Main authors: Susanne Klages, Nicolas Surdyk, Christophoros Christophoridis, Birgitte Hansen, Claudia Heidecke, Abel Henriot, Hyojin Kim, Sonja Schimmelpfennig
FAIRWAYiS Editor: Jane Brandt
Source document: »Klages, S. et al. 2018. Review report of Agri-Drinking Water quality Indicators and IT/sensor techniques, on farm level, study site and drinking water source. FAIRWAY Project Deliverable 3.1, 180 pp


Contents table
1. Definition based on literature review
2. What can we expect from monitoring?
3. Participative monitoring in FAIRWAY

1. Definition based on literature review

“Citizen science”

For many researchers, participative monitoring is a subset of citizen science that focuses on repeated data collection by non-scientists, often dedicated to identifying trends over time (Etrella and Gaventa, 1998). Although some researchers might disagree with that point of view, this categorization will be used (Eitzel et al., 2017, Lovett et al. 2007). Many definitions have been proposed for “citizen science”. One of the first attempt was in 1995 to describe expertise that exists among those who are traditionally seen as ‘lay people’ (Irwin, 1995). It is one of the broader applications of the term. The term citizen science was added recently to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2014 as:

“Scientific work undertaken by members of the general public, often in collaboration with or under the direction of professional scientists and scientific institutions.”

The main tenet of this concept is that members of the public are involved in science as researchers (Conrad, 2011). In order to extend this term to wider public than ‘citizen’ (which may imply a narrower definition, of a native or naturalised member of a state or nation), various terms were proposed: “community science” (Conrad, 2011), and Public Participation in Scientific Research” (PPSR) or “citizen and community science” (Eitzel et al., 2017).

In Europe, scientists as professionals is relatively new, emerging slowly throughout the 17th to 19th centuries, with specialization in science. Consequently, the distinction between “scientists” and “citizen scientists” is also relatively new. ‘Citizen scientist’ (meaning scientist independent of institutions) was used at least as early as 1912 (Eitzel et al., 2017). Before, the word “participative monitoring” was establish, the use of “unprofessional” collaborator was common. Many institutions asked vessel captains or crew medical officers to collect plants in newly discovered territory through the 16th and 17th centuries.

The participation of the public/citizens in science decreased during the 19th to 20th centuries with the increase of science specialisation. However, during the second half of the 20th century, thanks to technology development, citizens participations increased again. The fields in which citizen science is used are diverse: ecology, astronomy, medicine and much more. The point of a citizen science project is to facilitate scientist and citizen to collaborate towards a common goal. The collaboration that can occur through citizen science allows investigations at large scales and long time, that can lead to discovery scientists could not have achieved on their own.

Citizen scientists can help with opportunistic and observational studies that do not follow a strict design. These studies can be useful because of the large temporal or geographic scale of the data collection, the rarity of the phenomena observed (e.g., a rare species or infrequent weather event), or the timeliness of the observations (e.g., collecting information for crisis response, such as after earthquakes or oil spills), all of which make data collection difficult (McKinley et al., 2017).

Citizen scientist can participate in various ways in citizen science program by, 1) proposing programs, 2) analysing data and 3) collecting data. The last aspect (collecting data) is what refered to as “Participatory monitoring”.

Participative monitoring

Citizen observation of the environment and collection of data is a very ancient practice, being undertaken informallybefore the definitions of citizen science and citizen scientist were coined. But this practice, gradually fade until the 20th century, because the means of data collection was out of reach of many.

It was through association networks (e. g. Nature Conservatory, Earthwatch) that the practice of observing nature maintained its momentum in the second half of the 20th century. In the 1970s, some associations for the protection of birds used citizen science to developed programs of birds watching. Other citizen observation programs quickly follow in the course of the 1990s, involving mostly passionate, professional and amateur naturalists (Conrad and Hilchey, 2011). But, it was not until the 2000s with the advent of the internet, that the movement significantly accelerated and, above all, became open to a much wider audience.

Citizen observations of the environment today, covers a wide range of concerns. The quality of the environment, noise, air pollution, or even the quality of the water have become major concerns for citizens and new tools have faciliatitated their greater involved in address these issues. Technology developments have played an important role: the widespread use of smartphones and the ability to produce pollution sensors at a (relatively) low cost opened new horizons for citizen observation of the environment.

