Citizen science enables citizens to actively contribute to all aspects of the research process, from conceptualization and data collection, to knowledge translation and evaluation. Citizen science is gradually emerging as a pertinent approach in population health research. Given that citizen science has intrinsic links with community-based research, where participatory action drives the research agenda, these two approaches could be integrated to address complex population health issues. Community-based participatory research has a strong record of application across multiple disciplines and sectors to address health inequities. Citizen science can use the structure of community-based participatory research to take local approaches of problem solving to a global scale, because citizen science emerged through individual environmental activism that is not limited by geography.
This synergy has significant implications for population health research if combined with systems science, which can offer theoretical and methodological strength to citizen science and community-based participatory research. Systems science applies a holistic perspective to understand the complex mechanisms underlying causal relationships within and between systems, as it goes beyond linear relationships by utilizing big data–driven advanced computational models.
However, to truly integrate citizen science, community-based participatory research, and systems science, it is time to realize the power of ubiquitous digital tools, such as smartphones, for connecting us all and providing big data. Smartphones have the potential to not only create equity by providing a voice to disenfranchised citizens but smartphone-based apps also have the reach and power to source big data to inform policies. An imminent challenge in legitimizing citizen science is minimizing bias, which can be achieved by standardizing methods and enhancing data quality—a rigorous process that requires researchers to collaborate with citizen scientists utilizing the principles of community-based participatory research action. Smart Framework integrates citizen science, community-based participatory research, and systems science through ubiquitous tools by addressing core challenges such as citizen engagement, data management, and internet inequity to legitimize this integration.