Citizen science

What is citizen science?

Citizen science is scientific research that actively involves non-scientists. Earthwatch are passionate advocates of citizen science - it has a crucial role to play in research, and provides major benefits to people, science and the environment. Citizen science is not new! Non-meteorologists have been gathering weather data for centuries. Amateur bird watchers have recorded data for nearly as long (Crain et al 2014).

FreshWater Watch has empowered tens of thousands of people to become citizen scientists since 2012. These citizen scientists are improving monitoring, management and idea sharing about freshwater ecosystems in their local area.


The engagement and training of community members in local FreshWater Watch projects has benefited researchers, river trusts, monitoring agencies and policy makers. Governments, companies and institutions have used the project’s findings to support better decision-making processes about the use of land and resources. Attention on and acceptance of better management practices has increased as a result of these more informed and empowered communities. Citizen science can even help countries to monitor and report on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Case study: Zambia

Local people used FreshWater Watch in the Kafue river basin to meet Ministry objectives to improve monitoring in this large river. The Zambian Water Resources Management Authority (WARMA), together with WWF Zambia and Earthwatch Europe, initiated this citizen science activity in 2018 to meet Ministerial and local objectives to improve catchment management and national reporting responsibilities. Data are being collected through the programme app and being passed to WARMA. (2016 – ongoing)


Citizen science also benefits the participants. Our FreshWater Watch citizen scientists are known as ‘FreshWater Watchers’. FreshWater Watchers learn new skills, contribute to a global scientific project and join a global community. This sense of purpose, achievement and contributing to a larger goal brings huge benefits to people’s wellbeing. Spending time in nature can reduce stress and anxiety, as well as blood pressure, muscle tension and heart rate.

The core focus of FreshWater Watch is to support the gathering of robust data that can be used for scientific and management decisions. Our quality control process includes internal and external procedures, and the methods are globally consistent. This means we can compare data from any project across the globe. Every local community follows the same training programme, measurement protocols and quality control processes. We support them as they reach out to make changes in their local catchment. Participants manage the impact of projects locally, and every project has global impacts. Similar challenges and solutions have been tried across a number of projects.

This quality control process means that we can avoid any potential issues with data collected by citizen scientists, such as sampling bias and analytical challenges.

Find out more about citizen science with Earthwatch.