This article examines the value of observation data collected by volunteers as they go about their daily activities. Many citizens are already creating digital data archives of their own lives through online activity including via social media communication. Citizens now have the potential to be the default fieldworkers of their own lives. This can be extended to examine the value of citizens systematically collecting data on the world around them for social science research. This pilot observation study required volunteers to follow a protocol and record the number of people seen begging. The study produced important findings on begging which informed a larger research project. However, challenging methodological and ethical issues are raised concerning the observation of public life. Even so, it is clear there is potential for what can be termed ‘citizen social science’, including continuous data collection where volunteers collaborate in social science research and observe and record data as they go about their daily lives. This approach to the way evidence can be collected and integrated into research has implications for the interfaces between being a citizen, knowledge processes and the state and presents an opportunity for a renewed idea of emancipatory social science.
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