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Attributes & Outcomes of Community Science

ASTC’s community science landscaping efforts have generated a framework of attributes and outcomes that are often present in community science work. This framework is not intended to be a checklist, and a community science program does not need to exhibit all of the attributes and outcomes to be effective. Below are full descriptions of each of the attributes and outcomes, including links to references and related resources.

This framework of attributes and outcomes of community science has been informed by a literature review and cataloging of existing models, approaches, and toolkits aimed at scientists, science engagement professionals, community organizers, practitioners, and researchers. These attributes and outcomes were refined through interviews and workshops conducted with science engagement professionals who supplied further examples of community science work in action.



Centers Community Priorities

Honors and centers community priorities

Community science starts with listening to, understanding, and centering community priorities1, 2, 3, 4. Community science projects can be initiated by a science practitioner or a community member, but they must become a collaborative endeavor in order to be successful. Communities should be centrally involved in shaping the research goals and questions from the beginning of a community science project1, 3, 5, 6, 7 to ensure that the rest of the project builds on those priorities. Listening to and honoring community priorities requires building in ample space and time for communities to have voice8 and for all partners to clearly communicate their perspectives and goals in ways that all stakeholders can empathize with, understand, and value3, 4, 7. Creating this space requires learning and following community communication norms9. It also involves practicing “cultural humility”10—or working to have an accurate view of one’s own identities as researcher, community member, etc. and how they intersect—and recognizing that no single identity or form of expertise is superior to another when it comes to creating ideas and solutions together11.

Community science efforts often center community priorities through a process of co-creation that includes community members, science practitioners, science engagement professionals, and other stakeholders. This attribute of co-creation helps ensure that community science is done with, and not for, communities12. It also helps ensure that the project accomplishes true change and transformation for the communities, the scientific researchers and other partners involved5, 8.


Respects Communities’ Strengths

Emphasizes and respects community knowledges and leverages community strengths

Communities hold diverse knowledges and experiences that are necessary for understanding and successfully addressing various issues. Community science is driven by deep, meaningful, and respectful inclusion of community insights13, 14, 15, 16, 17. Centering and honoring those knowledges helps ensure that all aspects of a community science project meet community goals and incorporates the information necessary to have a clear picture of an issue and its contexts in communities to create sustainable, positive impacts5, 12, 18. Respecting and valuing other ways of knowing does not mean compromising scientific integrity. Rather, it acknowledges that scientific exploration and technological application benefit and evolve from valuing the lived and learned experiences, assets, cultural funds of knowledge, and expertise of communities and of participants in community science activities19.

In addition to important knowledge and experience, communities bring strengths to community science that improve the science and the community capacity to advance scientific and community goals. Projects that take a strength-centered approach are designed to identify, tailor to, and build with these community abilities and resources10, 12, 16. The goal is that all partners gain greater awareness of their own valuable strengths, knowledge, resources,20, 21 and greater capacity to build on and improve those individual and shared resources going forward5, 22, 23, 24 . Ideally, each partner should go into a community science project committed to continual learning and improvement, ultimately working together to identify and share the diverse expertise and skills of all collaborators8, 25 .


Shares Leadership

Shares leadership and ownership of the process and products

Driven by community priorities and co-created with partners, community science activities will benefit from sharing leadership throughout the project as well as co-ownership of the process and results21. Co-leadership is shared decision-making power26. Co-ownership involves physical ownership of products like data collections, analyses, results, and communications of those results27. It also involves ownership in less tangible but often as or more important ways, such as feeling that a project is yours and that you have control and responsibility over how it occurs and its impacts on yourself and others5, 21.

