This panel focuses on the role of citizen science in the theory and practice of international development. It invites papers that explore the perils and prospects of crowd-sourcing development data, including conceptual, empirical and applied approaches.
Including stakeholders in the process of knowledge generation has its long history within the development sector, dating back to the applied work of Freire and Chambers. Participatory action researches advocated disrupting the institutional monopolies of scientific production, pointing to the power inequities that invalidate local knowledge(s). Citizen science, on the other hand, has its roots in the Western academia and its quest to connect with broader society. Both approaches provide an integrated approach to fostering the capacity of communities to build actionable knowledge for themselves and by themselves. Up until recently, most crowd-sourced research projects were based in Europe and the US. Fueled by technological breakthroughs, however, citizen science has articulated the potential to contribute to development practice as well; as an innovative approach to participatory research. The emergence of new actors on the development arena (e.g. Crisis Mappers, EXCITE, UN Innovation Labs and Environmental Virtual Observatories) has sparked optimism that low-cost, large-scale, longitutal, real-time data will allow us to better respond to the complex developmental challenges. Based on the principle of decentralized and open knowledge co-generation and exchange, citizen science projects are neutral to social and knowledge ranks, as well as working styles. At the same time, they may bring to the surface new modalities of power and contestation between different visions and expectations of professional and user communities, sparking new forms of inequality. With the lack of regulatory frameworks and ethical guidance, instead of dialogue, crowdsourcing social and environmental data may turn into an efficient tool of mass surveillance. Citizen science: friend or foe?