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The benefits and negative impacts of citizen science applications to water as experienced by participants and communities

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Abstract Citizen science is proliferating in the water sciences with increasing public involvement in monitoring water resources, climate variables, water quality, and in mapping and modeling exercises. In addition to the well‐reported scientific benefits of such projects, in particular solving data scarcity issues, it is common to extol the benefits for participants, for example, increased knowledge and empowerment. We reviewed 549 publications concerning citizen science applications in the water sciences to examine personal benefits and motivations, and wider community benefits. The potential benefits of involvement were often simply listed without explanation or investigation. Studies that investigated whether or not participants and communities actually benefitted from involvement, or experienced negative impacts, were uncommon, especially in the Global South. Assuming certain benefits will be experienced can be fallacious as in some cases the intended benefits were either not achieved or in fact had negative impacts. Identified benefits are described and we reveal that more consideration should be given to how these benefits interrelate and how they build community capitals to foster their realization in citizen science water projects. Additionally, we describe identified negative impacts showing they were seldom considered though they may not be uncommon and should be borne in mind when implementing citizen science. Given the time and effort commitment made by citizen scientists for the benefit of research, there is a need for further study of participants and communities involved in citizen science applications to water, particularly in low‐income regions, to ensure both researchers and communities are benefitting. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Human Water
How benefits and negative impacts were mentioned for different citizen science typologies
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Proportions of studies mentioning benefits and negative impacts. The percentages given for each category sum to over 100% because multiple categories are possible unless categorized as “no mention” or “only potential”
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Comparison of field of studies in the Global North and Global South
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Number of published citizen science water studies per year
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Proportions of published citizen science water projects from different regions. The numbers of studies sum to greater than the number of papers reviewed because multiple case studies from different regions in a single paper were counted independently
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Locations and number (n) of published citizen science water projects
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The relative degree of control of citizens and professional scientists for different typologies of citizen science. Categorization of a project is subjective; examples such as community‐based monitoring and participatory modeling could move up or down the scale. After Shirk et al. (2012)
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The motivations for involvement in citizen science leading to benefits that build community capitals leading to improved livelihoods. “Increased social capital” is included as a benefit within the social capital arrow because it encapsulates multiple social benefits and is commonly an explicit aim and result of citizen science in the literature alongside for example, knowledge gain and increased scientific literacy. The boxed motivations are difficult to categorize but may be considered that they improve general wellbeing and thus contribute to human capital
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Comparison between Global North and Global South studies of how benefits (upper) and negative impacts (lower) were mentioned in different fields of the water sciences
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Comparison between Global North and Global South studies of how benefits and negative impacts were mentioned. The sum of number of studies is greater than the total number of papers reviewed because some had multiple categories of benefits and negative impacts
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