Research group at imec & Vrije Universiteit Brussel


Citizen science research at SMIT

imec-SMIT-VUB conducted various citizen science research projects and has builded up expertise about conducting citizen science activities from a social science perspective. This article describes some of these projects, their goal and the tasks imec-SMIT-VUB has conducted. It summarises the expertise imec-SMIT-VUB can offer in citizen science research projects. At the end of the article, we give a summary of ‘Communication in Citizen Science: A practical guide to communication and engagement in citizen science’ published in 2019 by Scivil, in collaboration with imec-SMIT-VUB. The guide presents tips and tricks on writing a communication for your citizen science project, and includes information on how to identify your target audiences.



Citizen science refers to the involvement of citizens in scientific endeavours. In citizen science projects, citizen scientists voluntarily take part in research-related activities often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists.

Citizen science is a ‘new’ form of science, in which members of the public actively participate in the research work. Through it, citizens are no longer the target of science communication, but are actively engaged in the scientific process. Citizen science can be employed in the exact sciences, applied sciences and human sciences. Most of the citizen science projects today focus on environmental monitoring, such as the identification of species (bees, butterflies, plants, etc.) and the monitoring of environmental parameters (air quality, water, noise, etc.).



imec-SMIT-VUB is a member of the European Citizen Science Association and is heading the working group “Communication and Participation” of Scivil, the knowledge centre on citizen science in Flanders. Since 2016, imec-SMIT-VUB conducted various citizen science research projects and has builded up expertise about conducting citizen science activities from a social science perspective.

We can offer the following expertise for citizen science projects:

  • Communication and engagement strategies: we can support citizen science projects with the development of communication and engagement strategies for the involvement of participants.  We reflect upon target audiences, key messages, initial and continued participation tactics, the science of motivation, etc. (For more information, please consult the practical guide “Communication in Citizen Science”)
  • Engagement profiles: we can help to construct engagement profiles of citizen scientists: we collect socio-demographic and socio-cognitive information, construct segments or personas based on motivational studies.
  • User-friendly and privacy-aware tools: we can help to reflect upon the user experience and usability of citizen science tools: to what extent are the digital applications user-friendly, and what are the specific privacy and data requirements? The user-friendliness can be measured through usability testing (e.g. participant observations, focus groups, field tests, etc.). Further, we also have extensive expertise in conducting privacy and ethical assessments to guarantee privacy friendly tools.
  • Impact assessment: Conducting impact measurements of your citizen science initiative: what did your participants learn, what impact had your project? We can measure the impact of your project through various research methods and on various levels, such as the social, political or economical impact. The outcomes and impacts can be measured through surveys, interviews, but also through an experimental design for measuring behavioural change.
  • Networking events and workshops: we also support networking events and collaborative workshops for co-creation purposes.  During these events,  scientific results or strategies for citizen science projects can be discussed through creative exercises with various stakeholders. We are open to discuss and collaborate upon (new) citizen science proposals together with cities, policy makers, non-governmental organisations, grassroots organisations and other research institutes.



  • HackAIR: create an open platform with a twofold purpose: (1) enable communities of citizens to easily set up air quality monitoring networks, and (2) engage community members in measuring and publishing outdoor air pollution levels.
  • FloodCitiSense: aims at developing an urban pluvial flood early warning service for, but also by citizens and city authorities.
  • Oog voor Diabetes: wants to call on the help of citizens to create a computer program that learns to recognise the symptoms of diabetic retinopathy (an eye disease that affects diabetics).
  • Flamenco: aims to create an open cloud-based software platform specifically designed for allowing citizens to create and participate in so-called citizen observatory campaigns.



The guide was published in 2019 by Scivil, the knowledge center on citizen science in Flanders, and in collaboration with imec-SMIT-VUB, EOS Wetenschap and Tales and Talks. The content of the guide is based on studies of citizen participation and the real-life experience of science communicators. This guide is for anyone who finds themselves communicating and engaging with citizen scientists.

You cannot overestimate the amount of time you will spend communicating with your target audience. It is a continuous process of maintaining openness at every stage of the scientific process: from setting your research question to publishing the results. Further, with an engagement strategy you are able to tell what motivates or prevents citizen scientists from taking part in your project, and to outline tactics and tools to secure their initial and continued participation.

Without communication, there is no citizen science project. What all citizen science projects have in common is a need for good communication. Communication to recruit and retain, inform, train or thank citizens at the end of the project.” – authors of pratical guide ‘Communication in Citizen Science’

It takes practice to stay open, accessible and inviting through your communication. This practical guide equips you with a few tricks of the trade.

The first part of the book focuses on the building blocks of a good communication plan. A communication plan reflects upon the project objective(s), the level of engagement, the target audiences and its motivations, and finally the evaluation of success.

The second part of the book focuses on tactics and tools that you can use for the engagement strategy. An engagement strategy helps you to reflect upon the expectations, motivations and behavioural aspects of your target audience to keep them on board in the long term. What are the expectations of participants, and what is their current level of knowledge regarding the topic? Will participants drop out, and what are perceived barriers? Six tactics and tools are provided, such as storytelling, gamification, and usage of social media, to support either initial or continued participation.

The third and fourth part of the book provide practical tips and tricks, as well as a template to start drafting your own communication and engagement plan.

You can download the guide here in English and in Dutch.

(Photos by Scivil)