Coalition Argues for Citizen-Science Data to Support SDG Monitoring
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An article published in Nature highlights that traditional data sources “are not sufficient” for measuring the SDGs, particularly their environmental dimensions.

Traditional data sources are insufficient for tracking global progress for 68% of the environment-related SDG indicators.

The UNEP authors and their scientist co-authors provide a roadmap for integrating citizen science into the formal SDG reporting mechanisms at global and national levels.

11 October 2019: A coalition of academic scientists, citizen scientists and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) experts authored an article that highlights the untapped potential of citizens to play a role in monitoring the SDGs, particularly the environment-related indicators. The article published in Nature presents a roadmap for integrating citizen science data in the SDGs.

The article titled, ‘Citizen science and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals,’ highlights that traditional data sources “are not sufficient” for measuring the SDGs, and new and non-traditional data sources will be required.

UNEP statistician and a co-author of the study, Jillian Campbell, said “we have insufficient data for tracking global progress for 68% of the environment-related SDG indicators.” Campbell stressed the world “will never be able to monitor” the environmental dimensions of the SDGs using traditional data sources alone. Within this context, UNEP and others are highlighting the potential of data generated by citizens and their organizations, or “citizen science,” in helping to monitor the SDGs.

Citizen-science data is already being used in support of SDG indicators. The article shares several examples of non-traditional data sources that contribute information relevant for SDG monitoring, from official sensor networks for monitoring weather, air pollution and traffic, to commercial data sets maintained by telecommunication and utility companies.

The authors address concerns regarding the quality of citizen-science data, sharing citations that show that citizens can “make valuable and scientifically valid contributions that are on par with professional scientists.” For example, the Mosquito Alert citizen-science initiative has demonstrated that its data collection can be “quicker and cheaper” and obtained with “the same level of accuracy of traditional methods.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List Index is another example. The authors share measures to evaluate the quality of citizen science, and highlight the development of approaches to handle data quality concerns.

The article provides a roadmap for integrating citizen science into formal SDG reporting mechanisms at global and national levels. At the global level, citizen science can help identify candidate indicators for the global SDG indicator framework, identify relevant citizen-science projects and develop protocols to ensure data quality. At the national level, citizen science can: mobilize and integrate citizen science stakeholders and communities; map existing citizen science contributions to SDG indicators; promote dialogue on data quality, metadata, standards and interoperability; create an inventory of examples and good practice; build on existing policy frameworks that advocate citizen science for decision-making; and integrate citizen science data streams into practices of countries’ National Statistical Offices (NSOs). One existing example is the EU-funded WeObserve project that maps contributions from citizen science to SDG indicators.

The article concludes that success in integrating citizen science into SDG monitoring will require leadership from the UN, innovation from NSOs and focus from the citizen-science community. [UNEP Press Release] [Publication: Citizen science and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals]

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