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Shifting Language: From Citizen Science to Community Science

Oct 14, 2020


  • Community Science

Community science involves the public in scientific research and has existed in various forms since the late 1800s.1 Over the years, there have been a number of terms used to describe projects that use amateur scientists to make observations and record ecological and environmental data. These terms include crowdsourced science, public participation in scientific research, and, of course, citizen science.2 Citizen science has been a popular term for the last two decades, after having first been used in 1995 in relation to bird surveys.3 The use of the word citizen was used to distinguish between professional and amateur scientists. However, the connotations of this word are limiting widespread and inclusive participation in science. 

Since citizenship in one country or another has never been a prerequisite for participation in these types of projects, the MJV is supporting a transition to the relatively new term community science. One of the leaders of this change was the National Audubon Society, who announced this language swap in 2018 as a part of their commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). The National Audubon Society’s announcement holds significant weight as they are a leader in the field of community science. Their annual Christmas Bird Count launched in 1900 is the nation’s longest running community science project. 

Over the last two years, we’ve seen support for the term community science grow throughout the country and MJV is excited to be a part of this change. While it may take us some time to completely shift our language patterns, we are making a commitment to change the language we use from citizen science to community science. This will take place over the next year on our website, outreach materials, and communications.

Language is powerful; we hope this shift in language increases inclusivity, engages more members of the public, and emphasizes that anyone with an interest in science is welcome to participate in monarch and other community science projects! Please visit our Community Science page to learn more about how anyone can get involved and make a meaningful contribution to monarch conservation. 


The Monarch Joint Venture is a national partnership of federal and state agencies, non-governmental organizations, businesses and academic programs working together to conserve the monarch butterfly migration. The content in this article does not necessarily reflect the positions of all Monarch Joint Venture partners. Header photo by Wendy Caldwell.



1. Dickinson, J. L., & Bonney, R. (Eds.). (2012). Citizen science: Public participation in environmental research. Ithaca, NY: Comstock Publishing Associates, Cornell University Press.

2. Toerpe, K. (2013, July 1). The Rise of Citizen Science. The Futurist, 25-30.

3. Cooper, C. B., Shirk, J., & Zuckerberg, B. (2014). The Invisible Prevalence of Citizen Science in Global Research: Migratory Birds and Climate Change. PLOS ONE,9(9), 1-5.