I remember it clearly: when I first presented my concept of Citizen Science at the interface of art, design and art-based research to a group of artist-researchers at the international INSEA conference 2018, “Art & Education in Times of Change”, I was met with puzzled faces that probably wanted to convey to me: What is the point of all this? We have been doing this for a long time – we question, intervene, experiment and research together with others. Why these somewhat mechanical criteria or the insistence on scientific quality in an academic-institutional manner? Why even bother to put natural processes into a theoretical framework and develop a linear guide for voluntary co-researchers that presumably bypasses a possible essence of art-based research?

Right at the beginning of the conference, it dawned on me that my planned input, “Artistic Research in Citizen Science,” would neither match the conventions nor the language of the attending researchers and educational experts. No wonder, I had already spent several years of socialisation in a completely different knowledge culture and worked mostly with social scientists and social innovators. I refrained from submitting the paper as a proceeding – too many question marks and doubts about the topic’s relevance had been present. Nevertheless, my intuition told me to keep working on the topic, to keep trying and to get feedback from representatives of different knowledge cultures. It turned out that this was not only a matter of further research but also of translational work between different mentalities.

In the course of my further theoretical and practical engagement with the research subject, my own concept of research with and through art and citizen science changed rapidly: from then on, I focused on the quality of the “in-between”, which encompasses more intermediate tones than the scientific-academic definition of “interdiscipline”, as well as experimental and transdisciplinary approaches that, in conjunction with the “in-between”, entail the potential to undertake research-guiding and strategic positions.

Contemporary art – with its visual, performative and design approaches – can contribute significantly to the democratisation of science and the societal proximity of research through its texture and its interplay between reflection, critique, experimentation and creation – according to my guiding thesis, which is influenced by the preceding discourse on artistic research. The art theorist Elke Bippus, for example, pointed to the “pluralisation of the knowledge dispositif” as a promising strategy a while ago. She emphasises the position of artistic research “in its current institutionalised form of the Bologna reform as part of the dispositif of knowledge”. At the same time, the “methodological toolbox of artistic research contains those aesthetic practices that modern art has developed in its differentiation from science” (Bippus 2015, p. 67ff).
An “aesthetic path of knowledge” has also materialised for the art theorist Anke Haarmann. She similarly locates an ongoing transition of the young discipline and brings a “thoughtfulness” into play. This is intended to secure the originality of approaches and preserve a scientific freedom of norms in the academic space of the institutionalisation of artistic research and does not envisage an adaptation to an institutionalised set of rules, including canonisation (Haarmann 2020, p. 283f). Has artistic research become self-confident enough to be not only an accessory or “adjunct” to academically shaped science but also to lead the way or to take on a “primary” role in research processes (McNiff 2013, p. 5)?

One special opportunity to take on a defining and guiding role in scientific or innovation projects arises from the cooperation of different social actors at the interface of theory and practice. This refers above all to forms of knowledge production and design processes beyond the art market’s logic, as well as to research with and through art geared towards transdisciplinarity.

A related understanding of art goes beyond monodisciplinary attributions of what art contributes to the representation (or staging) and communication of content. In particular, a definition of research through and with art appropriate in the context of education and inquiry-based learning focuses on artistic knowledge production as both a process and an essential outcome. Art is then a “practice-based foundational research” (Peters 2013, p. 8f) that is “no longer exclusive as a privilege of science”. Instead, it is “understood as a collective task of all members of society” (ibid., p. 12) and involves or brings artists, designers and art-based researchers into its centre.

Taking a further step toward transdisciplinarity, citizen science provides a bridge for arts-based research to collaborative or cooperative action, research, learning and creation. Collaboration and cooperation are not the same, however. A differentiation, based on a synopsis of perspectives from, for example, art education and organisational development, could work as follows: While cooperating in the context of an artistic research project means that all participants work in parallel on the investigation and in all research phases, collaboration can be understood as a sequential contribution to the project or investigation (Schmitd-Wetzel 2017, p. 20, p. 27; Ashkenas 2015). A cooperative approach to research and learning, understood in this sense, is the basis for participation. Enabling participation then creates personal affinity and social relevance in such research projects with and through art (Rumbold et al. 2012, p. 66).

Both approaches can be understood, albeit to varying degrees, as a sharing of resources and a negotiation of ideas, idiosyncrasies, conflicts or approaches to solutions. They are, at different levels, part of citizen science projects and certain formats in the arts, arts-based research and learning.

