TP6: The Evidence Culture of Citizen Science

Standardization, evaluation and control of participatory research

Prof. Dr. Sascha Dickel, Dr. Andreas Wenninger, Kevin Altmann, Michael Kitzing

The topic of this project is the social “opening up” of science, which is currently being negotiated under the term “Citizen Science”. Citizen Science projects are based on broad public participation in various parts of the research process. In phase 1 of our project, we explored which evidence practices are used in citizen science projects, to produce and present credible knowledge under these conditions of lay participation. It became apparent that evidence is actually increasingly being negotiated across projects, in the course of the institutionalization of citizen science.

In phase 2 we are therefore shifting the focus: the aim of the new project is the reconstruction of evidence practices at such cross-project levels. How is potentially destabilizing citizen science institutionally standardized and normalized? How and by whom are Citizen Science activities evaluated, and by what means are norms controlled and enforced? We are pursuing a broad qualitative research approach in the project: We will analyze scientific publications, position papers and protocols; we will examine technical operationalizations, digital tools and infrastructures; we will accompany working groups, network meetings, workshops and conferences, and conduct interviews and focus groups. The data obtained in this way can be used to reconstruct how norms, evaluation practices and control mechanisms are established and justified (or rejected).

The project aims to find out to what extent a transdisciplinary culture of evidence is currently developing in Citizen Science – which reacts to the mass inclusion of amateurs in research – and one in which norms, practices, technologies and lines of conflict constitute this culture. A first strand of the project focuses on an ethnographic reconstruction of the inner world of this evidence culture; on its networks, organizations and discourses. A second strand focuses on practices of public representation and the resonance of Citizen Science in science and science policy.

The research project contributes to the understanding of the contemporary evidence regime of democratic knowledge societies by revealing how evidence practices are (re-)stabilized on a meta-level of knowledge-political practice. Our working hypothesis: The more broadly anchored Citizen Science is, and the regime of social limitations of scientific research thus destabilized, the more likely it is that norms that apply in professional science will also be transferred to participatory projects, in order to replace established disciplinary criteria of validity and to be restabilized under the conditions of broad lay participation.