The participation of citizens in research is a central component of the Bürgeruniversität. HHU wants to help bring scientific processes and the work of researchers closer to the public, thus breaking down barriers between science and society. The opening of 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 their scientists in testing participatory approaches and to establish these on a long-term basis, HHU has been supporting research projects with citizen participation since 2019 – with EUR 140,000 per year.
Citizen science, citizen research, participatory research. These terms are frequently used synonymously. They all describe the participation of people in scientific processes which are not institutionally bound in this area of science.
Citizen science is open to everyone; it is directed towards citizens who differ in age, sex, social origin, expertise and perspectives. Academic training of the citizen is not a pre-requisite for participation in these research projects.
Here, citizen scientists formulate research questions together with scientists, they compile and evaluate data and documents, observe insects, analyse their own dialects, comment on historical collections of texts and co-author scientific publications. Citizen scientists work on site or via the digital medium, e.g. using special apps. Such collaboration not only has the chance to lead to new scientific projects and findings, it also facilitates a dialogue between science and society on an equal footing.
Citizen participation is not new to science – in fact it enjoys a long tradition. Examples of this can be found throughout history, in the fields of ornithology, astronomy and meteorology; in the 19th century, this often resulted in the formation of scientific societies and academies, or also in research contributions by dedicated citizens in historical associations and in natural science museums.
Citizen participation in research projects brings great added value for the institution-based scientists, the citizens involved, and for society as a whole.
Participation can revitalise research. Full-time researchers gain access to alternative forms of knowledge, which can in turn 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 the most varied research disciplines and can also better comprehend the boundaries of scientific methods and findings.
Working with each other strengthens mutual trust – and thus barriers between science and society can be abolished.