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New Impetus for Citizen Science in Europe

Foto: Braden Collum / Unsplash

The project IMPETUS, funded by Horizon Europe, has recently published its first open call, inviting citizen science initiatives and practitioners from all over Europe to apply for an ‘Accelerator Programme’ and the new ‘European Union Prize for Citizen Science’. We asked Gefion Thuermer (King’s College London) and Andrew Newman (Ars Electronica) from the IMPETUS team how they plan to support citizen science initiatives, how they view the place of citizen science in EU funding policy and what they expect from the call.

What is the overall aim of the IMPETUS project?

Thuermer: Our goal is to support and recognize citizen science in all of its forms. We have a number of ways in which we want to do that, including our current open call for funding and for the European Union Prize for Citizen Science. On top of that, we are currently gearing up the Accelerator Programme, which will help citizen science projects to feed directly into policy, and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

How does IMPETUS as a project and the European Union Prize for Citizen Science in particular fit into current research and funding policies of the EU?

Thuermer: Over the last ten years or so, citizen science has become ever more central in the EU’s Horizon programme. First, citizen science was not a focus. Then, specific programmes and funding calls for citizen science were developed. By now, citizen science has become so central that there are no specific calls anymore, because there is an assumption that every project should involve some sort of citizen engagement. IMPETUS as a whole is a culmination of this development.

Newman: European research and innovation policy is very much recognising that there is a new model of innovation. The idea that we need to have an exchange between industry researchers and the government has been around for quite some time. Now it is being recognised that we also need to bring in society. We need some kind of engagement and sense of ownership to push social change in the face of the climate emergency and other environmental emergencies. Decisions cannot be made in ivory towers, the community needs to be involved and asked for their input. I think that this recognition is shaping the research and funding policy of the EU, pushing for more engagement and open science.

In January 2023, IMPETUS has published its first open call, inviting citizen science initiatives to apply for an Accelerator Programme and the new European Union Prize for Citizen Science. In which ways will these measures contribute to the support and recognition of citizen science?

Thuermer: The first part of the call is the Accelerator Programme. We will be supporting 125 projects in total and in this first open call, we will recruit 35. Projects can apply for funding at different heights – 10,000 or 20,000 Euros – depending on what they want to do and where they are in their development. The projects that are selected will join the IMPETUS Accelerator Programme which is going to be six months long. In that period, the projects will receive a lot of support, including a dedicated mentor with regular mentoring meetings, 1:1 sessions with experts and group training sessions on various topics. From our perspective, the real added value of the Accelerator is not the financial support on its own, but the Accelerator as a whole. We are looking to build a community of citizen science projects so that they do not only learn from us and our trainers and mentors, but also from each other.

Newman: The prize will celebrate both completed and ongoing projects and put them in the limelight. Often, citizen science projects disappear into the ether after they have run through their funding and the methods, outcomes or new ways of working developed do not get the attention they deserve. So what we are looking to do with the European Union Prize for Citizen Science is to really celebrate these practices that are already happening across Europe and highlight them, not only for the citizen science community but also for the general public, so that they can inspire others.

The Accelerator Programme offers two types of funding. How do these grants differ and what kind of initiatives do they address?

Thuermer: There are two types of grants and two challenges that we address in the open call. The two types of grants are kickstarting grants and sustaining grants. The kickstarting grants, worth €20,000, are meant for projects that are only just starting out, that have not developed methods or a community yet. The sustaining grants, worth €10,000, are meant for projects that have been running for a while, have established a method and a community, and are looking to sustain or expand what they have already achieved. Both the kickstarting and the sustaining grantees will be part of the same Accelerator Programme, so they will have access to similar training.

In either of these grant calls, we look for citizen science initiatives that respond to one of our two challenges. The first challenge, ‘Citizen Science for a Healthy Planet’, focuses on the sustainable development goals around land, water and biodiversity. The second challenge, ‘Cities for Life’, was developed by our panel of citizen science practitioners and is looking at health, climate change and social injustice in an urban context. Both challenges are explicitly open to all disciplines.

How will the grantees be chosen from the applications?

