Earth Challenge 2020: research questions to help scale citizen science

7. May 2019by ECSA
ECSA News - Earth Challenge 2020

Earth Challenge 2020: research questions to help scale citizen science

– written by Anne Bowser

The 50th anniversary of Earth Day will take place on 22 April 2020. In recognition of this milestone, a consortium of partners is launching Earth Challenge 2020 (EC2020) as the world’s largest coordinated citizen science campaign to date. 

By working with existing citizen science projects and building capacity for new activities, EC2020 will foster the collecting and integration of one billion open, interoperable data points to strengthen links between science, the environment and society. In addition to integrating existing citizen science data, it will create a new mobile application and app framework, available in six UN languages, to help communities around the world participate in citizen science. 

To make sure that Earth Challenge 2020 is relevant to people’s everyday lives, we launched a public call for questions and insights around ‘critical topics in environmental and human health’ in 2018. We collected hundreds of responses, with engagement from all seven continents. After analysing the common themes with our partners, we identified six high-level questions to become focal points for our work:

  1. What is the extent of plastic pollution?
  2. What is in my drinking water?
  3. What are the local impacts of climate change?
  4. How are insect populations changing?
  5. How does air quality vary locally?
  6. Is my food supply sustainable?

We are mapping the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to each research question to highlight their intersectional nature, create links to an international policy framework, and further engage the global community. Now, we are reaching out to a range of communities, including experts working in citizen science and complementary research areas, to understand where exactly EC2020 can provide the most value, and to invite potential partners to join us on this endeavour. 

Contribute your expertise

Join us in developing the research methods we will use to guide the EC2020 effort. We understand that partnering with the research community is critical for making sure that EC2020 data are useful, usable and used. We’re enlisting citizen science practitioners, other scientists, educators, and others to decide what data and information will be most helpful to answer these questions using citizen science. 

We are organising six research teams, each focused around one of the six research questions. These will work with us, and each other, to:

  • take a critical look at how the research questions align with the relevant SDGs
  • decide how the SDG indicators and target structure will influence data collection and integration in EC2020
  • identify which citizen science data already exists
  • ensure existing data can be documented in a harmonised way
  • determine which new data should be collected using the EC2020 mobile app
  • help identify and/or design protocols for data collection, validation and integration
  • identify complementary data and information, including data from sensors (Earth observations and low cost/open source
  • offer strategic advice on other aspects of the project, including the design of educational materials and a what-you-can-do toolkit.

We are looking for individuals to serve as volunteer advisors to research teams who:

  • are committed to helping collaborative citizen science to scale
  • have an interest in one or more of the research questions
  • value and/or have expertise in data interoperability
  • value scientific rigour
  • value and/or have experience in engagement, education and impact evaluation
  • are willing to share their knowledge with a broader community
  • can commit to monthly or bimonthly phone calls and periodic emails.

 Join a research team

If you have previously expressed an interest in becoming a member of one of the EC2020

research teams, or are learning of this project for the first time, please email Sarah Newman, Research Team Coordinator, at: 

Please also indicate which research team question(s) you are interested in. 

Earth Challenge 2020 is a collaboration between the Wilson Center, Earth Day Network, and U.S.

Department of State and many more partners. Learn more at:


Copyright by European Citizen Science Association (ECSA).
All rights reserved.

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Copyright by European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). All rights reserved.

Webdesign by Goldweiss