The responsibility that comes with co-leadership and co-ownership demands incorporating systems for accountability. Accountability in community science means that all partners acknowledge their potential impacts on and responsibilities to each other, those they represent, all broader project stakeholders, community integrity, scientific integrity, and society at large7, 13, 15. Community science efforts almost always involve understanding and addressing power imbalances, especially in how society values scientific expertise compared to other forms of knowledge and expertise. This is particularly the case for community science in communities that are underserved and underrepresented in science and decisionmaking26. Often sharing leadership, co-creation, and co-ownership can lead to conflict between different partners’ viewpoints, assumptions, methods, or goals16. This is where co-learning is particularly valuable for having productive conflict15, learning from each other to coordinate strengths, and co-creating solutions to challenges that emerge7, 16. In practice, then, co-leadership and co-ownership almost always require a focus on empowering communities to address power imbalances5. This focus on equity and redistributing power is the next attribute of community science.



Focuses on and advances equity, through shifting power to communities and addressing disparities

Successful community science focuses on building equitable relationships and advancing equitable outcomes. Historical and current systemic racism and discrimination create harmful disparities: in community well-being, in representation in scientific research and broader society, and in access to resources and decision-making. Focusing on equity in these contexts means focusing on community empowerment in particular through redistributing resources, opportunities, and other forms of power and benefits in ways that counteract those disparities6, 14, 15, 16, 18, 21, 23, 24. This requires focusing on inclusion throughout the research project, such as through the attributes of co-creation, co-leadership and co-ownership, capacity-building, and creating respectful spaces, processes, and relationships to center community priorities6, 14, 25, 28.

In practice, building for inclusion and equity means explicitly and openly discussing and addressing power imbalances and discrimination. This includes generating ways to address discrimination that affect the partners based on race, ethnicity, social class, gender, sexuality, health status, and any other characteristics that partners raise as relevant to the community science context and work10, 20. This also means openly acknowledging power and different forms of privilege as they appear within the partnerships2, 5, 15, 20. Centering community knowledge through deep listening and a commitment to co-learning and self-reflection become especially important for achieving this, as does accountability to each other and to the success of the relationships and work of the partnerships 8, 20.

It is critical to make opportunities for participation accessible to all partners13, 16, 20. Communicating scientific and technical information clearly and in the languages of the participating communities is key to ensuring that partners and participants have the information they want and need to meaningfully engage2. Additional resources and planning also help improve equitable access and inclusion, such as meeting in Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant and community-centered locations and providing childcare, food, transportation, and compensation for partners’ time2, 21.


Aims for Action

Aims for action and leverages scientific and technological progress to support community priorities and problem solving

Community science is about working with communities to engage science in locally relevant problem solving that addresses community priorities, values, and aspirations. In almost all cases, community science involves creating and enacting innovative solutions to scientific and societal questions and problems14. In some cases, action will take the form of civic action and advocacy for policymaking16. In other cases, action will be personal and focus on community-level interventions to improve community health, as seen in many of the forms of community participation in research initiatives. This may also call for connecting to region-specific needs when addressing global issues and integrating emerging technology. Just as scientific and technological progress can shape society, societal context should inform and frame presentations, discussions, and applications of scientific and technological progress, allowing the contribution of participants to be valued.

This focus on action often involves increasing scientific agency among community partners27, 29. Scientific agency describes “the ability to act on the world in personally meaningful ways” through scientific knowledge and methods27. Scientific agency can be built through strengthening individual understandings of scientific knowledge and practice, identifying and deepening personal expertise and confidence in those areas, and then using that expertise to build solutions for community change22, 27. Aiming for action also involves recognizing the many strengths, resources, and capacities that community members and partners bring to the effort, such as through civic engagement, leadership abilities, material and informational resources, social networks, community cohesion, and shared history and values24. Because these capacities are at the community level, individuals within communities and the community science partnerships can contribute in different ways aligned with their different strengths to achieve shared goals and actions24, 30.



Strong Community Partnerships

Establishes and sustains trusted, mutually beneficial partnerships

The trust and relationships cultivated through community science practices and attributes lay the foundation for long-term partnerships between community members and institutions like museums, local non-profits, libraries, industry partners, university, K-12 schools, or others21, 26, 31, 32. Community science projects should be designed to sustain and develop mutual trust between partners by generating evidence that partners do in fact “walk the talk” in working toward shared visions8. Trust among partners within these complex systems of community and science can also lead to all partners increasing their ability to navigate and solve complex problems and drive toward systemic change25. Community science can also ensure that any processes and actions live within the community and can be sustained by the community beyond the life of a particular project4, 5, 28.


