Sea Grant and Participatory Science

red fish in a reef

Sea Grant’s mission is to enhance the practical use and conservation of coastal, marine and Great Lakes resources to create a sustainable economy and environment. Comprised of 34 programs, a national Sea Grant Library and a network of thousands of professionals working in every coastal and Great Lakes state as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico. Virgin Islands, and Marianas Islands. To learn more about Sea Grant, please visit

The unique structure of Sea Grant makes it well positioned to contribute to the rapidly growing field of participatory science at a national level. With presence in U.S. communities coast-to-coast, a non-advocacy stance, and expertise in extension, research, education and communications, Sea Grant is well suited to conduct strong place-based participatory science. Currently, Sea Grant supports at least 80 active participatory science programs in 25 states addressing an impressive array of topics. These include but are not limited to phenology in New England, subsistence hunt monitoring in Alaska, and nurdles in Texas. The most common goals of these programs are community engagement, research, resource management, and education.

To create and maintain participatory science programming, the Sea Grant Network utilizes its assets that include strong linkages with communities and university researchers, technical expertise, cross-network communication platforms, and excellence in science outreach.

Frequently Asked Questions


A way of including the public in the scientific process. Participants collect data, collaborate on project design, and/or analyze results around a topic of interest—water quality, weather, public health, astronomy, etc.—and through their collective action provide new insights, data sources, discoveries and perspectives that further knowledge and often help with decision making processes on local, state, and national levels. 

Public participation in the scientific process has many monikers. The most widely recognized is the term “citizen science”. While “citizen science” is a widely recognized term, the use of “citizen” can be perceived as exclusionary. “Community science” is rooted in the community, as the name suggests. Starting in the Environmental Justice movement, community science has been happening since about the 1980s and 1990s, but has only recently, in the 2010s, started to be adopted by other organizations to better reflect their work and strive toward inclusivity. These programs are focused on the goals and needs of community members. As such, Sea Grant uses the term “participatory science” to refer to programs in which members of the public are engaged to participate in the scientific process. Participatory science serves as an umbrella term to include multiple methods of engaging with participants in the scientific process to achieve common goals and address shared issues. 

Sea Grant professionals are working and collaborating with (bottom-up approach) to answer a scientific question, instead of bringing a project to a community to engage in data collection (top-down approach). There are also many other names that represent public participation in the scientific process that Sea Grant programs and others may use. These include volunteer monitoring, participatory science, crowdsourcing, collaborative research, and co-production of knowledge.

Yes, absolutely, and in many different ways. First, participatory science provides a format for more people to be involved in science, creating a more scientifically literate society. Second, it allows greater participation of the public in local, regional or global issues or concerns. This can result in greater public participation in both research and policy. Additionally, participatory scientists have contributed in many remarkable findings and discoveries. For example, first identification of invasive species in specific locations, expansion of the discovery of a lost spacecraft, tracking birds around the globe, identifying new planetary or atmospheric phenomena, ground-truthing satellite data, assessing regional air quality, monitoring radiation levels and assisting with public health concerns. At Sea Grant, participatory scientists document coastal areas impacted by king tides, detect harmful algal blooms, measure shoreline movement, and restore coastal salt marshes, as well as explore many other questions.

No, citizen/community/participatory science has been around for thousands of years, while it may not have been operating under those specific terms. Before formal university training, many who studied science were, what we would now consider, participatory scientists. The public has long been contributing to scientific learning. While it seems that participatory science projects in their current form have been popping up and are fairly new, there are a number of long-running projects both in the US and abroad. Some projects have over 100 years of data collection and some involve using historical records from long ago to yield new scientific insights.

With advances in mobile technology and online tools, increasing awareness of the value of public engagement, and clear evidence for the potential for robust data collection, the field of participatory science has been expanding rapidly. Federal legislation has increased support for programs and participatory science is increasingly recognized by researchers as a reliable means of data collection. This rapid growth has led to a subsequent rise in efforts within the field. So, participatory science is not new. It’s evolving.

No, they are not. While a number of projects encourage getting outdoors in the community, many projects can be done from the comfort of your home. Some may involve looking at images or listening to recordings, while others may require assistance maintaining and/or understanding the collected data. To learn more about these types of opportunities check out our Projects Page to see the variety of programs Sea Grant does.

First, find projects and subject areas that interest you. Then find organizations that are doing similar work and contact them about opportunities. The ‘Programs’ page provides information about participatory science projects led by Sea Grant.  Many other local, state and federal organizations have opportunities for community members to contribute to science efforts such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, and US Department of the Agriculture. Colleges and universities are also good places to learn about and find participatory science opportunities, and increasingly there are projects with area museums and libraries too.

If there isn’t a project that pertains to your particular interest, think about working with others to establish one. See the Resources page for more information.

Visit the Projects page! There you can find the appropriate contact information on each program page, where you may ask questions about the program and/or joining the effort.. For more general questions on Sea Grant’s Participatory Science efforts you may contact our Water Resource Participatory Science Federal Liaison, Liz McQuain at

Sea Grant isn’t the only entity involved in participatory science. Many other local, state and federal organizations have opportunities for community members to contribute to science efforts such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, US Geological Survey, the National Weather Service, US Department of the Agriculture. Colleges and universities are also good places to learn about participatory science opportunities, and increasingly museums and libraries too.