Citizen science and global biodiversity
Citizen science and global biodiversity

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Citizen science and global biodiversity

5 Motivation: understanding why people do citizen science

When asking the question ‘Why do citizen science?’, it is important to consider the driving factors behind it. For example what might motivate participants to become involved, giving their free time to scientific research, as well as why scientists and other people might seek to initiate and deliver projects.

Individual motivation: A review of motivations behind environmental volunteering suggests that people participate for reasons that are either intrinsic (e.g. they find the activity satisfying) or extrinsic (e.g. it confers other benefits such as helping to promote career advancement). The driving motivations behind participation in citizen science are similar but vary, based on the type of project, with intrinsic and extrinsic factors ranging from personal growth and gain to being of benefit to others and core to individual values. Digital technology can expand these motivating factors through the integration of games, competition, rewards or reputation building (Geoghegan et al., 2016).

For many people who do citizen science as part of their jobs, it is more than that. As individuals, they can be personally motivated or involved in their work projects or sometimes as participants in other initiatives of interest.

While out at about at citizen science meetings and events in the UK and abroad, Janice Ansine, Senior Project Manager – Citizen Science in the Open University’s STEM Faculty and author of this week, captured the views of a few people involved in citizen science as part of their work from a range of projects, organisations and institutions, asking what drew them to citizen science.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1 Why citizen science?
Skip transcript: Video 1 Why citizen science?

Transcript: Video 1 Why citizen science?

My name is Kate Lewthwaite, I am Citizen and Science Programme Manager at The Woodland Trust.
Why citizen science? I’ve always been passionate about reaching out in science to as many people as possible, and helping them engaging with it. So that is my personal, I suppose my mission statement of my whole career, so that is why I am in the job that I’m in, which is my dream job, which is wonderful.
Why is it important? Because science impacts everywhere, every day in every way, and if all of us were a bit more informed and if we engaged more, then we can make better choices as a society about the way forward and what matters to us.
From Defra, I lead on social research for Defra plant health and have worked in citizen science projects now support citizen science, specifically as they relate to tree health - and the question around why citizen and science? For me… erm, there tends to be focus on data, and the gathering and management of data, and using citizen scientists to add temporal and spatial resolution to data, I think it is really important, but I think is less important arguably then what I referred to is the sort of social and cultural development aspects and dimension of citizen science. So good citizen science projects, tend to be very successful at generating benefits for groupings of people and for individuals.
So if you think about people going out to the natural environment, experiencing nature, having positive interaction with nature, and then you participate in initiatives that gather data, to inform policy how better to protect the environment. So that confers on those individuals and those groups a whole set of benefits which I think are the real value around citizen science.
I’m Doctor Michael Pocock, I’m an ecologist from the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, so I do research and I’ve become really interested in citizen science because I care about the science that can be done, and by engaging lots of people over a long term, you can do science, over vast scales, across the country and for many, many decades. And it can be sustainable in a way that isn’t sustainable when relying upon professionals. But I am also really interested in citizen science it’s a way that ordinary people, anyone, can be involved.
End transcript: Video 1 Why citizen science?
Video 1 Why citizen science?
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2 Why citizen science?
Skip transcript: Video 2 Why citizen science?

Transcript: Video 2 Why citizen science?

Hi I’m Jack Sewell, from the Marine Biological Association, and I’m involved in several citizen science projects, trying to get schools, volunteers, members of the public involved in the collection of biological data.
I think that is really important to have citizen science, I think it’s a very, very powerful tool for engaging people in science, and for subjects around science. From my point of view, the marine environment and the marine biology, I think it is a very powerful tool for collecting data from a wide area, I’m a strong believer in lots of eyes, ears, and being able to collect large amounts of really useful information and bring it together.
My name is Tania Jenkins and I work with Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences I am also one of the founders of an organisation called the EvoKE project and we aim to promote public understanding of evolution and citizen science has a huge role to play in public understanding in evolution. So why citizen science? Well, first of all, why not? Citizen and science is one of the, the ways that you as a citizen can empower and shape science.
The whole scientific process, you can be involved in citizen science by helping us answer the relevant questions.
What is relevant in your community? What is relevant in your garden? And for this there are loads of citizen science projects that you can join. For me, why citizen science, well, citizen science in my opinion, is one route to social empowerment and change and to shape how we view the world around us, and to shape how the scientific process works.
And how science, general can be made better with your help.
I’m David Slawson, I work for OPAL, which is the Open Air Laboratories, at Imperial College London. Why citizen science?
I think it had a broad range of benefits, so often people talk about data, which I think is very, very relevant, but my particular interest is outreach. So citizen science is great for giving people a learning experience, raising there awareness of things and perhaps even changing behaviours.
End transcript: Video 2 Why citizen science?
Video 2 Why citizen science?
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Video 1 participants: Kate Lewthwaite, The Woodland Trust; Jake Morris, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Dr. Michael Pocock, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.

Video 2 participants: Jack Sewell, Marine Biological Association; Tania Jenkins, Evolutionary Knowledge for Everyone (EvoKE) project, and consultant for Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences; Dr. David Slawson, Open Air Laboratories, Imperial College London.

People may also be motivated to give their time based on possible personal benefits, such as – what they can learn. For example, the US-based Cornell Lab of Ornithology (CLO) states that their citizen science projects strive to help participants learn about the birds they observe, and as they provide vast quantities of data about species occurrence and distribution around the world, they also experience a process of scientific investigation. (Bonney et al., 2009). Many citizen scientists also develop and enhance their skills and expertise. For example, a review of participants on iSpot demonstrates that, by the time they made their 50th observation, more than 60% of contributors were able to identify the species themselves. This was significantly higher than the 40% accuracy of first-time contributors. (Silvertown et al., 2015).

Organisational motivation: So far we have discussed why people get involved with citizen science, but why do organisations choose to launch citizen science initiatives? For some, it is a means of conducting scientific investigations – biological recording or monitoring. (Engaging volunteers is an effective way to implement environmental surveys, wildlife recording or biodiversity monitoring, which are the main type of projects initiated. At the same time, this encourages the wider adoption of citizen science. For example, in the UK records of bird sightings have been submitted by the public to the British Trust for Ornithology since the 1930s and continue to this day. Scientists are increasingly appreciating the role of citizen scientists in providing a source of labour and skills. Citizen science is viewed as a means of answering difficult questions about scientific and environmental research, with the additional ability to collect data on a large scale.

Citizen science is also regarded as a platform from which to inform the public of matters connected to science, policy, conservation and land-management practices, as well as a way of raising awareness and engaging people’s interest in a particular topic. For some scientists, advancing scientific knowledge is the most important motivator for launching a citizen science project, while for others involved in the planning, development and implementation of citizen science initiatives, key motivators include the benefits to their organisation (e.g. publicity, new approaches to public engagement, etc.) as well implementing an activity that the participants themselves indicate the benefits of (i.e. the personal satisfaction, enjoyment and fulfilment from being involved).

Here is a list of factors that could motivate scientists to get involved in citizen science:.

Table 2 Why do scientists get involved with citizen science projects?

1To contribute to science
2To inform policy
3To inform people about conservation and land management
4To educate
5To gain or improve buy-in for decision making
6To raise awareness and engage people
7To build partnerships and improve communication
8Other stakeholder motivations (e.g. personal satisfaction)
(Source: adapted from results of surveys on motivations for citizen science and environmental monitoring. Geoghegan et al., 2016)

Consider your top motivational factors from Activity 2. Do any of those mentioned in Table 2 reflect your own individual interest in citizen science?


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371