Both approaches can be understood, albeit to varying degrees, as a sharing of resources and a negotiation of ideas, idiosyncrasies, conflicts or approaches to solutions. They are, at different levels, part of citizen science projects and certain formats in the arts, arts-based research and learning.

The discovery of transdisciplinary cooperation as a research mode in art is by no means new: Strategic collaborations between artists and researchers from technology and the natural sciences are prominently exemplified by the E.A.T. experiment series – beginning in 1967 with a collaboration between engineers Billy Klüver and Fred Waldhauer and artists Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. 

E.A.T. projects can be regarded as formative for the canon of performance art, experimental music and theatre with an explicitly exploratory research goal, linking Dada, Fluxus and happenings/actions of the 1960s with today’s generation of digital art. The impetus of E.A.T. experiments can be considered the origin for works of media art in the 1990s and further led to the ArtSci(ence) or, depending on the point of view, SciArt movement from 2000 onwards, focusing on the environmental/ecological movement and the growing ontological impact of scientific practice on society (E.A.T.: Experiments in Art & Technology, 1960-2001, Video 2013).

A local example of transdisciplinarity and cooperative projects in the context of the arts, science communication and art education is the platform project E.O.P (Emergence of Projects), which was particularly active in the 2000s and produced different forms and formats of cooperation between artists, researcher-experts and occasionally interested everyday experts (usually described as lay experts and volunteer researchers in the citizen science literature).

While both examples show working collaborations between artists, designers, mediators and academic researchers, the contribution opens the scope of possible participants and goes beyond artistic or activist projects. This scope incorporates art, design, art-based research, collaborative knowledge production and Citizen Science (Bartar 2016) and contours different thematic strands based on the following question: “Where do the arts or art-based research currently stand in relation to Citizen Science?”

The following selection of examples is cursory and builds on a literature review and participant feedback from Citizen Science-specific events and workshops, for example, in the context of topic-specific conferences or events at the Center for Didactics of Art and Interdisciplinary Education. The article brings together theoretical inputs and practical interpretations. The analysis considers the connectivity of disciplines, research fields and lifeworlds of Citizen Science and the artistic sphere.

The article begins with an analysis of the relationship between Citizen Science and art or art-based research, which is partly comparative and partly oriented toward a possible user benefit. It captures the respective title and the associated approaches and fields of application. Examples from art and art-based research that can be classified as Citizen Science or collaborative knowledge production illustrate possible fields of experimentation and application – especially in the context of a socially innovative and sustainable future.1

Citizen Science is a research approach that has been contributing to research and science for several decades. Citizen Science can be defined as a kind of “flexible concept that can be applied in different situations and disciplines” (European Citizen Science Association 2015), moreover, “[…] is applicable across all scientific disciplines, alongside a variety of disciplinary traditions and research methods” (2020), which also includes participation as an important foundation.

Science’s openness to societal needs plays an essential role, as does the citizens’ ability to become active in science (Alain Irwin was a prominent thinker who introduced this argument in the context of Citizen Science; Irwin 1995, p. 79).

A common feature of this socio-political and science-political approach is that Citizen Science projects focus on public participation in scientific research and alternative forms of cooperation in order to generate new scientific knowledge. This is usually facilitated by the participation of amateur volunteers (Lat. amator “lover”). In Citizen Science, for example, volunteers participate in monitoring and data collection projects – projects that are often conducted in the natural sciences, such as zoology or biology. Mapping and evaluating data or phenomena is also traceable in social sciences and humanities projects. Citizen science can, however, be extended to the entire research process.

A comprehensive definition can be found, for example, in the Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany and

[...] encompasses the active participation by citizens in the various phases of the research process in the natural and social sciences and in the humanities. Participation ranges from generating research questions and developing a research project, to the collection and scientific analysis of data, right through to communicating the research results. In the process, collaborative efforts between the research institutions and independent individuals who are not connected to those institutions can be structured in quite different ways. This can range from projects developed completely independently within individual volunteer initiatives, to collaborative transdisciplinary work, to formalised instructions and guidance provided by scientific facilities. Over all, the common aim of all Citizen Science projects is to generate new knowledge. Research projects result in knowledge gains for science and often answer questions of very practical or socio-political relevance. (…). (Bonn et al. 2016, p. 13)

