedicated to improving the citizen science experience for project managers and participants) has sought hubs around the world to initiate their CS projects. In this blog, and in this podcast, they give examples of how public libraries can serve as community hubs for citizen science. Ecological citizen science projects focus mainly around nature organizations with many volunteers, like the IVN here in the Netherlands for plastic monitoring.

I myself see a lot of potential in museums, and in my cases, water museums. That is why I became a member of the Global Network of Water Museums Network last year. Together with them I hope to invite and include water museums all over the world in sharing or starting new citizen science water data collection projects. The aim is also to develop relevant citizen science projects together with water museums that fit their community's needs.

A great example of a citizen science project that I am involved in, and that shows and embodies this sense of community, is the #DrinkableRivers initiative. With Drinkable Rivers we are building a great community, among others to take measurements around hubs. These hubs are Science Shops, Water Museums, nature organizations, waterboards, fisher communities, etc.


Unfortunately, most of these hubs are closed at the moment. No common hikes, meetings or gatherings can be organized. No visitors for community centres and museums are allowed. Because of the crisis, we organized a Drinkable Rivers online meeting of 2 hours, instead of a Drinkable Rivers face to face meeting that was planned for the whole afternoon. We make do, we must. But we miss the direct connection we could have made when meeting each other, and I am personally looking forward to the time when we can meet again in person.

Until then, however, here are some interesting water-related citizen science projects running globally and that I think are adding a lot to society, that you can join anytime, and can promote as a hub within your community:

In the meantime we will strive for a positive vibe to continue citizen science projects, adapted perhaps, but still awesome to do in a 'family-community' size. For example, a planned event with primary schools in the Netherlands for Drinkable Rivers measurements has become a #HomeEducation version to observe ecological factors that tell something about water quality. And we will continue organizing a summer rainfall measurement project for Delft, where people will be able to search, not for a summer sun abroad, but instead for a summer rain @home. Perhaps this way, we can still achieve part of this sense of community, by creating a sense of common purpose and togetherness!


Address: Jacques Dutilhweg 333,
3065 HJ Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Phone: +31 6 22413966
E-mail: sandra@pulsaqua.com