Why is it relevant?

Citizen Observatories (also known as Citizens’ Observatories) have been around since the early 2010s. Many earlier initiatives can be characterised as Citizen Observatories, even if they did not use that term. There is therefore a sizable body of experience and examples that we can now learn from.

What is the history of Citizen Observatories?

Although Citizen Observatories have only existed under that name since the early 2010s, they have a rich and detailed history, which has resulted in the current Citizen Observatory landscape. Through various streams of funding, a wide variety of Citizen Observatories, focusing on various issues, have been set up over the past decades.

The term ‘Citizen Observatory’ comes from the fields of environmental monitoring and Earth observation via satellite technology. Citizen Observatories build on citizen science approaches and focus on understanding and looking after our environment. They are part of a movement to empower communities to monitor their local environment and access the information needed to make effective environmental governance decisions. Citizen Observatories aim to bring together citizens, scientists and decision makers for better governance informed by citizen science data.

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”, in which 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.” 

In her abstract for the lecture, she calls for the use of Earth observation systems such as Global Monitoring for Environment and Security (GMES) (now known as Copernicus) and the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS). Collecting and using local knowledge in this way will “help us empower citizens and … give us a better indication of what we need to do to be truly sustainable”.

To be able to report on the landscape of Citizen Observatories in Europe, the WeObserve project compiled a list of the Citizen Observatories that were funded under the EU FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes.

These Citizen Observatories have been mapped on the WeObserve website in a Citizen Observatory Landscape Map that continues to grow as other practitioners and initiative leaders add their own Citizen Observatory  initiatives to the picture. It illustrates the growing range of Citizen Observatories across Europe and can be filtered to highlight different aspects such as project, entity, domain, status, scope and/or funding.

Screenshot of the CO Landscape Map on the WeObserve Knowledge Hub

Screenshot of the CO Landscape Map on the WeObserve Knowledge Hub (20/11/2020)

A comprehensive list of the Citizen Observatories and Citizen Observatory-type projects funded by the EU through the FP7 and Horizon 2020 programmes is shown in the table below. The list was taken from the “D2.9 Roadmap for the uptake of the Citizen Observatory knowledge base” (WeObserve Consortium, 2021).

FP7-funded Focus Timeline
COBWEB Biosphere monitoring 2012-2016
OMNISCIENTIS Odour monitoring 2012-2014
CITI-SENSE Air pollution monitoring 2012-2016
WeSenseIt Flood and drought monitoring 2012-2016
Citclops Coastal and marine water quality monitoring 2012-2015


H2020-funded Focus Timeline
Making Sense Open design and digital maker practices, DIY environmental monitoring, air, water, soil and sound pollution 2015-2017
CAPTOR Combining citizen science, collaborative networks and environmental grassroots social activism to raise awareness and find solutions to the air pollution problem 2016-2018
hackAIR Development of an open technology toolkit for Citizens’ Observatories focusing on air quality 2016-2018
Ground Truth 2.0 Flood risk management, environmental quality of life, land and natural resources
management, sustainable livelihoods, climate change adaptation
GROW Observatory Soil, land use, crop planting and water resources 2016-2019
LandSense Land use and land cover monitoring 2016-2020
Scent Water supply and quality, flood risks 2016-2019
SMURBS (ERA-Planet) Integration of EO and Citizen Observations for a common approach to enhance urban environmental and societal resilience 2017-2021
WeObserve Knowledge consolidation and mainstreaming of Citizen Observatories 2017-2021
DNoses Odour monitoring 2018-2021
Monocle Water quality monitoring 2018-2022
CitieS-Health Assessing urban air and noise pollution and their links to health impacts 2019-2021
MICS  Measuring impacts of citizen science, nature-based solutions, water quality and biodiversity 2019-2021
WeCount Urban road transport monitoring 2019-2021
TeRRIFICA Adaptation processes to climate change through living labs, crowd-mapping and co-design 2019-2022
Cos4CLOUD Interoperability and integration of Citizen Observatory technology and data with the European Open Science Cloud 2019-2023
DIONE Complementing EO data with farmer-based monitoring to inform CAP regulations and decision-making at farm level 2020-2022
FRAMEwork Citizen Observatory for monitoring biodiversity in farmland landscapes 2020-2025

Looking at the historical pathway from the first Citizen Observatories funded by the European Union, there are now also a range of examples supported by national funding schemes (e.g. in Spain and the Netherlands) and by private sector funding (e.g. Coca Cola Foundation).

Evolution of Citizen Observatories across funding programmes

Useful Resources

PROJECT REPORTS:  From our research into the EU Landscape of Citizen Observatories within the WeObserve project, we produced three reports: a report that outlines frameworks which can be used to describe and compare Citizen Observatories, a report on the insights from the experiences of Citizen Observatories, and a Roadmap report that sets the stage for future Citizen Observatories.

CONFERENCE PRESENTATION: “Lessons from the WeObserve project to strengthen awareness, acceptability and sustainability of Citizen Observatories in Europe” – Presentation at the virtual ECSA conference 2020.

CONFERENCE PRESENTATION: “New Community Activity on Citizens’ Observatories and Crowdsourcing” – Presentation at the Citizen GEOSS Workshop in St Petersburg (Russia), 8 November 2016, by José Miguel Rubio Iglesias.

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This work by parties of the WeObserve consortium is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.