The engagement of citizens in research for cities: the Citizer Science project by Emilia-Romagna

The engagement of citizens in research for cities: the Citizer Science project by Emilia-Romagna


Citizen science is an innovative approach to scientific research, including ordinary people without special qualifications in order to help the work of scientists for the common good. Considering the potential of citizen science projects not only for the overall community, but also for policy making purposes, the Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna launched the Citizer Science initiative in collaboration with ART-ER Scpa, within the 2020-2025 Digital Agenda. One specific example of good practice that participated in this project is the City Science Office in Reggio Emilia, which is also part of the European network of CSOs.


1. Citizer science: a project for citizen science in Emilia-Romagna

The Emilia-Romagna Region, located in northern Italy, has a long-standing commitment to participatory and collaborative policies. In 2017, driven by the urgent need to redesign public action toward sustainability goals, which require high scientific expertise to be adequately addressed, it launched the “Citizer Science” program[1], with the aim of promoting citizen participation in applied research with a specific concern for environmental or climate sustainability and biodiversity conservation.

The Citizer Science program – constituting, as the name implies, the regional citizen science best practice – is undertaken under the challenge “Data for widespread intelligence available to the territory” of the 2020-2025 Digital Agenda, whose main strategy is to transform the Region in a “Data Valley Common Good”[2].

One of the key objectives of the program is therefore to improve the quality and quantity of environmental data available to researchers: while traditional methods of data collection can be more expensive, time-consuming, and limited in scope, by involving citizens in data collection, researchers can access a much larger pool of data at a lower cost, for example using smartphone apps to measure air quality or to take pictures of plants and animals to contribute to biodiversity studies.

A collaborative approach to scientific research, involving active participation from citizens especially in the collection and analysis of data, enables researchers to access a larger pool of data and to establish connections with other individuals, who could provide particularly relevant contributions.


 2. Some of the outputs and good practices

The program has already produced some interesting results. The mapping results, originally published on the project website, are currently unavailable because, following a more complete mapping, the Emilia-Romagna Region is preparing a new “Repository” section, where they will be published[3].

Not only public administrations, but several public and private entities have already undertaken citizen science experiences in the regional and national territory, many of which have already been collected in the previous mapping, completed during 2022. On July 21, 2022 at an event organized by the Region, a number of them were presented, which are given here as examples, of which one can note the strong environmental and ecological characterization[4].

Amongst them, there is, for example, the “I-Rosalia” project, aimed at protecting and conserving the species of beetle lucanus cervus, known as “alpine rosalia,” a symbol of biodiversity and forest ecosystem, currently at risk of extinction. Citizens, in that case, were actively involved in collecting data on the distribution and habitat of the beetle, with the use of a dedicated mobile application.

The “Idice” project, conducted by the Citizen Science Observatory, on the other hand, aims to involve citizens in collecting data on the flora, fauna and environmental status of the Idice Valley. In this case, citizen training and the creation of a stable participatory monitoring network are also planned.

The “Sea Sentinels” project, on the other hand, focuses on the surveillance and protection of the sea and its resources: through citizen science, inhabitants are involved in the collection of data on water quality, marine biodiversity and the presence of chemical pollutants, using special monitoring kits and digital tools, designed to collect valuable data for the conservation of marine ecosystems and the promotion of sustainable coastal development policies.

Finally, the Life4Pollinator project is aimed at the conservation and promotion of pollinator animals, such as bees and butterflies, which are essential for the conservation of ecosystem biodiversity. Through citizen participation, the project creates a network of “pollinator gardens” and promotes sustainable agricultural practices that benefit pollinator habitat, as well as organizes educational events and awareness-raising activities.


3. A singular experience: the City Science Office of Reggio Emilia

The city of Reggio Emilia participated to Citizer Science with a project that has a basic difference from the others, namely the qualification of the citizens involved: unlike the other entities, which focused on the participation of ordinary citizens, based on the principle that they are able to collect data even in the absence of any specific expertise, Reggio Emilia formed an administrative articulation composed of particularly qualified researchers to work together with the administration and support it in the processes of administrative innovation[5].

