The benefits and negative impacts of citizen science applications to water as experienced by participants and communities

David W. Walker, Magdalena Smigaj, Masakazu Tani

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    69 Citations (Scopus)


    Citizen science is proliferating in the water sciences with increasing public involvement in monitoring water resources, climate variables, water quality, and in mapping and modeling exercises. In addition to the well-reported scientific benefits of such projects, in particular solving data scarcity issues, it is common to extol the benefits for participants, for example, increased knowledge and empowerment. We reviewed 549 publications concerning citizen science applications in the water sciences to examine personal benefits and motivations, and wider community benefits. The potential benefits of involvement were often simply listed without explanation or investigation. Studies that investigated whether or not participants and communities actually benefitted from involvement, or experienced negative impacts, were uncommon, especially in the Global South. Assuming certain benefits will be experienced can be fallacious as in some cases the intended benefits were either not achieved or in fact had negative impacts. Identified benefits are described and we reveal that more consideration should be given to how these benefits interrelate and how they build community capitals to foster their realization in citizen science water projects. Additionally, we describe identified negative impacts showing they were seldom considered though they may not be uncommon and should be borne in mind when implementing citizen science. Given the time and effort commitment made by citizen scientists for the benefit of research, there is a need for further study of participants and communities involved in citizen science applications to water, particularly in low-income regions, to ensure both researchers and communities are benefitting. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Human Water.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere1488
    JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Water
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2021

    All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

    • Water Science and Technology
    • Ocean Engineering
    • Aquatic Science
    • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
    • Oceanography
    • Ecology


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