Participation, which is prominently mentioned in this definition, is both a quality and a pivotal point in certain formats and fields of contemporary art: if the focus lies on participation and empowerment, works from the community and socially engaged art or art and social practices – where goals or problems are taken up together with “experts from everyday life” – are particularly interesting examples. Artists thereby take on different roles. These can be instructional or thematic (e.g. the artist Joseph Beuys and his social sculpture “7000 Eichen – Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung” (7000 Oaks – Urban Forestation instead of City Administration) as part of the documenta 7 in 1982). Another nuance is added by approaches and formats in which artists work as facilitators supporting artistic processes between scientific research and political activism with different groups or organisations (e.g. the contemporary Austrian artist group Zobl & Schneider and their project “Company. Arbeiten in Berndorf” (Working in Berndorf, 2007-2009). A third nuance can be seen in projects in which artists become the executive entity on behalf of a community or group (e.g. the contemporary artist Jay Koh and the CERVANTES project, 2013-2015). The first two approaches can be categorised as conventional understandings of authorship in the arts, while the latter approach moves away from explicit authorship and foregrounds transdisciplinary work and collaboration with stakeholders and volunteers on an equal footing. The artist-researcher and biologist Jay Koh calls this approach ALPP or art-led participatory processes. These evolve during his participatory performances, which are consciously set in everyday life and, in addition to aesthetic processes, can also create new meaning in transition and intersubjectivity (“transitional meaning and intersubjective bonding”) and a critical dialogue between participants. In the participatory, art-based performances that focus on a “level of micro-communication” it is also about a (re-)contextualisation of everyday life and critical appropriation or dialogue (Koh 2015, p. 31f). Knowledge is not only produced in these projects but existing knowledge is reevaluated and made applicable. In doing so, the researching artist develops a theoretical and value framework and reflects on situationally emerging themes and questions together with his or her co-researchers. Although Jay Koh himself classifies his work as participatory art projects, these and related theoretical reflections and scientific publications can be partially interpreted using the criteria developed by the working group of the citizen science platform “Österreich forscht” to ensure scientific quality (Heigl et al. 2018, p. 1ff). For example, criteria 14, “Citizen scientists receive feedback on the progress and the results of the project”, and 15, “The project results are published in a generally comprehensible manner” (ibid., p. 5), clearly show overlaps with Citizen Science projects.

The role of researching artists and designers can be understood in the sense of the US-American philosopher and expert on urban planning, Donald A. Schön, as that of reflective practitioners who use their ability to reflect on their own actions in order to embark on a continuous learning process. Schön distinguishes between three forms of action in this form of practice-oriented research, namely “knowing-in-action”, “reflection-in-action”, and “reflection-on-action” (Schön 1983, p. 49ff, p. 276) and places his dynamic approach and his interest in unearthing tacit knowledge in the vicinity of action research (Leitch & Day 2000, p. 179ff).

Art-based action research is a particular form that understands the arts as a fundamental basis for enquiry, knowledge production and information exchange and interweaves these with “traditional” qualitative methods of social research (Coghlan & Brydon-Miller 2014, p. 58ff). The focus here also lies in the respectful participation of those affected and other stakeholders in the research process.

In addition to democratisation processes in science and research, a debate on sustainability currently takes place – on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations, Sustainable Development), in which the arts also have a voice, for instance, under the headings of social practice or socially engaged art, and contribute to positive change by generating and communicating new spaces of knowledge. Social practice in the context of art projects is understood as a problem-solving approach that brings different interest groups or multi-stakeholders into dialogue (Lineberry & Wiek 2016, p. 316).

The so-called ‘Eco-Actions’ by the biologist, environmental activist and artist Brandon Ballengée are an example that could be assigned to the sustainability goals 13 – Climate action, 14 – Life below water and 4 – Quality education, and that stands in the context of artist-centred, transdisciplinary projects and through its explicit scientific knowledge gain in the tradition of action research. He describes and reflects on his Eco-Actions in his art catalogues, in selected articles and on his website – always referring to the challenges and opportunities of combining artistic and academic research with social practices.

Through field trips and workshops, the artist tries to build a bridge between different communities and specific ecosystems. For this purpose, Ballengée develops transdisciplinary practices to improve the public’s understanding of environmental phenomena by integrating approaches from art and biology. A salient objective of this research project is the development of time-limited laboratory and field studies. In collaboration with Citizen Scientists and other participating biologists, they provide scientific data on the relationship between amphibian deformities of frogs and toads and their possible causes.