This is in fact the adoption, as an approach to public administration, of that subcategory of citizen science that is called city science, which is achieved through the insertion of academic expertise into the political government of the city and the governance of the urban territory.

The City Science Office, moreover, has its roots in the City Science Initiative, which is conducted under the Joint Research Centre of the Eurpean Commission and supported by a Horizon call, whose very purpose is to fund research on innovative topics. Amongst the cities that, together with Reggio Emilia, form the essential core of the European network of City Science Offices, there are Amsterdam – which is the lead city – Cluj-Napoca, Thessaloniki, Hamburg and Paris, while there are a total of thirty-one participating cities[6].

The five main lines of action of these cities are Circular Economy, Smart Mobility, Air quality, Mental health and, finally, the one chosen by Reggio Emilia, “Tech and the city”, which allows to focus on the necessary coupling between the ecological and digital transition, which is also found today in the European strategy[7].


4. Overall evaluation and conclusions

The Citizer Science program brings together citizens, researchers and local organizations to work together on research projects: this collaboration helps to build trust and understanding between different stakeholders and ensures that the research is relevant to the needs of the community.

The program has also been successful in engaging a diverse range of participants: although people of all backgrounds and abilities have been included in most projects, the case of Reggio Emilia demonstrates how, depending on the case, equipping specific high-level skills to support the administration is equally useful. Overall, the Emilia-Romagna Citizen Science, by involving citizens in the collection and analysis of environmental data, on the one hand helps to create a more engaged and informed community, and on the other supports research that can lead to more effective policies and practices[8].




[1] Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science, available at

[2] Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Data Valley Bene Comune, available at

[3] Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science – Repository, available at

[4] Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science – I risultati della mappatura, available at

[5] C. Iaione, Urban Sustainable Development and Innovation Partnerships, Italian Journal of Public Law, n. 2/2022, pp. 521-605; F. . Berni, L. De Franco, N. Levi, Il City Science Office di Reggio Emilia: percorsi di ricerca e innovazione in campo energetico e sociale, Diritto e Società, n. 4/2023, to be published.

[6] C. Nevejan, City Science for Urban Challenges, pilot assessment and future potential of the City Science Initiative 2019–2020, report for the European Commission, 2020.

[7] COM(2022) 289 final, Twinning the green and digital transitions in the new geopolitical context.

[8] C. Prandi, Citizen Science: stato dell’arte e opportunità nel contesto regionale, Report 1.0 for Citizer Science, 2022.

Reggio Emilia’s strategy: from Neighborhood Councils to Partnerships for Sustainable Development and Innovation

Reggio Emilia’s strategy: from Neighborhood Councils to Partnerships for Sustainable Development and Innovation


The Municipality of Reggio Emilia is one of the cities that have raised the level of civic collaboration the most in the past decade. It has embraced the principles of the city as a commons and the quintuple helix approach applied to public administration, producing as an outcome the new Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia. It is now about to be completed with a new Title, concerning the implementation of collaborative strategies through multi-actor partnerships, called Partnership for sustainable development and innovation, the text of which was discussed at a conference held at Luiss – Guido Carli on February 22.


co-city, urban justice, climate justice, Reggio Emilia, multi-actor partnership


The Municipality of Reggio Emilia is one of those cities which have given rise to a regulatory practice oriented toward collaborative management of urban development, which has developed locally in Italy as well as in other European and non-European cities[1]. In Italy, in particular, starting with the Bologna experience, and shortly thereafter also Turin, Naples and other cities, this has been done first of all through the regulations on the collaborative management of common goods, which Reggio Emilia already developed in a singular way back in 2015: the idea, in fact, was to replace the administrative districts, eliminated by the law[2], with new infrastructures that would give voice to the neighborhoods.

At the time, this was achieved through “citizenship agreements,” but in 2022, the new Urban and Climate Democracy and Justice Regulation was passed, establishing Neighborhood Councils as a new structure for listening to the local communities. The main outcome is the provision of a co-planning phase, where neighborhood and municipality develop the policies, and a subsequent co-design phase, aimed at implementing the planned policies through Partnerships for Sustainable Development and Innovation.

