An Introduction to Community Science Approaches
Community science encompasses a diverse set of approaches to help communities cultivate deeper connections with science. This might mean that community members create a research agenda, conduct scientific research, or analyze and interpret data. In pursuit of constructing sustainable solutions, community members might develop recommendations for action, change an institution’s policies and practices, or propose or influence public policy at the local, state, or national level.
These five approaches appear across community science research and practice:
- Dialogue and deliberation: Public dialogue and deliberation programs on how science, technology, and innovation intersect with societal issues
- Community-driven citizen science: Projects that address community interests and questions using research approaches co-developed by non-professional scientists
- Civic engagement and policy making: Using research as an input for collective action and making policy and governance decisions to advance communities’ goals
- Open innovation: Open challenges, competitions, and calls to action that use science and technology to solve difficult problems
- Participatory research: Community participation in the design and implementation of research initiatives
The methods and goals of these approaches often overlap. Public deliberation, for example, generates ideas that can inform policymaking and research initiatives. Citizen science projects, civic engagement, and open challenges often involve community participation in design and implementation of research initiatives.
These approaches are categorized here by what their primary “purpose” or focus is: to deliberate on an issue, to share and analyze data together for more complete pictures of the natural and social world, to take collective action to solve a community issue, to provide “surge capacity” for innovations and break-throughs, or to advance more rigorous research in a particular area.
Scientists, policymakers, and powerful institutions—including science centers and museums as they comparatively have more resources and social capital than many communities—must ask how they can be responsive to community concerns in order to address deep societal inequities and create an equitable and sustainable future.
Dialogue & Deliberation
Dialogue and deliberation are methods for surfacing or refining community priorities and supporting decision making around societal challenges that lie at the intersection of science, technology, and human well-being.
Community-driven Citizen Science
Civic Engagement and Policy Making
Community science can be an approach for civic engagement and collective decision making that builds communities’ capacity to conduct and shape the research that informs and influences governance and policymaking.
Open challenges and other open calls for experimentation and action encompass a set of tools, approaches, and programs that help innovators from diverse sectors and backgrounds join forces to find solutions to difficult problems in science, technology, and society.
Through participatory community science, communities shape the research questions, data collection and analyses methods, and dissemination of research results to advance understanding on a particular topic of importance for the community.
Dialogue & Deliberation
Public dialogue and deliberation programs on how science, technology, and innovation intersect with societal issues
Dialogue and deliberation programs are facilitated sessions that bring together community members to discuss societal issues of concern and to develop recommendations and policy solutions, including increasing understanding as well as resolving conflicts. Dialogue and deliberation are methods for engaging community members in discussions that surface or refine community priorities and support decision making around difficult complex societal challenges that lie at the intersection of science, technology, and human well-being. For example, climate change and sustainability, consumer genetics and vaccines, and the relationship of artificial intelligence to the future of work. Dialogue encourages openness, respect, and the ability to find common ground; deliberation draws on this dialogue to help participants seek more information and evidence, evaluate various options, potentially changing or re-examining preferences or beliefs, and eventually come to agreement and make informed decisions.
Community-driven Citizen Science
Projects that address community interests and questions using data collected by and research approaches co-developed by non-professional scientists
Citizen science refers to people who are not professional scientists collecting and/or analyzing data as part of larger research projects. It can include a wide-range of activities and the definitions, and boundaries are dynamic and not always clear. Typically, citizen science involves crowdsourcing data to collectively build up a greater understanding of the phenomena that make up our environments, world, and universe. In particular, citizen science typically relies on open access technologies and similar resources for collecting, sharing, and analyzing data among larger communities connected through their interest in a potential science topic or project. Citizen science can address community questions and priorities, and may involve community members in all aspects of the research process beyond just data collection.
Civic Engagement and Policy Making
Using research as an input for collective action and making policy and governance decisions to advance communities’ goals
Community engagement in decision-making processes involving science—such as how to address environmental risks in a community—strives to improve the quality and legitimacy of decisions, as well as the capacity of all stakeholders to address the current issues and build capacity for future challenges. Community science can be an approach for civic engagement and collective decision making that builds communities’ capacity to conduct and shape the research that informs and influences governance and policymaking. In these types of community science projects, research is an immediate product—like citizen science projects—but with the primary purpose of using that research as an input for collective action and making policy and governance decisions to advance communities’ goals. Who participates and what form that participation takes can vary depending on the particular issue and form of engagement and governance that communities choose. In all cases, however, community science is driven by communities, rather than by researchers or policymakers.
Open challenges, competitions, and calls to action that use science and technology to solve difficult problems
Open challenges and other open calls for experimentation and action are a form of open innovation: a set of tools, approaches, and programs that help innovators from diverse sectors and backgrounds join forces to make breakthroughs in finding solutions to difficult problems in science, technology, and society. They are “open” because anyone can join in (often in competition) on a mission to create a solution, including individuals and organizations from universities, government agencies, nonprofits, companies, and anyone interested in solving the problem. The open innovation process generally starts with defining the problem, announcing the open call for participation, and selecting a solution, followed by support and scaling of that solution. In this process, the focus is on bringing in people from outside an organization to help solve a problem. Some open innovation events are led by research, government, industry, or other organizations but include communities in helping define the problem and shape methods and testing of solutions.
Community participation in the design and implementation of research initiatives
One of the most common forms for community science is when communities help design and implement research to advance understanding on a particular topic of importance for the community. In participatory community science, the community is the primary conductor of research and participation, and the immediate purpose is to produce better research on a specific topic and for specific communities (rather than for advancing explicit governance and policymaking goals). Through participatory community science, communities shape the research questions, data collection and analyses methods, and dissemination of results. Community science here will almost always feature partnerships with professional researchers.
What's Next? Learning More About Attributes and Outcomes
Visit the Attributes and Outcomes section to learn more about the central role this framework plays, and how it can help guide practitioners and leaders seeking to engage in community science.