Is it time to re-imagine citizen science?

Several months ago we launched an informal survey to investigate what citizen scientists actually think about their experiences with citizen science. The results confirmed what we have long suspected: people feel their potential is not fully utilized and they want more opportunities and options available to them.

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Citizen science has been around for a while, but many researchers have been apprehensive about using help from citizen scientists. The common objections include issues with low retention rates, problems with reliability and validity, quality of data analysis and data collection, lack of scientific training, limited tasks suitable for citizen science projects, and others. It is even fair to say that many projects that use citizen scientists’ help are looked down upon, as they are seen as “less valid” or perhaps even “unscientific.” Yet, we do have examples of extremely successful, long-running citizen science projects, such as the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST). We think that the key to a successful citizen science project is training, education and hands-on experience, creating a community of well-trained, knowledgeable, dedicated citizen scientists who are constantly engaged.

To find out what citizen scientists themselves think about their experiences, we conducted a survey few months ago, with very interesting results.

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Survey Results

 

Survey Participants Demographics

We have received n=51 responses, from people ranging between 18 to 74 years old. The majority (64.71%) of responders were females.

Why are people interested in citizen science?

It appears that people’s motivations could be roughly put into four areas: participating, contributing to science and being a part of scientific community, enjoying citizen science because it is fun and stimulating, and learning more about the world. The “other” category of replies was interesting too and included engaging in citizen science projects as a means of stress relief, teachers using citizen science projects in the classroom and students required to participate in citizen science projects for a class.  

Figure 1. Why are people interested in citizen science? 

 

What are the current problems with citizen science?

Survey respondents were acutely aware of the problems affecting citizen science, and the top issues included not providing training/learning related to tasks and not utilizing citizen scientists’ potential. Some respondents also acknowledged the common criticism of the citizen science projects, namely issues with quality. Other issues were related to tasks themselves, as being too simple and boring or too complicated. Once again, replies in the “other” category were also very interesting, where the common theme mentioned by several responders was lack of communication/involvement from researchers who actually run the project. Respondents mentioned that researchers did not appear to be involved/interested in interacting/communicating with citizen scientists, did not acknowledge their contribution, and did not provide any information and updates about findings. Poor data quality and “vague” tutorials were also mentioned.

Figure 2. What are the current problems with citizen science?

What should citizen science projects include?

Citizen scientists clearly want to get involved more and not just to analyze but also to collect data if possible. They also want to see more sophisticated citizen science projects that include providing research updates on recent research in the citizen project area, giving citizen scientists the opportunity to learn and receive training, getting guest lectures from experts in the field, participating in expeditions, and having an opportunity to get equipment for data collection. A sense of community also appears to be important, including access to forums and online meetups. 

Figure 3. What type of involvement in citizen science would you be interested in?

Figure 4. What options would you like to see available for citizen scientists?

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A New Approach: Comprehensive Participatory Platform for Citizen Scientists

 Cetalingua Project has been envisioned as a participatory platform for citizen scientists that provides a full spectrum of scientific-process experience. It is a membership-based platform and is not free (although we have a freemium plan too), but it offers many comprehensive components that citizen scientists want to see included. Our platform offers several ways to engage in the citizen science process:

  1. Active learning that is task specific and approachable
  2. Recent (and from classical studies) research updates from the area of citizen science
  3. Hands-on data analysis (and targeted training), including behavioral and acoustic data
  4. Hands-on acoustic and behavioral data collection (CetaKit and CetaScript App) and data-collection-targeted training
  5. Participation in the community (forum for members)
  6. Rewards for members (point system where accumulated points could be exchanged for merchandise)

 

We believe that by deeply engaging citizen scientists and providing learning, targeted training and hands-on experiences, we will not only greatly improve the quality of citizen science projects but also create a community of well-trained, knowledgeable citizen scientists ready to tackle more complex, interesting and stimulating tasks. More importantly, our platform will allow citizen scientists to fully realize their potential through the numerous ways they can engage in the citizen science process.

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Our project is currently in closed beta testing, where a small group of citizen scientists is testing our platform. If you would like to get notified when we will go live, please sign up for our newsletter below.

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