The European Framework

At the European level, Reggio Emilia – in partnership with Luiss – Guido Carli, and the LabGov research group – is involved in the Horizon 2020 “EUARENAS – Cities as arenas of deliberative democracy”. In particular, it is a pilot city of the European project through the strategy on Neighborhood Councils, applying also the “Tech and the City” approach to urban and climate justice goals.

In developing this strategy, Reggio Emilia made use of the City Science Office, an organizational unit consisting of one employee and industrial PhD students from Luiss Guido Carli University, which serves as a center for research, development and support for the experimentation of innovative public policies; this tool is also part of a European framework, that of the City Science Initiative[3], to which the European network of City Science Offices belongs.

The Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia

Also thanks to the aforementioned project path in EUARENAS.EU[4], as mentioned above, and the cooperation among the Municipality of Reggio Emilia, the City Science Office, the Law Department of Luiss Guido Carli and LabGov ETS, the Regulation on Urban and Climate Democracy and Justice in Reggio Emilia[5] was finally approved in September 2022.

Its most relevant and innovative provision is the creation of deliberative citizen assemblies called Neighborhood Councils, which – through a process of co-planning municipal public policies – draw up a document called the Neighborhood Pact, which becomes part of the whole municipality’s urban planning.

It is inspired by the principles of deliberative and collaborative democracy, which also find recognition in the Italian Constitution, and pursues a strategy of participatory administrative planning in order to achieve a sustainable, equitable and inclusive model of urban development, according also to the goals set by the Next Generation EU, the 2021-2027 EU Cohesion Policy, as well as the new Horizon Europe research and innovation program.

The new Title: Partnerships for sustainable development and innovation

In supplementing the aforementioned Regulation, it emerged that the regulatory framework should be completed through the provision of a new Title, concerning a co-design process involving all urban actors – according to the quintuple helix paradigm[6] – and concluding with a mutual assumption of binding rights and obligations[7].

This instrument, which aims to put into practice what was previously designed at the policy level, has been called Partnership for Sustainable Development and Innovation (or Neighborhood Climate Contract if it is entirely focused on climate and environmental issues), which is a multi-actor partnership that is negotiated and, as a result, broad and non-standardized, in order to offer solutions consistent with the policies, the outcomes of which are evaluated in terms of impact.

The drafting and subsequent application of such an innovative document, however, raised questions of the most importance, with regard to the form and the conditions that would justify the adoption of a multi-actor partnership instead of more traditional procedures, the possible implementation tools (of which a toolbox was drawn up) and, above all, the impact dimensions through which the effectiveness of each partner’s action should be assessed.

This led, on February 22, to a seminar at Luiss Guido Carli, entitled “Neighborhood, Common Good: Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia. An integrated public policy to achieve urban co-governance as a function of sustainable urban development,” where some extremely competent authorities on the subject gave their views on the progress of the new part of the Regulation.

Davide Testa

[1] P. Chirulli, C. Iaione (eds.), La Co-città, Napoli, Jovene, 2018; S. R. Foster, C. Iaione (eds.), Co-Cities, Cambridge, MIT Press, 2022.

[2] L. 23rd December 2009, n. 191.

[3] A. Jeanneau, ​​The City Science Initiative: strengthening science and research for urban policies Tech and the City – Reggio Emilia,, 2020, <>.

[4] EUArenas,

[5] Regulation on Democracy and Urban and Climate Justice in Reggio Emilia,

[6] E. G. Carayannis, T. D. Barth, D. F. J. Campbell, The Quintuple Helix innovation model: global warming as a challenge and driver for innovation, Journal of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, n. 1/2012; C. Iaione, E. De Nictolis, La quintupla elica come approccio alla governance dell’innovazione sociale, in F. Montanari, L. Mizzau (eds.), I luoghi dell’innovazione aperta. Modelli di sviluppo territoriale e inclusione sociale, Torino, Fondazione G. Brodolini, 2016.

[7] C. Iaione, Urban Sustainable Development and Innovation Partnerships, Italian Journal of Public Law, 2/2022.