The notion of “participative monitoring” has several aspects in literature. As for "citizen science”, various definition are used such as “community based monitoring” (CBM). This expression includes a diversity of projects that involve citizen groups more or less organised in a collective observation and monitoring process of the environment (Conrad and Hilchey, 2011). More recently, participative monitoring programs have also included an increase of public education (Brossard et al., 2005) and/or an increase of the citizen’s involvement in the environmental decision linked to a specific project. Participative monitoring in its most inclusive form should include stakeholders in decision making but does not always do so even if volunteers tend to have the hope that their efforts will be used to assist in local decision making (Conrad and Daoust, 2008).

Participative projects have several characteristics, including the type of environment observed; the type of public mobilised and the program management. In the FAIRWAY project, we will focus on participative monitoring in a context of a scientific project, in the context of local/regional issue monitoring program.

Scientific project monitoring program: Scientific project monitoring programs have, as a principal characteristic, the generation of scientific knowledge. They either mobilise a well informed public, able to carry out a rigorous or data protoccols or or else citizens who have been trained to collect data according to the protocol.

These projects are usually driven by one or more research laboratories, often at the national level but also at local scale, and in partnership sometimes with associations or local organisations. Most of the large-scale ecosystem monitoring programs (e. g. bird monitoring programs) tend to be collaborative.

In the field of the environment, collaborative science programs are often developed around the theme of biodiversity. The Anglo-Saxon countries have generally been pioneers in this field. In Britain, for example, the Natural History Museum and the association Royal Society for the Protection of Birds have led for several decades programs of identification and monitoring of common birds by relying on a network made up of thousands of amateurs and professional naturalists (Bing et al., 2008).

The challenge is then to produce a suitable protocol that is 1) sufficiently scientifically rigorous, and 2) not too complex (and ideally enough fun) to enable broad public support.

These monitoring programs involve a central agency (most of the time a government agency or a governmentally funded agency) that requests information from volunteers. The purpose of monitoring by these volunteers is to provide early detection (by citizens) of issues of environmental concern, which can then be investigated/analysed by scientific experts (Whitelaw et al., 2003, Conrad and Daoust, 2008).

Although often successful in the short term, monitoring by volunteers are often funding dependent and cannot continue on their own without government or doner assistance. Also, these volunteers may not represent a very diverse stakeholder group as they have a vested interested in the issues being address in the monitoring program (i. e. only fishermen or only farmers; Conrad and Hilchey, 2011).

In most of the projects, the general principle is to rely on a network of volunteers (citizens) to follow a protocol of data collection with a scientific purpose. Most of the time, a website acts as an interface between scientists and the volunteers. The volunteers have to be able to recognise, count and locate individuals (animals or plants for example), with lots of information being downloaded from internet. Then they enter their comments on a website, the information is then sent directly to the researchers. The findings of the research are generally published on the same website, to inform citizen observers of the findings of the program (Figure 11.1).

D3.1 fig11.01
Figure 11.1

Local/regional activism monitoring programs: This type of programs often focus on local issues for which actions by governments should be initiated but has not occurred (Conrad and Daoust, 2008). It often focusses on specific issues and sometimes has no private sector or government support (Whitelaw et al., 2003). These participative monitoring projects are characterised by perspectives of joint public action. For these projects, the scientific goal is that data is generated that will inform local citizen to take action on a specific issue.

The general principle of this type of participative monitoring is to mobilise a network of highly motivated volunteers, to collect data. They supply data to an organisation to develop an action program or intervention. As a result, the project manager is rarely a research laboratory, but more often an organisation (administration or association, for example) who seeks to deal with a problem in a given territory. Such programs can for example provide comments on the invasive species or allergens in order to deploy a program to fight against their dispersion or it can aim to develop an inventory in order to fight against a project planning (Bing et al., 2008).

The monitoring devices used in these projects are similar to those for scientific programs. On one side, the scientists (belonging to an administration or association for example) develop the data collection protocol. On the other side, volunteers collect data using the protocols and equipment supplied by the scientists. Volunteers provide their observations to scientists, directly, or through a website that allows the data entry. These data are then compiled and can lead to concrete action (plan of action, mobilisation, etc.; Figure 11.2).