Increased Science Agency

Increases community capacity to leverage the tools of science to ask questions, pursue solutions, and advance community priorities

By expanding opportunities to do science and see how it can lead to tangible outcomes relevant to one’s own community, community science has the ability to expand scientific literacy and self-efficacy—as well as individuals’ conceptions of who can be a scientist.

With a focus on strengths and on building community capacity, as well as a more complete picture of an issue, community science can expand and build on partners’ understanding of what science entails, what it can be used for, and who can do science. Community partners can gain their own scientific agency on a particular science area through greater research competency and technical understanding7, 23. This can also generate greater capacity for doing and engaging with science beyond a particular community science project to other science-related issues and processes23. This greater understanding and confidence, as well as the personal relationships generated with professional scientists, have the potential to then lead to greater trust in members of the scientific community and scientific institutions23. These experiences can build interest in science as a tool for understanding the world and co-creating solutions and new possibilities.


Impactful Scientific Research

Strengthens the validity and rigor through broader participation

Community science can improve scientific research in a variety of ways. For example it can enhance the data quality in studies by increasing participation rates. Community science can strengthen the external validity and overall rigor of the research by grounding it in real-life contexts13 and providing additional perspectives that can amend inaccurate or incomplete assumptions33, 34. Community science can also improve the overall relevance of the study by helping develop research questions that reflect community priorities and realities, and through ensuring findings and communication approaches allow the takeaways to be readily applied in the real world33.


Ethical Decision-Making

Informs moral and ethical guidelines and decision-making for research and the application of technology

Community science incorporates diverse perspectives and grounds research in broader contexts of the social, cultural, and ethical implications of an issue, including possible solutions or courses of action7, 23. By considering the moral and ethical implications for the use of research and the ramifications of these implications on communities, and engaging community members in identifying the best mechanisms for relevant dissemination of findings, community science ensures awareness of those potential implications of technological advancements and developments.


Inspiration for New Science

Inspires new insights, questions, and methods for science

In community science, all parties learn from the approach, the process, and each other; scientists learn from the community, community members learn from the science. Co-creation with communities can improve the quality of research produced35, and the findings can help to close gaps in existing research, because community science often involves developing novel approaches or focusing on understudied issues and contexts21. Community science can also inform and inspire advances in scientific methods, processes, and questions beyond a particular project. Findings and methods can be adapted, tested, and applied in other contexts 12, and new questions will be raised that can inspire future research23. Just as importantly, the relationships built between communities and scientists can grow and sustain future collaborations that spur new scientific research and practices.


Capacity for Civic Engagement

Leverages and builds community capacity for civic engagement

Community science encourages broad participation in public discussion about civic issues, policies, or decisions of consequence to individuals’ lives, communities, and society. Community science supports communities in producing greater capacity for deep engagement across issues in science and broader society, including engagement in public agencies, governing bodies, research institutions, and others in science and policy-making institutions10, 36. Through community science collaborations, these institutions can be more open to diverse community partners and democratize their approaches and structures23, 37.


Sustainable Solutions for Society

Yields effective and sustainable solutions, grounded in communities

By centering research in communities, community science can be effective for generating and implementing sustainable solutions to improve community well-being, from both an environmental and human health perspective6, 10, 21. Community science approaches build on approaches in other sectors, including sustainable livelihoods approaches to development, that put community needs at the center of any action taken, prioritize community capacity, and build long-term sustainability for the community38.

1Mónica I. Feliú-Mójer, “Gene Editing Communication Must Center Marginalized Communities,” Environmental Communication 14, no. 7 (July 2020): pp. 877-880, https://doi.org/10.1080/17524032.2020.1812274.

2“Sources of Power” (National Community Development Institute), accessed October 21, 2021, https://www.buildingmovement.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Sources_of_Power.pdf.

