Empowering Citizens to Create Research Questions for Science: An Exploratory Study of Mechanisms for Crowdsourcing Scientific Research Questions

Stefania Cattani & Claudia Villani

Student thesis: Master thesis


Defining research questions for science used to be the exclusive domain of the academic community. The movement towards open science has opened up opportunities for science to tap into the wisdom of citizens to draw interesting, yet unexplored avenues for research, as well as to be more responsive to the real-life concerns of society. This study explores and hypothesizes mechanisms that enhance the ability of citizens, who are experts by experience of a domain, to generate and formulate novel scientific research questions. The authors review literature to develop a theoretical framework of mechanisms, which is confronted with empirical data collected from a case study in the context of school anxiety research. Semi-structured interviews are conducted with a sample of students and student counsellors, as lay experts in the domain of school anxiety, and of research design experts. The interview data is analyzed through the Thematic Analysis to inductively identify new mechanisms and elaborate on the existing ones. This study reveals that transferring domain knowledge, moderated group discussion, brainstorming, constructing the research problem, providing diverse cues and abstract instructions, and stimulating interest and perceived self-efficacy help citizens to generate novel research questions. Searching the topic, learning research methods, following guidelines, rewriting questions, adopting an outside perspective, and training writing skills enhance their ability to formulate good research questions. A comprehensive framework is presented and discussed, laying the groundwork for further, more conclusive research to test these mechanisms.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final ThesisMSc in Management of Innovation and Business Development, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2018
Number of pages110
SupervisorsMarion Poetz