D3.1 fig11.02
Figure 11.2

In some of this “bottom-up” monitoring programs, the local communities do not trust the data provided by the private companies and/or government organsiations and want to acquire data by themselves. In many instances,”official” monitoring programs also exist, which may have a high degree of technical credibility, yet generate little credit for the community (World Bank, 2008).

One reason for this is that most monitoring programs are top-down, with the public receiving information that has been collected, analysed, and reported by experts chosen by the project sponsor or company and presented in a way that the public may not understand. In many instances, the information may not even address the real concerns of the community; rather, it may be strictly oriented toward a organisation self interests in relation to compliance with regulations and legal commitments (also an important function of monitoring) (World Bank, 2008).

However, many failures of bottom-up community based monitoring groups are mentioned. These include lack of success due to little organisation credibility and capacity (Bradshaw, 2003). Others suggest that bottom-up participative monitoring programs tend to be unsuccessful on a more organisational level, perhaps due to poor goverance structures and no legislation or policy support (Conrad and Daoust, 2008).

Global concern monitoring program: The emergence of measurements carried out directly by citizens in open mode and using mobile technologies are gradually taking the shape of networks of “human sensors”. This category of participative monitoring includes devices geared towards the general public.

They fit into a perspective of democratisation of the tools for environmental monitoring and are present as complementary to official measures devices (alternative monitoring) to feed and eventually guide public policy. Moreover, they are mostly in the field of "low-dose", i. e. low impact/frequency pollution (pollution of air, water, sound), which they aim to measure and understand for a better control.

These devices provide the ability to have a global networks of sensors, their strength beingin the mass production of environmental data. Also, unlike the participative monitoring of "scientific program" or “local issue monitoring program”, this type of participative monitoring is little governed by a scientific protocol (which is based on the formulation and testing of hypotheses). They fit into a perspective of democratisation of the tools of environmental monitoring and present themselves as complementary to official measure devices (alternative monitoring) to feed and eventually guide public policy.

The results of measures are data visualisation tool and maps with with generaly little corrections or caculations between the measures and the maps/visualisations. The tools to visualise the measure repartition is generaly provide with the tools to collect the data (Figure 11.3).

D3.1 fig11.03
Figure 11.3

The complementarity of these devices with those of public administrations is based on two key principles:

  • the multiplication of the number of sensors/observers may support a measure based on a limited number of institutional sensors (e. g. sensors payed by government),
  • the production of measures of exposure for individuals rather than exposure based on a ‘representitive’ place: participants measure precisely what pollutants they are exposed to in their daily lives.

Issues for “human sensor” monitoring arise during data collection. These include data fragmentation, data inaccuracy, and lack of participant objectivity (Whitelaw et al., 2003). Studies are often lacking in experimental design and do not consider issues such as adequate sample size (through a priori power analysis, for example). This could generate mistrust (by the scientific or government community) in the credibility and capacity of “human sensor” monitoring data (Conrad, 2007).

2. What can we expect from monitoring?

Increase cost benefits of action

A key benefit of Participative Monitoring programs is a decrease in the cost of official (i. e. governmentally funded) monitoring programs (almost uniquely) in the field of research.

The general decrease in prices of connected tools and the increases of on-line tool are the main drivers behind the recent success of citizen science and participative monitoring programs. However, this is also the case for more ‘classic’ type monitoring programs. Two decades ago, groundwater level was computed manually every few days whereas now hourly data can be downloaded automatically on a central database. Innovative connected tools (a connected tool received instructions or parameters from the backend, and/or sends to this backend data points collected by its sensors) are not only present in the smartphone field but also in the field of conventional sensors (hourly measurement and hourly transmission are technically achievable and economicaly accessible).

Connected tools (automated probes) and participatives monitoring have different benefits. Automated approaches have the benefit of regular and frequent (e. g. daily or hourly) measurements whereas the participative monitoring has benefits that counterbalance the lower data frequency, such as engage volunteers and encourage them to become interested in local water resources. Anyhow, the costs are not necessarly lower (Little et al, 2016).

