Collection of Case Studies of Institutional Adoption of Citizen Science

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TIME4CS is a Horizon 2020 project that aims at facilitating a way in which the scientific ecosystem could better take societal views into consideration by supporting Research Performing Organization(s) (RPOs) in defining and implementing institutional changes that can lead to a more effective engagement of citizens in research and innovation. Those institutional changes inside RPOs will entail transformation of their governance systems by taking into account both the social dimension of RPOs – i.e. the mindset of people inside the organisation – and their organisational aspects – i.e. norms, protocols, procedures, policy.

The first objective was to increase our knowledge about the actions leading to institutional changes in RPOs (which are necessary to promote CS in science and technology) through a complete and up-to-date picture based upon the identification, mapping, monitoring and analysis of ongoing CS practices. To accomplish this objective, we, the TIME4CS project team, have collected and analysed 37 case studies on the institutional adoption of Citizen Science and Open Science around the world, which this article addresses.

For an organisation to open up and accept data and information that was produced outside it, with a different framework for data collection and quality assurance, there are multiple challenges. These include existing practices and procedures, legal obligations, as well as resistance from within due to framing of such action as a threat. Research that was carried out with multiple international case studies (Haklay et al. 2014; GFDRR 2018), demonstrated the importance of different institutional and funding structures needed to enable such activities and the use of the resulting information.

The approach to sustainable institutional change that is taken by the TIME4CS project is integrating elements from a social and an organisational approach. We assume that a sustainable, irreversible, comprehensive, and inclusive change is the result of both bottom-up and top-down actions. 

At this stage of the study, our objective is to understand the pathways (which as such are necessary or sufficient conditions) that lead to successful citizen science integration by compiling cases from RPOs and analysing their internal support towards the use of a Citizen Science methodology. In our study, a successful Citizen Science integration indicates a “comparatively successful” outcome.

To explore the possible pathways, we have used fuzzy-set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (FsQCA), which can support the identification of the specific conditions and their combination that can lead to understanding successful sustainable support of citizen science practices in RPOs.

As a starting point for the analysis, we set up four propositions to to be tested by the FsQCA to understand the drivers of success:


  • Proposition 1. A considerable number of established CS projects is a necessary condition for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

This proposition is based on the rationale that once there are enough citizen science projects happening within an organisation, knowledge about and awareness of citizen science is emerging. Beyond a certain point, the institution will pay attention to these activities and may provide central support to them. This, in turn, will lead to more citizen science activities.

  • Proposition 2. Because participation in a local or national network could reinforce collaborations between different actors within the institution, different types of networks are necessary or/and sufficient conditions for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

This proposition assumes that at the stage in which an organisation joins an international network (such as ECSA), there is a level of awareness and knowledge that can support transition. In addition, we assume that such participation can strengthen the activities within the organisation through knowledge sharing.

  • Proposition 3. CS champions at different levels are a necessary or/and sufficient condition for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

This proposition is based on evidence for other institutional transformations which suggested that actors inside the organisation (champions) will influence the ability of the organisation to change.

  • Proposition 4. The existence of a strategic plan in support of CS activities and to network learning and expertise is a necessary and/or sufficient condition for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

The last proposition is that by the time the organisation sees the need for a strategic plan, there is enough awareness of citizen science within the organisation. Therefore, it is more likely that the organisation can complete the transition with additional support and resourcing.

Collection of Case Studies

Citizen science champions around the world were invited to collaborate on the TIME4CS project. At this stage, we received 28 responses from researchers and staff providing information about their RPO. This information added up to 3 case studies from University College London, Aarhus University and the citizen science Centre Zurich (Front-Runners of TIME4CS), and 6 cases collected through desk analysis of literature looking particularly at actions pertaining to the adoption of citizen science and public engagement in RPOs.

The cases are currently being added to the public website that was created as a repository https://time4citizenscience.wordpress.com/

Criteria, Definition and Calibration

To identify the institutional changes in RPOs in support of citizen science, the present FsQCA includes different Fuzzy-set variables which allow for a better description of the complexity of the analysed factors. Through two internal workshops, the different criteria for the analysis and for the ranking of the different activities were defined by the members of the TIME4CS consortium. The simplified criteria that were set include the following conditions: 


During the first stage of our analysis, we assessed which conditions proved to be necessary when institutional integration was present.  We then conducted a second analysis on those necessary conditions previously obtained, such as disciplinary focus (humanities, natural sciences, biology/ecology & Multi-faculty), presence of a single or multiple citizen science champions, institutional plan, funded coordinator, and availability of external funding (national and international).


The preliminary results of the analysis tell us that there are at least two main paths which have supported the institutional integration of citizen science in the RPOs included in this FsQCA. On the one hand, the development of citizen science projects in different disciplines including, but not limited to the Humanities, Sciences, Biology/Ecology and Multi-disciplines seems essential for both successful paths. In addition to this, both paths share the existence of multiple citizen science champions on different organisational levels – also an essential condition as students and staff can provide the bottom-up pressure that encourages institutional transformations. Senior citizen science champions play a top-down role in the decision-making for modifying the structures in the organisations. The availability of national and international funding that can be used to support citizen science initiatives is also a necessary condition for both paths. The only evident difference between the two successful paths seems to be the existence of either an institutional plan that includes citizen science (this path proved useful for University College London, Aarhus University, University of Gothenburg, and Kaunas University of Technology), or, if this was not possible/or available,  of a citizen science coordinator, which proved to be the necessary condition for Leiden University, Oficina de Ciencia Ciudadana de Barcelona and Muenster University.

As per the initial propositions, we can conclude that a considerable number of established CS projects in an RPO is not a necessary condition for the success of institutional integration in support of CS. Neither is participation in a local or national network, as different types of networks are not sufficient conditions for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

On the contrary, having CS champions at different levels has proved to be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the success of institutional transition in support of CS. In a similar way, the existence of a strategic plan in support of CS activities emerged as a necessary condition for the success of institutional transition in support of CS.

The complete analysis and explanation of results is available here.


Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR), 2018. Identifying success factors in crowdsourced geographic information use in government. World Bank.

Haklay, M., Antoniou, V., Basiouka, S., Soden, R. and Mooney, P., 2014. Crowdsourced geographic information use in government. World Bank Publications.


Annex: https://bit.ly/3xw3pOk

Audience: Academics
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