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Citizen Science for the SDGs – Aligning Citizen Science Outcomes to the UN Sustainable Development Goals

Co-chairs: Caren Cooper (USA, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences), Alex de Sherbinin (USA, Columbia University), Rosy Mondardini (Switzerland, Citizen Science Center Zurich)

In 2015, the UN adopted 17 SDGs with the ambition by the year 2030 to end poverty, promote prosperity and wellbeing for all, and protect the planet. Each goal includes a list of priorities, or targets (for a total of 169 targets), and each target has associated quantities, or indicators, to monitor progress, inform policy, and ensure accountability of all stakeholders. In terms of data, the backbone for monitoring progress towards the SDGs and its target is provided by national statistical offices. However, many gaps exist in the required data, a measurement of progress requires accessible, timely, and reliable disaggregated data at scales not possible by conventional scientific approaches.

The role of Citizen Science in supporting this global effort is evident, as citizens are in a unique position to provide disaggregated data and the required scale and resolution. Citizen Science provides a powerful methodology: high-quality open data are collected using sensors and ubiquitous low-cost technologies such as smartphones; in turn, accessible web-based tools enable all stakeholders to track progress at a local, regional, or even global level. However, data generated by Citizen Science projects are not yet included in the official framework to monitor the SDGs, despite the abundant literature illustrating that Citizen Science can contribute to high-quality research.

The TG on Citizen Science for the SDGs seeks to facilitate and encourage this inclusion by envisaging common practices, simple data policies, and fitness-for-use standards aimed at facilitating the mapping of data to the specific requirements of the SDG framework. Mapping will provide visibility to Citizen Science generated data and their use in filling some of the official data gaps, while challenging the scientific community to identify targeted methods and data to tackle the remaining gaps. Sharing of ‘SDG-mapped’ data will produce benefits well beyond scientific results, strengthen the science-policy interface, and help amplify the societal impact of Citizen Science.

Key TG Outputs

  1. Identify a shortlist of effective practices for data validation, curation, and use that will enable Citizen Science projects to make their data open and FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable).
  2. Identify a shortlist of open data repositories that can support short- and longer-term data curation.
  3. Through the above activities, identify the Citizen Science datasets that are best suited to alignment with the SDG framework.
  4. Promote proper data stewardship practices by Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing initiatives, based on findings from the CODATA–WDS TG on Citizen Science and the Validation, Curation, and Management of Crowdsourced Data.
  5. Explore possible ways to map existing and historic Citizen Science data to the indicators framework, including the possibility to propose new indicators inferred by the data and more relevant to people’s life and experience.
  6. Explore the potential for data on human capital in volunteer activity from Citizen Science platforms; namely, data on the engagement of volunteers and subsequent learning/social/civic outcomes to support indicators. This incorporates issues of inclusiveness in monitoring and data collection, thus ensuring ‘leaving no one behind’.
  7. Collaborate with UN statistical offices to gather requirements and develop shared glossaries to support the inclusion of Citizen Science in the list of accepted ‘non-official’ data providers for the SDGs.
  8. Work with the UN, including the UN Environment and Development Programmes, to continue to gain support for Citizen Science and strengthen the science–policy interface.


Caren Cooper

Associate Professor in Forestry and Environmental Resources at North Carolina State University in the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program in Leadership in Public Science

cbcoope3 (at)

For 14 years (2001–2015), Cooper helped design citizen science projects at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology including My Yard Counts, YardMap, NestWatch, Celebrate Urban Birds, and the House Sparrow Project. Cooper has over 50 publications, including research papers that relied on data from NestWatch, Project FeederWatch, Christmas Bird Count, Breeding Bird Survey, and My Yard Counts. Cooper was involved in the formation of the Citizen Science Association, chairs the ethics working group, and led the committee to create a new journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. She is a co-editor-in-chief for the CSA’s journal. She is director of research partnerships with, the largest searchable repository of citizen science projects.

Alex de Sherbinin

Associate Director for Science Applications, CIESIN, Columbia University

adesherbinin (at)

Alex de Sherbinin is the associate director for science applications at the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), a center within the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He also serves as Deputy Manager of the NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center. He has been a member of the WDS Scientific Committee since 2015 and Vice-chair since 2018, and has served as the CODATA Global Roads Data Development Task Group Chair from 2008–2016. He received his PhD in 2014 from the Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC), University of Twente, Netherlands.

Maria Rosa (Rosy) Mondardini

Managing Director, ETH/UZH Citizen Science Center, University of Zurich

maria.mondardini (at)

Bio coming soon!