Participative monitoring seems to be a great solution in specific research programs where scientists do not want to (or cannot) spend time or money to realise a task. This kind of monitoring could be valuable in large countries or for monitoring in remote area. In Europe, several network (Lora, GPRS) can be used, so connected tools can be used instead of participative monitoring, and the issue is more a matter of costs than a matter of technical devices.

Modification of volunteers behaviour

Many monitoring programs rely on the idea that making people participate will make them more interested in the topic and more generally in science. However, if specific education and training actions are not planned in the project, the increase of interest is generally marginal as volunteers are usually already interested and motivated individualls people.

Increases of knowledge in a specific domain has been observed in some participative monitoring projects (bird watching) but in other programs the volunteers did not really understand what they measured and misunderstood the results (Land-Zandstra et al., 2016).

In fact, to improve the quality of their data (or increase the reception of their paper in a peer-review journal), the tasks asked to volunteers are generally very simple and do not improve their scientific knowledge. Only teaching and direct contact with scientists has been shown to increase participants general knowledge, and so monitoring activities alone cannot fulfill the hopes of increasing public knowledge. Where it is essential to increase environmental awareness, other more suitable and efficient methods. like environmental education, can be used to reach this goal (Garcia and Lescuyer, 2008).

Participatory methodologies in the agricultural sciences usually involve limited numbers of farmers, working in collaboration with researchers, and scaling is usually difficult when the aim is to reach a number of larger farmer groups (Beza et al, 2017). The selected farmers (the initial volunteer group) are already conscious of their dependence on their natural resources and are generally willing to change their practices (Dangles et al, 2010). In monitoring, there is no guarantee of environmental efficacy even if the monitoring phase is a success; research message is transfered to farmers who have the role of the adopters or rejectors of innovations developed by others (Probst et al., 2003).

Some of the stakeholders, as well as many farmers do not want to be volunteers because they see monitoring as a way to impose on them new ecological constraints.

Increase administrative action

Because of the common mistrust of public against private companies and government funded monitoring programs and vice versa, the administration mistrust of participative monitoring, monitoring not supervised by administration is rarely used outside of the research world.

Data quality is almost universally recognised as one of the problems that scientists working in case studies need to address (Riesh and Potter, 2014). For example, some studies have shown that monitoring based on visual counting approaches need to take into account specific risks of bias due to the technique itself, volunteers' competences (Crall et al, 2011), the sampling effort and volunteers' missing impartiality (Leopold et al, 2009).

Citizen science and participative monitoring has led to an important number of scientific publications but yet only few administrative decisions (Yank, 2005).

Examples of participative monitoring programs

The examples below are existing (or previously existing) programs that have reached a broad audience. The projects presented here are mostly from North America because a selection was made on the availability of accessible websites. The selection was also made to present an aspect as wide as possible of different projects on the water. Direct measurement programs for nitrates or pesticides are nevertheless rare.

CATTFish The CATTFish, which stands for Conductivity and Temperature in your Toilet, uses an instrument that measures conductivity in water, allowing citizen in the US to monitor the quality of the water inside their home. It is designed with sensors that sit in a toilet tank. With a push of a button, it takes a measurement each time the tank refills after a flush. The main aim of this program is to measure a potential impact of hydraulic fracturing (

Rhode Island Water Quality Measure Program The heart of the program consists of weekly measurements of water quality taken by numerous trained volunteers. The program emphasises watershed scale monitoring, because the water quality of a given body of water is a reflection of the activities in the lands and waters that surround it and lie upstream. The program encourages citizen to understand the need to cooperatively manage and improve the water quality of water bodies within a watershed. In the program, the most common measured parameters are: water clarity, algal density, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, alkalinity and pH (

Streamselfie and Stream Tracker These two programs have the same objective: building of a map of a stream using photographs taken by volunteers. In Streamselfie, the aim of the map is to improved stream monitoring so community organisations involved in water monitoring are also part of the projet. The program aims at highlighting streams that are being monitored recently/at present and at developing a national inventory of streams that need to be monitored ( Stream Tracker aims at the improvement of mapping and monitoring smaller, intermittent streams through crowd sourced on-the-ground observations of streamflow presence and absence. Stream Tracker aims at filling in this information gap by combining a network of citizen scientists, sensors, and satellite imagery to track when and where streams flow (

