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.”