Thuermer: The reviews of the Accelerator applications will be done by a group of experts in different relevant areas, such as urban design, sustainability, ecology and so on. Every application will be reviewed by at least two people. Every application that achieves a specific ranking will go through to be interviewed and after that, the IMPETUS consortium will make the final selection.

The European Union Prize for Citizen Science is a novelty. What do you hope to achieve by recognizing outstanding citizen science initiatives with a prize?

Newman: We want to highlight best practice examples of citizen science and engagement to inspire others to adopt them in their own research practices and to foster citizen science as a practice throughout the European Research Area. Often, when we discuss citizen science, we think of the natural sciences and data collection. With the prize, we want to demonstrate the diverse range of citizen participation in research, across different disciplines and through various forms of participation. We will be awarding one grand prize, worth €60,000, two category awards worth €20,000 each and 27 Honorary Mentions. While there is no financial prize for the Honorary Mentions, these awards are no less significant, as each of the selected initiatives will be able to acknowledge that they have been recognised as an outstanding example of citizen science by the European Commission through the European Union Prize for Citizen Science. This endorsement alone can be very valuable to sustaining initiatives and projects.

What makes a citizen science initiative ‘outstanding’? What criteria of excellence or other dimensions will the applications be assessed on?

Newman: The awardees will be selected by an independent jury based on six criteria: Scientific quality, social quality and policy impact, diversity and collaboration, communication and engagement, innovation and creativity, and the European dimension. So as you can see, when we define ‘outstanding’, the scientific quality is only one of six aspects. We follow a broad and holistic understanding of what makes a great citizen science initiative.

As you mentioned, IMPETUS will give out two category awards, namely a ‘Diversity and Collaboration Award’ and a ‘Digital Communities Award’. What kind of initiatives are you looking for in these categories?

Newman: With the Diversity and Collaboration Award, we are looking for initiatives that have a very diverse representation of participants, either in terms of gender and social inclusion, or in terms of different types of stakeholders. We want to highlight citizen science initiatives that break down barriers between different communities and disciplinary silos. With the Digital Communities Award we are looking for innovative uses of digital technologies to facilitate citizen science. This could be through either the development of tools, platforms and data collection technologies to undertake citizen science or through the demonstration of novel ways of working together and creating communities with existing technologies.

Do you already have plans for calls, grants and prizes beyond this year?

Thuermer: We will have two more calls, one in 2024 and one in 2025. We are currently assuming that the timeline will be the same for the next two years and that we will run the call for the grants and the prize simultaneously again.

What are you most excited for in the upcoming steps?

Thuermer: I am very much looking forward to seeing the types of projects that we will receive applications from. It just always blows my mind how creative people are and what kinds of ideas they develop. I am really excited to read all of those applications and interview the projects that will be shortlisted. I think it will be really, really hard to make a selection, because I expect that there will be loads of really good applications.

Newman: I am also really looking forward to seeing all of the projects that will submit and to seeing how the jury decides. It will be a chance to capture a real snapshot of the great work that is happening right now in citizen science across Europe. And I am really excited that not only us, but everyone, will get a chance to see this snapshot through our awardees and grantees. It’s a unique opportunity for the European citizen science community to celebrate each other, and all the dedication, ambition and hard work of this community definitely deserves to be celebrated!

Learn more about how to apply for the Accelerator Programme on the IMPETUS website and visit the Ars Electronica website for more information on how to submit your projects for the European Union Prize for Citizen Science. The deadline for submissions is March 13th, 12:00 noon CET, 2023. Individuals, legal entities, and consortia established in a country or territory eligible to receive Horizon Europe grants are eligible to apply. This does not only include EU member states, but also European Research Area member states and countries having concluded or currently negotiating an association status with Horizon Europe. IMPETUS is funded by the European Union through the Horizon Europe WIDERA 2021-ERA-01 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No. 101058677.


Fabienne Wehrle

Fabienne ist Projektmanagerin und Online-Redakteurin. Sie betreut die Plattform, kümmert sich um die Social-Media-Kanäle und ist für die Kommunikation rund um mit:forschen! Gemeinsam Wissen schaffen zuständig.