3Diana Dalbotten et al., “Community-Driven Research in the Anthropocene,” in Future Earth: Advancing Civic Understanding of the Anthropocene (Hoboken, New Jersey: American Geophysical/John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2014), pp. 53-66.

4Kerry Strand et al., “Principles of Best Practice for Community-Based Research,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 9, no. 2 (2003): 5–15. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0009.301.

5“Equitable Collaboration Framework” (Organizing Engagement, January 15, 2020), https://organizingengagement.org/featured/equitable-collaboration-framework/.

6Mona Loutfy et al., “Establishing the Canadian HIV Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS): Operationalizing Community-Based Research in a Large National Quantitative Study,” BMC Medical Research Methodology 16, no. 1 (2016), https://doi.org/10.1186/s12874-016-0190-7.

7“Good Participatory Practice Guidelines for Biomedical HIV Prevention Trials 2011” (UNAIDS, June 2011), https://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/JC1853_GPP_Guidelines_2011_en_0.pdf.

8“Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing.” (Working Group on Globalization and Trade Meeting), accessed October 22, 2021, http://www.ejnet.org/ej/jemez.pdf.

9William E. Hartmann et al., “Advancing Community-Based Research with Urban American Indian Populations: Multidisciplinary Perspectives,” American Journal of Community Psychology 54, no. 1-2 (2014): pp. 72-80, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-014-9643-5.

10Meredith Minkler et al., “Community-Based Participatory Research: A Strategy for Building Healthy Communities and Promoting Health through Policy Change” (PolicyLink and School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, 2012), https://www.policylink.org/sites/default/files/CBPR.pdf.

11Susan E. Collins et al., “Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR): Towards Equitable Involvement of Community in Psychology Research.,” American Psychologist 73, no. 7 (2018): pp. 884-898, https://doi.org/10.1037/amp0000167.

12Patrick Kirkby, Casey Williams, and Saleemul Huq, “Community-Based Adaptation (CBA): Adding Conceptual Clarity to the Approach, and Establishing Its Principles and Challenges,” Climate and Development 10, no. 7 (September 2017): pp. 577-589, https://doi.org/10.1080/17565529.2017.1372265.

13“Why Am I Always Being Researched?” (Chicago Beyond, 2018), https://chicagobeyond.org/researchequity/.

14Shannon Dosemagen, April 14, 2020, https://sdosemagen.medium.com/exploring-the-roots-the-evolution-of-civic-and-community-science-80dd899335cb

15Gita Gulati-Partee and Maggie Potapchuk, “Authentic & Equitable Partnerships: A Framework for Building Movements” (Funders Network for Reproductive Equity, April 2017), https://wearefre.org/resources/authentic-and-equitable-partnerships/file.

16Bora Simmons, “Community Engagement: Guidelines for Excellence” (National Project for Excellence in Environmental Education, April 26, 2017), https://naaee.org/eepro/resources/community-engagement-guidelines.

17Stacy M. Rasmus et al., “With a Spirit That Understands: Reflections on a Long‐Term Community Science Initiative to End Suicide in Alaska,” American Journal of Community Psychology 64, no. 1-2 (2019): pp. 34-45, https://doi.org/10.1002/ajcp.12356.

18Anthony Charles et al., “Community Science: A Typology and Its Implications for Governance of Social-Ecological Systems,” Environmental Science & Policy 106 (2020): pp. 77-86, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2020.01.019.

19Emily Oswald, “Getting to Know Other Ways of Knowing: Boundary Experiences in Citizen Science,” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 5, no. 1 (2020): p. 25, https://doi.org/10.5334/cstp.310.

20John Annoni et al., “Meaningful Collaborations: A Workbook for Community Leaders, Educators, and Advocates Working with Science Institutions” (NOISE Project), https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xxyUdiE1vqnH2_pQeYCRfHwGOyFzECxb/view.

