Why Community Science?
At the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County, we understand that words are important. They can communicate power, authority, inclusion, and exclusion. It is in this context that we have been examining the term “citizen science.” Over the past few months, we have read comprehensive reports, talked with experts in the field, and listened to people in our local community. Based on what we have learned, we have elected to stop using the term “citizen science” at NHMLAC and begin using “community science” instead.
We are also changing the name of our program to the Community Science Program. Although "citizen" often means simply the resident of a place, it can also be defined as a person who is a legally recognized subject of a place. Because this latter definition has nothing to do with our program, and may potentially discourage the participation of some members of our community, we have decided to replace the word "citizen" in the title of our program with the more naturally inclusive word "community."
As a community-based program in a museum that is of, for, and with Los Angeles, it would be counterproductive and against the ethos of our work to risk excluding any person from collaborating on our projects or attending our events based on a misinterpretation of the program’s name.
The NHMLAC Community Science Program will continue to do the same work that we did under our previous name, including crowdsourcing data for our museum scientists and organizing “projects in which volunteers partner with scientists to answer real-world questions.” (We will continue to use this definition of Citizen Science by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to describe our work.) Although we will continue to retain membership in, collaborate with, and greatly appreciate the work of many national and international organizations that use the term "citizen science," we are not alone in making this name transition to "community science."
As science professionals, we are aware that technology and the world of crowdsourcing data are rapidly evolving. The ability to mobilize large numbers of people to make observations over a broad geographic area, or to engage our community to intimately monitor small areas over time, can enable us to answer complicated scientific questions like never before. In order to accurately and effectively gather data in our urban research areas, it is imperative that we make participation in our projects as accessible as possible to all people.
As education professionals, we understand that an appreciation of science and the natural world reaches people through many different channels. We are committed to removing any barriers that we might find standing between the members of our community and their connection to science and nature.
The NHMLAC Community Science Program welcomes all people to participate in our projects and events, and looks forward to many valuable new partnerships and collaborations in the future.