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Introduction to Community Science

What Is Community Science?

With community science, community members collaborate to conduct and leverage scientific research and technological innovation to advance community priorities and benefit from knowledge and advancements of science and engineering, often in collaboration with scientists and science-engagement practitioners.

Community science is essential because our world faces critical challenges that are multi-disciplinary and exist at the intersection of science and society: climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, public-health preparedness, systemic disparities in health outcomes, and the opportunities and risks associated with rapidly-developing technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, and advanced computational technology. In each realm, there are ethical considerations and trade-offs that the public must deliberate on and help construct solutions for in order to ensure relevance and equity.

In the context of community science, “science” is defined very broadly to include all disciplines of basic and applied science, engineering, technology, and mathematics. Community science often involves using scientific methods, processes, and tools to gather data and collect observations. It might also incorporate data analysis and the application to understand current circumstances and advance community priorities, including applying this knowledge to build and deploy tools to support community outcomes.

Our community science framework is meant to help science engagement practitioners and leaders better understand the diverse models and approaches to community science that are currently in use. By describing these approaches, developing a framework of attributes and potential outcomes, and documenting exemplary models, we hope to provide a guiding light and concrete strategies for practitioners and leaders to build on as they adopt and adapt community science locally.

What Does Community Science Look Like?

Community science encompasses a diverse set of community-centered approaches, models, and tools that support communities as they use science and technology to answer their own questions and construct their own solutions. This might mean that community members are influencing a research agenda, conducting scientific research, or analyzing and interpreting data to address priorities. In pursuit of constructing 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.

Devin Jefferson, Community Catalyst at the Science Museum of Virginia, works with members of the Richmond community to gather data for community science projects focused on air quality and heat islands.

Who Are the Communities in Community Science?

We define “communities” broadly—as connected or organized groups of people who share a common geography, jurisdiction, set of characteristics, or interests and goals—not just a particular racial or ethnic group or zip code. Community priorities related to science and technology might include improving air or water quality, planning for climate resiliency, improving health outcomes, making sense of governmental open data, weighing in on the ethical implications of new research and technology, shaping research agendas, and much more.

For science and technology centers and museums, community science is an emerging practice that they can employ to fulfill their missions to advance lifelong science learning, connect science and society, engage diverse audiences, and participate in solving local and global challenges. Community science is a type of community engagement that leverages the potential of science centers to play a critical role in the science engagement ecosystem and can directly address current and historical injustices. Read more about ASTC’s approach to community science and how ASTC’s Community Science Initiative is working to build capacity for community science within science and technology centers and museums.