Why is it relevant?

No matter what type of Citizen Observatory you wish to set up, you will need sufficient funding to ensure its successful start and its continuation. Significant effort goes into creating an engaged community of participants and setting up the technical infrastructure that supports the different phases of the environmental monitoring process. Both have financial implications.

How can this be done?

Citizen Observatories employ different operational models, depending on their scope and their expected structure, geographical scale, duration and participation. These elements determine the form of funding that can be used to finance the Citizen Observatory.

For Citizen Observatories that aim to create new scientific or technical knowledge, or to demonstrate pilot and/or operational methods, funding from research and innovation programmes and grants are a realistic opportunity. Such projects are usually based on multidisciplinary consortia, including collaboration between academia and research institutes, industry, NGOs, volunteer organisations and public bodies. They typically include large-scale activities over a maximum duration of 5 years. Funding for Citizen Observatories has been gaining momentum since the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme and including the Horizon 2020 Framework Programme. Horizon Europe, the EU’s research and innovation framework programme from 2021-2027, is another funding source that can offer financial support to the work of Citizen Observatories.

Crowdfunding can be useful for Citizen Observatories that have a limited spatial and temporal scale but which may continue and even expand in the future (e.g. Community Air Pollution Monitoring). Moreover, in reward-based crowdfunding, an all-or-nothing funding strategy can be applied: projects must set funding goals, and supporters only pay if that goal is met. This is appealing to many donors, since it means they are not spending money on a project that does not receive enough donations to operate or complete its mission.

Example from Mapping for Change

Image: Mapping for Change

Mapping for Change is a social enterprise based in London that engages with communities around the UK to map air pollution across the country. In 2016, using online small crowdsourcing (SCS), they were able to secure funding from 26 individual funders to develop a Community Air Pollution Monitoring Map and Equipment library. With this they were able to purchase more sensors, which further supported communities in mapping air quality.

Longer standing initiatives led by civil society organisations are able to experiment and diversify their funding, thereby identifying the sources that best fit their needs. For example, The Riverfly Partnership is a dynamic network of organisations that run a range of projects related to the interests of the partners. Because of the long-term commitment of participating organisations, various streams of funding can be examined for each project in order to identify the most beneficial. In some projects, various streams of funding can even be combined to achieve the necessary financial backing.

Another funding option is to create a partnership that runs on membership fees. This works well when the predominant mission of the Citizen Observatory to be established is well aligned with those of the partners.

Lessons learned from the AfriAlliance project

The AfriAlliance project highlighted four key types of challenges facing small-scale projects looking to secure funding:

  • Capacity-related challenges,
  • Administration-related challenges,
  • Fund-related challenges,
  • Process-related challenges.

Due to these challenges, local and small-scale actors often need to develop innovative approaches to secure funding.

Image: AfriAlliance Policy Brief #2

Useful Resources

WEBSITE: European Commission funding opportunities, such as Coordination and Support Actions (CSA), Research and Innovation Actions (RIA), Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and specific thematic calls.

WEBSITE: Platforms for crowdfunding citizen science research in search of funding, such as Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Rockethub and Experiment.

SCIENTIFIC PAPER: “Crowdfunding Scientific Research: Descriptive insights and correlates of funding success” presents a review of dedicated platforms for crowdfunding research and highlights differences between crowdfunding and traditional funding mechanisms for research.

POLICY BRIEF: This policy brief from the DITOS project analyses existing funding practices across a range of citizen science projects.

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