Other accompanying specific questions in Ballengée’s Eco-Actions include: How can certain transdisciplinary art/biology practices effectively improve public understanding of environmental phenomena? Are amphibian deformations symptomatic of the general decline of wetland ecosystems? What are the immediate causes of batrachian limb deformities in selected locations? What role can the public play in making new and important discoveries in the field of primary biological research, and how can the results be disseminated? How can the public be involved in Citizen Science through workshops, excursions and other activities and how does this practice become a form of social and ecological activism?

Against this backdrop, Eco-Actions aim to promote understanding and appreciation of nature and are open to the public and groups of students. The participants also collect important ecological data and thus become “citizen scientists”. Brandon Ballengée thus promotes practice-based research and inquiry-based learning in the immediate environment of research volunteers (Ballengée 2009, p. 13).

While academic research (for example, empirical social research) applies quality and quality criteria such as validity, reliability, reproducibility and objectivity, transparency, range and intersubjectivity, the debate on art-based research often points to the field’s still developing understanding and self-image (Biggs & Karlson 2011, p. 405ff), which adopts such schemes only to a limited extent.

The development of criteria regarding the approaches of the different art disciplines is part of this ongoing debate. It raises questions as to whether this is fundamentally scientific research, i.e. also whether quality criteria can be defined, which cannot always be answered unambiguously due to the diversity of research projects at the interface of art, design and art-based research. Conversely, numerous approaches, project architectures, or research protocols exist that can be determined and classified based on the intensity of participation in collaborative knowledge production. Performative, conceptual, visual practices, as well as applied forms of art, play a role, which can contribute to research and creation in transdisciplinary projects. Albeit under the quotation marks of an otherness: an essential contribution of the arts is the creation of creative disorder, which can lead to new questions or approaches. Moreover, the arts can establish the framework for trial action in order to conduct practice-oriented research at group or individual level and – in the sense of inquiry-based learning – to learn experientially (Marizzi & Bartar 2021, p. 1ff).

Arts-based research offers particular potential and challenges, as it often remains open-ended and produces and utilises different forms of knowledge. Art practices such as performance and dance can also include improvisation, sensory perception and intuition. Art-based research is characterised by a specific interweaving of cognitive as well as bodily-habitual forms of knowledge. This includes not only academic knowledge as produced in the social or natural sciences. Knowledge can, for example, be implicitly written (tacit knowledge) or non-text-based and stored in the body as memory (embodied knowledge). However, arts-based research and practices cannot only be understood as foundational research but can also be found in the context of practice-led research.

The European Citizen Science Association addresses the specificities of the arts (and the humanities) in a working paper (ESCA 2020) that remains topical. It indicates that approaches or the formulation of problems, data collection and interpretation can differ markedly from other disciplines.

Another example of possible obstacles is found in the already mentioned “quality criteria for citizen science projects” of the platform Österreich forscht (Heigl et al. 2018, p. 1ff), which provides a guideline for projects. This guide is designed to provide orientation and guidance for volunteer researchers to prepare their projects for listing on the platform’s website: The first criterion in the guide requires a clearly defined research question or hypothesis that can be tested. This is not necessarily always the case at the interface with art and partly open-ended and multimodal projects that also or exclusively open up sensory spaces of cognition. Sometimes the processes are strongly bound to an artist's personality or are ephemeral and cannot be repeated and checked in the sense of an experimental set-up.

Nevertheless, art- as well as design-based approaches can contribute to collaborative knowledge production or citizen science, for example, by getting people interested in research who would otherwise have few points of contact or by giving groups and minorities a voice. Transdisciplinary and collaborative strategies provide impulses for negotiating new, different or marginalised perspectives in society. Sharpening or upending senses or meanings can illuminate new fundamental and critical questions of interest to both society and transformative science.

While art-associated fields such as art therapy or art education – at least in their discursive self-reflection – demand more self-awareness to take a primary and not only adjunctive role in academic-institutionalised or transdisciplinary research (McNiff 2013, p. 5), I have noticed little awareness in the context of Citizen Science since I started observing the field “In-Between” (Bartar 2016, p. 1ff). In my perspective, artists or artistic approaches in transdisciplinary research and education projects remain mostly supportive and rarely take on a strategic, guiding or definitional (defining) role. However, some individual exceptions do occur, in which work is done on an equal footing with other experts from the field and everyday life, such as on research theses, questions, design and evaluation. Exceptions such as the current research project ERINNERUNG UND IMAGINÄRES: Demokratische Bürger*Innenschaft (2022-23) of the Akademie der Bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts Vienna) in cooperation with schools and students aged 16 and older develop scenarios of social exclusion and their counter-designs in so-called memory labs and show new research designs and application possibilities.

