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The potential of citizen science in the social sciences and humanities

Simona Cerrato
Feb. 8, 2022, 7 p.m.

The power of interdisciplinarity can manifest itself in a striking way in the emerging field of citizen science in the social sciences and humanities. Citizen science has found and still finds its most rooted and widespread expressions in the natural sciences. Yet the social sciences and humanities are gaining ground and increasing recognition, because they can help express the human potential of research and explore those complex and sometimes controversial territories and dimensions of many current issues that are multidimensional in themselves. The social sciences and humanities open up a broad methodological spectrum and enrich research with new approaches that can lead to an increase in public participation, now more necessary than ever in the dialogue between science and society.

The social sciences and humanities still face considerable barriers in gaining more recognition in the field of citizen science, one of which is undoubtedly the scarcity of funds or the difficulty in accessing existing funding resources. It is not a negligible obstacle, and how it can be addressed is being dealt with by the COESO project.

COESO devised two documents, a good point of reference for the entire community: a landscape study on funding schemes for citizen science activities in the social sciences and the humanities, and an advocacy plan to promote more effective and accessible funding schemes. The latter provides a series of clear actions for improving citizen science funding in the social sciences and humanities, along with suggestions on how funders and recipients of funding can implement them in practice.

The advocacy plan suggests a number of actions to raise awareness on the issue of citizen science funding. It also lists some actions aimed at building and sustaining a “community in action”, that is a network that reflects, explores, shares experiences, and devises innovative solutions for effective funding schemes for citizen science in the social sciences and humanities. 

Taking inspiration from the advocacy plan, Alessia Smaniotto, philosopher of social sciences at the EHESS (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales) in Paris and project coordination manager of the project, wishes to stress that “The lack of funding opportunities, or rather the mismatch of calls for funding and potential recipients of funding, is one of the main barriers for the uptake of social sciences and humanities citizen science projects in Europe. COESO is specifically focused on social sciences and humanities, because our disciplines are systemically underfunded, and not only regarding citizen science activities.”

The landscape study on funding schemes for social sciences and the humanities citizen science activities is an exploratory work, aimed at incepting a broader comprehension of the issue, and shows preliminary findings. It highlights good practices, gaps and shortcomings on the current ways of funding citizen science in the social sciences and humanities.

A key recommendation based on the results of the study is to engage main stakeholders, including funding agencies, to evolve the current funding schemes. It is not surprising that among the main findings there is a confusion of language and definition regarding citizen science, a term that is not yet common in many circles. The existing common "citizen science" definition is therefore of great help, because it facilitates the alignment of the diversity of local vocabularies towards the description of common practices.

Funds are often found to go to large projects with high budgets, at the expense of smaller local experiences. This penalizes the diversity of approaches and denies access to funds for small organizations rooted in a specific territory or community. These are often unable to even get to the information or prepare and deliver a project according to the requirements.

It is very important for citizen science projects in the social sciences and humanities to include collaborative work  with non-research organizations – also referred to as “third sector” parties. However, the third sector has a different definition in each country, with very different legislation and more or less wide fields of action. Therefore, it is not always clear when or how third sector entities are entitled to be involved in the application process. This fact is another important barrier to accessing funds.

Finally, the role of the social sciences and humanities in citizen science is still underrepresented and, above all, not recognized enough. On this aspect the whole community is called to make an effort to make the presence of social sciences and humanities and its impact more visible in citizen science.

Following these considerations, COESO landscape study open the discussion suggesting some recommendations:

  • take into account the diversity of terms for referring to citizen science

  • explicitly highlight social sciences contribution in multidisciplinary projects

  • disseminate the multiple impacts of social sciences and humanities

  • diversify the funding schemes

  • promote and support the participation of third sector organizations as recipients and as providers of funding

  • develop tools to search for funding opportunities (existing tools are FundIt or the UKRI funding finder)

  • promote alliances and networks, both among funding agencies and recipients of funding

  • promote transparent and findable communication for funding received or provided by corresponding organizations.

All this is, of course, a starting point. The entire citizen science field can benefit from the potential of the social sciences and humanities and their interdisciplinary features, in terms of visibility, impact and sustainability. A greater connection between different types of knowledge is the necessary way to address contemporary social and scientific issues, which are trans-disciplinary, diffused and characterized by uncertainty and ambiguity. Natural sciences and technology cannot deal with them alone.


Elisabeth Ernst, Claire  Murray, Maite Pelacho, Léa Morabito,  Kelly Achenbach, Alessia Smaniotto, Andrea Troncoso, François Fameli, (2021), COESO Deliverable 4.3: Funding Advocacy Action Plan, 

Maite Pelacho, Francisco Sanz, Daniel Lisbona, Alessia Smaniotto, Elisabeth Ernst, COESO Deliverable 4.1: Landscape study on funding schemes for Social Sciences and the Humanities' Citizen Science activities, 


Alessia Smaniotto and Kelly Achenbach, COESO Project

COESO aims to develop and sustain citizen science research in the social sciences and humanities. We support 10 pilots involving SSH researchers together with journalists, artists, members of associations and practitioners. We are building a platform in support of participatory research involving the SSH, for small scale teams. The platform will allow people to find new potential partners, will provide a space for the first steps of the team collaboration, and will connect with funding databases to find relevant funding to carry on the projects. The platform will also include a self-assessment tool that we call cooperation analytics.

(Photo: Simona Cerrato | CC:BY)

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