NECi's Handheld Photometer The handheld photometers send nitrate and phosphate data to mobile phones when used with enzyme-based test kits. This tool can be used to obtain accurate nitrate or phosphate concentration in water, soil or plant tissue samples. The enzyme-based test kits provide reliable results while the photometer design ensures accurate translation of the quality data. The design of the photometer enables any citizen scientist to collect accurate nitrate data. The app software allows teams to effortlessly share results and coordinate projects with team members (

Roaring Fork Watershed Stream Temperature Monitoring This program is based on the citizen growing concern about stream temperatures increases (with flows expected to be lower than average for instance) and its potential impact on fishes and other aquatic species. Citizen scientists will volunteer to take water temperatures in the streams and rivers throughout the Roaring Fork Watershed (in US) so they can detect unusually high temperatures (

KSU "Citizen Science" The KSU "Citizen Science" program is designed to let community members do their own soil and water testing through the use of accurate test kits. Results can inform if a stream, lake, or another water supply meets water quality standards. They can also be used for the preliminary testing of drinking water, but a certified laboratory should perform follow-up testing if a problem is suspected. A helpful "how to" video for testing water in a local community or as part of a stream monitoring network is presented on the website (

Know Your Water: Sustainable Groundwater Research The primary objective of this project, run by a group of postgraduate students, is to model the distribution of modern groundwater across South Africa. In order to achieve this goal, an isotope tracer, tritium (the radioactive isotope of hydrogen), is measured in rainfall and groundwater samples. The sampling trip involves the collection of groundwater samples from pre-determined boreholes, where one can measure the depth to water as well as setting up rainfall collection stations. Citizen scientists who have received their sampling kits in the mail will sample rainfall and their groundwater from boreholes/springs and send them back to the project team for determination of the tritium activity.

Nitrate App A Nitrate App is tested currently in the Netherlands. A reference map is necessary. Surface water and groundwater are analysed with test strips (paper based sensors). Using the App, the result can be scanned and, if desired, shared. The App is in particular designed for people working professionally with water quality such as farmers, water authorities and water companies (

3. Participative monitoring in FAIRWAY

Evaluation of a device (tools)

Different tools (devices) that can be used for particpatory monitoring of pestcide and nitrates in groundwater and surface water, will be tested during the FAIRWAY project.

Currently in government monitoring programs, are spatially and temporal limited. Using volunteers in a participative monitoring action could increase the number of data available for a specific site (river or spring) or increase the number of points (stream, priezometer) followed.

Participative monitoring’s main interest is to gather a community around a a concept and/or an issue. In FAIRWAY, particpative monitoring will be address in two ways.

  1. Connected probes will be used to measure directly the concentration of nitrates in soils to help farmers to better understand fertilisation impact and then better calibrate fertilisation. The probes are maintained by the farmer and they will be provide with access to a website where there will be provided with support to help with the interpretation of the results collected
  2. Passive samplers will be evaluated for used in the measurement of pesticides (e.g. MCPA) concentrations instreams. If passive samples the evaluation demonstartes that passive samplers provide an accurate estaimate of the load of pesticides in the stream, then in the future thaey can be used to help farmers to better understand the impact of pesticides application of the drinking water quality in thier area. The management of the passive samplers during the FAIRWAY project will be done directly by farmers, as orginally hoped, but instead by other staksholders within the MAP of the specific case study catchments.
    »Use of passive samplers in drinking water catchments

These approaches toparticipatory monitoring are more valid for surface water than for groundwater (except if springs are present on the catchment).

Evaluation of a method

Education is propably the best way to change stakeholder behavior, with participative monitoring providing supplementary support for this. Significant improvements in stakeholder knowledge are not be expected as a result of this element of the FAIRWAY project, as the monitoring program will not be accompanied by and eductaional program. However, some training will be provided on site to upskill stakeholder on handling the device. Unfortunately, there will be less opportunity than expected to apply participative monitoring in case studies.


Note: For full references to papers quoted in this article see

» References


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