Citizen science might be voluntary but results are not always open: Recommendations to improve data openness

Being voluntary, citizen science work is often automatically assumed to also be openly available. Contrary to the expectations, however, a recent study of the datasets available from volunteers on the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) prove to be among the most restrictive in how they can be used.

There is a high demand for biodiversity observation data to inform conservation and environmental policy, and citizen scientists generate the vast majority of terrestrial biodiversity observations. The analysis on GBIF showed that citizen science datasets comprise 10% of datasets on GBIF, but actually account for the impressive 60% of all observations.

Invaluable as a resource for conservationists and biodiversity scientists, however, these resources unfortunately often come with restrictions for re-use. Although the vast majority of citizen science datasets did not include a license statement, as a whole, they ranked low on the openness of their data.

The assumption that voluntary data collection leads to data sharing is not only not reflecting the real situation, but also does not recognize the wishes and motivations of those who collect data, nor does it respects the crucial contributions of these data to long-term monitoring of biodiversity trends.

In a recent commentary paper, published in the Journal of Applied Ecology, EU BON partners suggest ways to improve data openness. According to the researchers citizen scientists should be recognised in ways that correspond with their motivations, in addition its is advisable that organisations that manage these data should make their data sharing policies open and explicit.

Original Research:

Groom, Q., Weatherdon, L. & Geijzendorffer, I. (2016) Is citizen science an open science in the case of biodiversity observations? Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12767