Citizen Science is a new approach for the public health field. Wicked public health problems, such as the obesity epidemic, can only be resolved by coordinated action of all stakeholders: municipalities, professionals, companies and citizens. Citizen science may help create a shared knowledge base to underpin such action. However, the promises of citizen science are yet to be realised. Lea Den Broeder has explored possibilities and challenges of citizen science for public health. On September 26th, she will obtain her PhD from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam with her thesis ‘Citizen Science for Health in All Policies. Engaging communities in knowledge development‘.
Citizen scientists carry out scientific research tasks in collaboration with scientists. Examples of citizen science are joint research with birders who contribute bird observations and gather data or the EU project iSPEX, in which residents measure air quality with their mobile phone.
An important case study in Den Broeder’s thesis concerned a project in a ‘priority’ neighbourhood with many health and socioeconomic challenges. Residents were trained as citizen scientists, they interviewed hundreds of fellow residents and helped analyse the outcomes. Moreover, they experienced personal and collective benefits in terms of learning and increased self-confidence. Health as a research theme helped strengthen their social network across cultural barriers.
Although these results are encouraging, public health citizen science is new; appropriate approaches and tools need to be developed and experimented. Moreover, challenges need to be addressed for example who to engage and how to guarantee research quality.