Citizen science can be described as the participation of non-professional volunteers in professional science projects. Citizen science plays an important part in delivering environmental data on a range of scales and forms the basis of scientific research and management decisions. Such activities might involve counting ladybirds and bees, monitoring volcanoes or spotting an insect affecting trees. If citizen science is to be successful and sustainable into the future, project organisers need to know what motivates their volunteers and their colleagues!
In this post I want to share with you some findings from a recent report we published on motivations for citizen science (funded by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UKEOF)).
We asked volunteers why they participate in citizen science. Our survey said the primary motivations were:
- Wanting to help nature in general
- Desire to contribute to scientific understanding
These findings agreed with an earlier study by West et al. (2016).
We also spoke to environmental volunteers who might be doing some hands-on work such as tree planting or managing undergrowth. For them, motivations related to learning, spending time outdoors and helping with their future careers. However, it is possible to suggest that some environmental volunteers may well be persuaded to participate in citizen science too.
We didn’t stop with the volunteers – we also spoke to the project organisers, in particular the scientists developing citizen science research projects. We wanted to know why they thought citizen science was so great! The list of motivations was long but can be broadly grouped as follows:
- To contribute to science
- To inform policy
- To inform conservation and land management
- To educate
- To raise awareness and engage people
- To build partnerships and improve communication
Last but not least, a key motivation for scientists that is rarely acknowledged, is:
- To gain personal satisfaction
Scientists undertake citizen science for what they gain personally and professionally from working with volunteers – whether that is first-hand or with volunteer-collected data.
For scientists, citizen science enables them to:
- Enjoy their work
- Fulfill a personal commitment/enthusiasm
- Deliver equity and self-determination for participants
- Fulfill career objectives, ambitions and build on previous educate
- Generate impact for people’s lives
- Work with unpaid experts and harness their enthusiasm for science.
In a new project, we’re using these findings to take citizen science to the next level to truly open-up environmental research. We are going to combine the growing shared enthusiasm for the environment, the public’s curiosity for the natural world, and scientist’s professional and personal passions. We want to make citizen science, and public engagement more broadly, an ongoing active and routine part of life. We want everyone to be involved in environmental science at all stages of the research process. This way – we believe – we can address major environmental challenges together and ask important research questions.
The full report can be found here.
Hilary Geoghegan is leading OPENER, a new NERC-funded project to scope out a national community of practice for public engagement with environmental science (See @DrHG on Twitter). Hilary would like to acknowledge her colleagues Alison Dyke, Sarah West, Rachel Pateman, Glyn Everett, Erinma Ochu, Cindy Regalado, Toos Van Noordwijk, Gitte Kragh, Ed Hawkins, Muki Haklay, Poppy Lakeman Fraser, Heather Sugden and Jane Delany.