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Research involving citizen participation

The participation of citizens in research processes is a central component of the Citizens’ University. Through this, HHU aims to make scientific processes and the work of researchers more accessible to the public and thereby break down barriers between science and society. Opening up the world of science can create trust and at the same time contribute to greater democratic participation in our strongly science-based society.

In order to support its researchers in testing participatory approaches and establishing them on a long-term basis, HHU has offered funding of 140,000 euros per year to support citizen science projects since 2019.

Citizen science, citizen research, participatory research – these terms are often used as synonyms and all describe the involvement of individuals in research processes who are not institutionally connected to the corresponding field of science.

Citizen science is open to everyone, irrespective of age, gender, social background, expertise and perspectives. Citizens do not need to have an academic background to participate in research projects.

Citizen scientists formulate research questions together with full-time scientists, gather and evaluate data and documents, observe insects, analyse their own dialect, comment on historical collections of texts and co-author scientific publications. They can be involved on site or digitally, e.g. via special apps. Such collaborations not only have the potential to lead to new scientific projects and findings, they also facilitate dialogue between science and society on an equal footing.

Citizen participation is not new to science – in fact, it enjoys a long tradition. Examples can be found throughout history, for example in the fields of ornithology, astronomy and meteorology. In the 19th century, it often resulted in the formation of scientific societies and academies or in research contributions to historical associations and natural science museums from dedicated citizens.

Citizen participation in research projects brings great added value for institution-based scientists, the citizens involved and society as a whole.

Participation can offer new impetus for research. Full-time researchers gain access to alternative forms of knowledge, which in turn can generate new research questions and lead to new findings. Citizen participation can also help verify and increase the practical relevance and applicability of scientific results.

Citizen scientists can in turn use their expertise and ideas to co-design research processes. They broaden their knowledge about the workings of a wide variety of research disciplines and can also better comprehend the boundaries of scientific methods and findings.

Working together strengthens mutual trust – and thus enables barriers between science and society to be broken down.

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