21Grace Kyoon-Achan et al., “Innovating for Transformation in First Nations Health Using Community-Based Participatory Research,” Qualitative Health Research 28, no. 7 (2018): pp. 1036-1049, https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732318756056.

22Heidi L. Ballard, Colin G.H. Dixon, and Emily M. Harris, “Youth-Focused Citizen Science: Examining the Role of Environmental Science Learning and Agency for Conservation,” Biological Conservation 208 (2017): pp. 65-75, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocon.2016.05.024.

23Melissa Varga et al., “Scientist-Community Partnerships: A Scientist’s Guide to Successful Collaboration” (Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, April 12, 2016), https://www.ucsusa.org/sites/default/files/attach/2016/04/ucs-scientist-community-partnerships-2016.pdf.

24Matthew Chinman et al., “Developing a Community Science Research Agenda for Building Community Capacity for Effective Preventive Interventions,” American Journal of Community Psychology 35, no. 3-4 (2005): pp. 143-157, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-005-3390-6.

25Catherine McCarthy and Brad Herring, “Museum & community partnerships: collaboration guide” (Science Museum of Minnesota, November 2015), https://www.nisenet.org/collaboration-guide.

26Kerry Strand et al., “Principles of Best Practice for Community-Based Research,” Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 9, no. 2 (2003): 5–15. https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/mjcsl/3239521.0009.301.

27“Fostering Environmental Science Agency in Youth-focused Community and Citizen Science” (University of California Davis Center for Community and Citizen Science), https://education.ucdavis.edu/sites/main/files/ccs_yccs_research_brief_esa_final_0.pdf.

28Nina Wallerstein and Bonnie Duran, “Community-Based Participatory Research Contributions to Intervention Research: The Intersection of Science and Practice to Improve Health Equity,” American Journal of Public Health 100, no. S1 (2010), https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2009.184036.

29Daniel Birmingham et al., “‘But the Science We Do Here Matters’: Youth-Authored Cases of Consequential Learning,” Science Education 101, no. 5 (March 2017): pp. 818-844, https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.21293.

30Wolff-Michael Roth and Stuart Lee, “Science Education as/for Participation in the Community,” Science Education 88, no. 2 (2004): pp. 263-291, https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.10113.

31William E. Hartmann et al., “Advancing Community-Based Research with Urban American Indian Populations: Multidisciplinary Perspectives,” American Journal of Community Psychology 54, no. 1-2 (2014): pp. 72-80, https://doi.org/10.1007/s10464-014-9643-5.

32Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH) Fact Sheet (2015), https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/partnerships_for_environmental_public_health_peph_508.pdf.

33Carolina L. Balazs and Rachel Morello-Frosch, “The Three Rs: How Community-Based Participatory Research Strengthens the Rigor, Relevance, and Reach of Science,” Environmental Justice 6, no. 1 (2013): pp. 9-16, https://doi.org/10.1089/env.2012.0017.

34Brian Wynne, “May the sheep safely graze? a reflexive view of the expert–lay knowledge divide,” In S. LashB. Szerszynski, & B. Wynne (Eds.), Risk, environment and modernity: Towards a new ecology: pp. 44-83, https://www.doi.org/10.4135/9781446221983.n3

35Linda Silka et al., “Creating Community-Based Participatory Research in a Diverse Community: A Case Study,” Journal of Empirical Research on Human Research Ethics 3, no. 2 (2008): pp. 5-16, https://doi.org/10.1525/jer.2008.3.2.5.

36Susanne Hecker et al., eds., Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy (London, UK: UCL Press, 2018).

37Maureen G. Reed and Kirsten McIlveen, “Toward a Pluralistic Civic Science?: Assessing Community Forestry,” Society & Natural Resources 19, no. 7 (2006): pp. 591-607, https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920600742344.

38John Farrington, “Sustainable Livelihoods, Rights and the New Architecture of Aid,” Sustainable Livelihoods, Rights and the New Architecture of Aid (London, UK: Overseas Development Institute, 2001). https://cdn.odi.org/media/documents/2823.pdf.