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GEO 2017-2019 Work Programme


Earth Observations and Citizen Science

Activity ID: 142


The widespread adoption of mobile devices and social media platforms, coupled with the development of low cost sensors, has made it easier for the public to contribute to and engage in scientific research and monitoring. This collaborative exchange with the scientific community, in which members of the public actively join the co-creation of new scientific knowledge, is known as Citizen Science.

During the last decade, Citizen Science initiatives, which are based on knowledge generated from citizens both individually and collectively, have dramatically increased. In particular, numerous initiatives have emerged that actively involve citizens in environmental monitoring and stewardship, supported by Earth Observation (EO) enabled applications. Citizens’ observations, data and information can complement official, traditional in-situ and remote sensing EO data sources in several areas, such as climate change, sustainable development, air quality monitoring, vector-borne disease monitoring, food security, flood, drought and natural perils’ monitoring, and land cover or land-use change, among other topics. There is an enormous potential to use citizen-driven observations in combination with EO data from the Sentinel family of satellites, NASA Earth Observing Systems, and commercial imagery. For example, citizens can assist with satellite, aerial or ground-based image interpretation and classification, potentially in combination with machine learning. They can provide in-situ data for calibration and validation activities, and for the integration of satellite and citizen observations to fill existing gaps.

Within this emerging field, the European Commission (EC) is supporting the development and integration of new sources of in-situ EO data collection with the support of Citizens’ Observatories in Europe. Citizens’ Observatories are community-centric initiatives that build on the social change that is taking place where citizens become more active in collecting and sharing environmental information, typically harnessing the latest technological advances (e.g. ubiquitous Internet connectivity, Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, social media, portable and inexpensive sensors). Citizens’ Observatories empower citizens to get informed and actively participate in environmental decision making, raise awareness about environmental issues, and help build more resilient societies. Five Citizens’ Observatories (CITI-SENSE, WeSenseIt, COBWEB, Citclops and OMNISCIENTIS) were funded under the EC’s FP7 programme, covering different environmental issues such as air quality, flood and water management, coastal ecosystems, biodiversity and odour annoyance. Following on the success of the pioneering Observatories, four Citizens’ Observatories Innovation Actions—LandSense, Ground Truth 2.0, SCENT, and the GROW Observatory—have been recently funded under the Horizon 2020 programme. Each of these projects will demonstrate approaches to create actionable knowledge for participatory governance and policy making with a particular focus in the field of Land Use and Land Cover. Harnessing the power of the public through such observatories and other Citizen Science initiatives around the world will enhance and augment the influence of existing Earth Observation monitoring systems, including GEOSS and Copernicus.

In North America, the US National Plan for Civil Earth Observations highlights the important role of Citizen Science in augmenting and enhancing EO, and “encourage[s] innovations for collection, exploitation, and wider use of Earth observations based on improved availability of open data, including new applications, new services, Citizen Science, and crowdsourcing.” The United States government is supporting over 400 Citizen Science projects across more than 60 federal agencies and organizations through coordination of the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science. This support includes the development and integration of in-situ citizen observations with EO data through a variety of federally sponsored-projects, such as the collaborative partnership between the Soil Moisture Active Passive Mission (SMAP), the GLOBE Program and SciStarter, which engages citizens in gravimetric soil moisture measurements for calibration validation, and also NASA’s DEVELOP program, which is combining Citizen Science observations with earth observations to better understand the spread of vector-borne disease.

Building on the aforementioned and other initiatives and programmes in the field of crowdsourcing and Citizen Science around the globe, efforts within this GEO Community Activity will focus on: promotion of standards and best practices in managing (collection, representation, annotation, processing, quality assurance) crowd-sourced data; exploration of linkages of Citizen Science data to the GEOSS and its common infrastructure (GCI); investigation of methods and tools to integrate citizen-generated data with official ones; knowledge sharing about  citizen engagement practices, case studies and demonstration pilots; exploration of synergies with other GEO initiatives such as GEOGLAM and linkages to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Tasks will also include reviews of existing citizen observatories, projects, and related activities including assessments of their impacts on local, regional and national policy; finally, it will analyze and propose how Citizen Science can contribute to social innovation.

Overarching Goals

  1. Awareness raising and promotion of Citizen Science among the GEO community at large.
  2. Addressing potential synergies between Citizen Science and GEO activities, foundational tasks, initiatives and flagships including GEO BON, GFOI and GEOGLAM.
  3. Determining best practices for discovery and access of citizen-observed data through GEOSS (including quality assurance and standards among others).

Near-term Actions

  • Scoping and initiation of a global GEOSS Citizen Science inventory – reviewing already existing Citizen Science projects that are of relevance to GEOSS and providing access to the most relevant information:
    • Produce a collection of exemplary Citizen Science projects that can be of use in GEOSS
    • Report on which Citizen Science projects can provide inputs for monitoring and supporting the SDGs
  • Analyzing existing Citizen Science projects that are relevant for GEOSS and specifying recommendations for Citizen Science to cover gaps in in-situ observations.
  • Providing guidelines for using and managing Citizen Science in GEOSS – Part 1: use of existing standards for data collection and management:
    • Conduct interoperability experiments and recommend how to offer access to Citizen Science through GEOSS
    • Conduct interoperability experiments and produce recommendations on a single sign on mechanism


Among others, projects funded under the European Commission Horizon 2020 SC5-17-2015: Demonstrating the concept of Citizen Observatories (a total of €20 Mil.) and the Horizon 2020 SC5-19-2017: Coordination of Citizens’ Observatories (WeObserve) initiative will contribute to this activity.


  • Steffen Fritz (IIASA),  
  • Joan Maso (CREAF),
  • Lea Shanley (South Big Data Innovation Hub),
  • Uta Wehn (UNESCO-IHE),  


  • Anne Bowser (Wilson Center)
  • Deborah Long (Dundee Uni.)
  • Ian McCallum (IIASA)
  • Jose Rubio Iglesias (EEA)
  • Sven Schade (JRC)
  • Athanasia Tsertou (ICCS)
  • Krystal Wilson (SWF)
  • Aletta Bonn (UFZ/iDiv),

Members: EC, Ireland, Norway, Romania, Spain, UK, United States, Germany.
Participating Organizations: IIASA, UNESCO-IHE, US NSF South Big Data Innovation Hub, EC-JRC, UFZ, iDiv, EEA.


Leadership & Contributors (this list is being populated)




Implementing Entity



Joan Masó-Pau




Lea Shanley

United States



Steffen Fritz




Uta Wehn De Montalvo




Jose Rubio Iglesias

European Commission

European Commission