About Citizen Observatories

Citizen Observatories (COs) are community-based environmental monitoring and information systems, that invite individuals to share observations, typically via mobile phone or the web. There are a number of definitions of what makes a Citizen Observatory, some of which we share in the table below, but the main commonalities are the participation of citizens in environmental monitoring and governance, the bi-directional flow of data and information, the enhancement of earth observation systems with citizen-generated observations ‘in situ’, and the use of modern mobile and web technologies to do so.

The most simple and broadly applicable definition comes from Alan Grainger, in the Special Issue of Remote Sensing on Citizen Science and Earth Observation, defining COs as any use of Earth observation technology in which citizens collect data and are empowered by the information generated from these data to participate in environmental management. The first use of the term ‘Citizen Observatory’, to our knowledge, appears in Prof. Jacqueline McGlade’s 2009 Earthwatch Lecture entitled ‘Global citizen observatory – The role of individuals in observing and understanding our changing world’, wherein she stated that “it is no longer sufficient to develop passive lists or reports to ‘inform’ citizens of changes in our environment. We need to engage with citizens and ask how they can ‘inform’ us.”

Definition Source
“innovative earth observation technologies (in particular those based on use of mobile telephony) . . . [and] community-based environmental monitoring, data collection, interpretation and information delivery systems; empower communities with the capability to monitor and report on their environment; and enable communities to access the information they need to make decisions in an understandable and readily usable form” European Commission
“New in-situ observatories (‘Citizen Observatories’) based on citizens’ own devices (e.g. smart phones, tablets, laptops, and other social media) used together with innovative technologies can strengthen environmental monitoring capabilities, have the potential to generate new and original applications to reduce investment and running costs of in-situ observations and monitoring applications and solutions, and involve novel partnerships between the private sector, public bodies, NGOs and citizens. ” Horizon 2020 Call ‘SC5-17-2015: Demonstrating the concept of ‘Citizen Observatories’
“community-based environmental monitoring and information systems which build on innovative and novel Earth observation applications embedded in portable or mobile personal devices. Thanks to the vast array of ubiquitous information and data they can provide, citizens’ observatories can enable authorities to obtain evidence and inform environmental policy making, complementing more authoritative in-situ observation and monitoring networks and systems with a very positive cost-benefit ratio.“ Horizon 2020 CSA Call ‘SC5-19-2017: Coordination of citizens’ observatories initiatives’
“A CO for supporting community-based environmental governance may be defined as the participation of citizens in monitoring the quality of the environment they live in, with the help of one or more of the following: (1) mobile devices of everyday utility; (2) specialised static and/or portable environmental and/or wearable health sensors, and (3) personal, subjective and/or objective observations, information, annotation and exchange routes, coming from social media technologies or other similar platforms. “ Liu et al 2014 ‘A conceptual approach to a citizens’ observatory—Supporting community-based environmental governance’