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, 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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
 Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science, available at https://digitale.regione.emilia-romagna.it/citizer-science.
 Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Data Valley Bene Comune, available at https://digitale.regione.emilia-romagna.it/dvbc.
 Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science – Repository, available at https://digitale.regione.emilia-romagna.it/citizer-science/repository.
 Digital Agenda of Emilia-Romagna, Citizer Science – I risultati della mappatura, available at https://digitale.regione.emilia-romagna.it/citizer-science/seminari/i-risultati-della-mappatura.
 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.
 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.
 COM(2022) 289 final, Twinning the green and digital transitions in the new geopolitical context.
 C. Prandi, Citizen Science: stato dell’arte e opportunità nel contesto regionale, Report 1.0 for Citizer Science, 2022.