© 2018 by the author(s). While the number of projects that claim to conduct participatory environmental monitoring (PEM) is growing, “participation” continues to be translated into very different practices. We performed a systematic review of PEM projects reported in peer-reviewed journals (n = 146) to explore the main ways in which participation is operationalized and whose interests it serves. We found that local people were mainly involved in PEM projects through data collection, while professionals dominated during the ideation and design of the projects, as well as during the evaluation and use of data. Data collected through PEM was mainly used by professionals and researchers (56% of the cases that provided information on this topic), and less often used by local communities (20%). Our findings indicate that in most PEM projects published in scientific journals, participation is mostly functional in the sense that local peoples’ involvement is framed so that they contribute to the gathering of information in a cost-effective way, while their potential interests in shaping the purpose and format of the project and use of the data appear overlooked. Overall, the actual practice of most PEM projects analyzed appears to foster participation in a very limited sense of the word. Although some studies document strong empowerment effects of PEM programs, many studies are superficial in their documentation of this aspect or they do not involve local people beyond collecting data.
- Citizen science
- Locally based