Many of the narratives outlined projects where researchers were collaborating with public volunteers to expand opportunities for the collection of data as well as disseminating scientific information and findings to the public.
The term that is commonly used for this type of engagement is ‘citizen science’. The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in June 2014 defined ‘citizen science’ as "scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions". The aim of citizen science is to help answer real-world problems by the gathering of some form of data by individuals or a community. Citizen science projects involve ordinary people taking part in particular tasks including crowdsourcing, data analysis, and data collection. The universities recognised the benefits of involving members of the public through harnessing the interests or hobbies of groups of individuals. In addition:
- Community engagement was recognised as being at the core of these type of projects and researchers often engaged a wide range of audiences, including school children, teachers, hobby clubs and environmental agencies.
- These interested non-professionals provided a ready and willing resource of amateur scientists that were able to contribute to crucial areas of research through carrying out relatively easy tasks.
- To ensure that the data gathered was useful, these projects needed to be set up after a lot of thought and designed with the ease and context of tasks in mind.
- The idea was to break down big tasks into understandable components that anyone could perform and the people collecting the data needed to know what they were taking part in and the importance of the data being collected.
- Common examples of the types of data collected included soil samples, water samples, bird-watching and recording sightings of marine species.
- Public input was also sourced for research in the Humanities and Social Sciences. For example, amateur animators were sourced to contribute to the production of a music video. Each animator contributed 50 frames.
- A key method of engaging with the community when recruiting for such projects was through the use of a variety of forms of media including social media, TV and radio.
Citizen science projects also demonstrated that ordinary people were interested in science and were willing to donate their time to contribute to something they saw as meaningful. It proved to be an invaluable engagement tool for researchers when undertaking research and discovery as well as maintaining interest in science within the community.