Art and science education, in particular, could play a bridgehead function, for example, in school education but also in the context of lifelong learning or “civic education”, and open up complex and real-life topics with the help of research-based learning in the application fields of co-creation and innovation or reformation of the existing. This could contribute to strengthening citizenship and agency in the sense of strengthening individual engagement and public participation of citizens, including vulnerable or “forgotten” groups in society.

Collaborative research approaches with or through art, conceived in this way, form good starting points for strengthening the spectrum of “21st Century Skills”, for example. The focus lies particularly on cross-cutting skills such as collaboration, flexibility, creativity and critical thinking. These can be tested in Citizen Science projects under the banner of self-efficacy, generating new knowledge and methods in the process.

Apart from projects initiated by artist-researchers together with citizens (which have been addressed in this paper), art in Citizen Science is mostly understood in a mediating or enabling way, such as projects in the field of SciArt at the interface with science communication, which, however, have not been further illustrated in this paper (for examples see also Marizzi & Bartar 2021, p. 1ff).

Despite the fundamental openness and connectivity of arts-based research to the diverse research fields of Citizen Science – according to my assessment – white spots exist in the mutual understanding of knowledge and narrative forms as well as in the translation between disciplines, as already noted in 2018 during my conference input. Nevertheless, art-based methods have long been accepted and applied in other disciplines – such as ethnography or at the interface of innovation and education projects. An exchange has long begun.

Ron Ashkenas, “There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration”, Harvard Business Review, 20.04.2015.

Brandon Ballengée, An Impetus for Biological Research in the Arts: A Practitioner’s Statement in Research in Art, Nature & Environment (RANE), Artful Ecologies 2, University College Falmouth, 2009 Conference Papers.

Brandon Ballengée, “ECO-Actions by Brandon Ballengée”. Website of the artist, https://brandonballengee.com/, accessed on November 30 2021.

Pamela Bartar, “Artistic knowledge production for another planet? participation as cultural practice and scientific approach for quality enhancement in citizen science”, Front. Environ. Sci. Conference Abstract: Austrian Citizen Science Conference 2016. DOI: 10.3389/conf.FENVS.2016.01.00006.

Michael Biggs/ Henrik Karlsson, “Evaluating Quality in Educational Research”, in: The Routledge Companion to Research in the Arts, Michael Biggs/Henrik Karlsson (eds.), London: Routledge 2010, pp. 405-424.

Elke Bippus, Künstlerische Forschung, in: Künstlerische Forschung. Ein Handbuch, Jens Badura et al. (eds.), Zürich, Berlin: diaphanes 2015, pp. 65–68.

Aletta Bonn et al., Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany. Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), German Centre for integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Leipzig, Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science (MfN), Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB), Berlin 2016.

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Ruth Leitch/Christopher Day, “Action research and reflective practice: towards a holistic view”, in: Educational Action Research, 8:1/2000, pp. 179-193.

Heather Sealy Lineberry/Arnim Wiek, “Art and Sustainability”, in: Sustainability Science, Harald Heinrichs et al. (eds.), Dordrecht: Springer 2016, pp. 311-324.

Christine Marizzi/Pamela Bartar, “Art in Science and Science in Art – Reflections through the Lense of Citizen Science”, Austrian Citizen Science Conference 2020 Proceedings in Science. 2021 PoS (ACSC2020) 022, URL: https://pos.sissa.it/393/, accessed on August 29 2022.

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Beatrix Zobl/ Wolfgang Schneider, “COMPANY. Arbeiten in Berndorf, ein Kunst- und Diskursprojekt von Beatrix Zobl und Wolfgang Schneider“. Website of the artists, URL: http://www.zoblschneider.net/artwork/systems-of-desire/ausstellung-company-arbeiten-in-berndorf.html, accessed on November 29 2021.

Fig. nr. 1: Idiosyncrasies, Participation and Citizen Science. A visual definition © Pamela Bartar 2016

© Pamela Bartar 2023. All rights reserved, including the reproduction of extracts or figures.