Joint Research Centre
Digital Earth Lab

Under the assumption that Citizen Science can help boosting the Better Regulation Agenda we test, demonstrate and reflect on the potentials, feasibility and possible pitfalls of applying Citizen Science methodologies in order to increase public engagement in EU-level policy-making and improving social well fair. Due to the history and state of play in Citizen Science – a recent JRC survey attracted 121 Citizen Science projects, of which 100 related themselves to environmental topics - environment-related policies appear as an ideal starting point for such investigations, before extending also to other policy areas.

As of early 2016, a joint collaboration between five DG’s and the European Environment Agency investigates the relationship between people and data – not only to monitor the state and trends of the environment and relations to human health, but also to help assess the impact and effects of the implementation of environmental related policy across the European Union (EU).

Today’s environmental policy-making requires a knowledge base that is not only shared among multiple actors, but also facilitates a deeper understanding of the linked socio-economic systems from which environmental pressures arise. Policy makers need to access and utilise the best available knowledge as evidence in support of the policy positions they are proposing. Hitherto, public sector information – including scientific research – has been the primary basis for this knowledge. We now have increasing potential to look wider and access data and information made available by the private sector, as well as, from people – either as individual citizens or as communities (see also [1]). In the interest of quality assurance and of compatibility, there is a need to develop an understanding of how and under which conditions this multiplicity of sources can be best utilized to strengthen the knowledge base for environmentally-related policy-making.

With this challenge in mind, a partnership between DG Environment, DG Research and Innovation (RTD), DG Eurostat, DG CLIMA, the European Environment Agency (EEA), and the JRC particularly addresses the relationship between people and data. This collaborative work does not only aim to monitor the state and trends of the environment and relations to human health, but also to develop new governance methods for public engagement in the impact assessment and implementation of policies across the European Union (EU).

The joint work has the following three aims:

  1. To consider how data gathered by citizens, for example, using mobile phones, dedicated apps, or mass observation, could best be used to complement environmental monitoring and reporting processes, and (earth) observation, in a cost-effective manner (i.e. enhancing the monitoring of implementation in the Member States, in the context of the ongoing monitoring and reporting fitness check).
  2. To review the potential for the wider involvement of lay (i.e. non-specialist), local and traditional knowledge communities in filling known knowledge gaps that cannot easily or cost-effectively be otherwise addressed (see Lesson 8 in the first volume of “Late Lessons from Early Warnings” published by the EEA).
  3. To examine how the involvement of citizens in policy definition and implementation can meaningfully be used as a communication channel to encourage more environmentally-conscientious choices by the wider public, i.e. to foster behavioural change.

These objectives will be addressed in relation to specific policy areas with a view to establish a 'proof of concept'.  We aim to demonstrate the expected impacts and identify the steps to be taken in order to operationalise processes in real conditions.

[1] Science for Environment Policy, IN-DEPTH REPORT: Environmental Citizen Science, Issue 9, December 2013.