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Key motivations for citizen scientists revealed

Posted on 20 May 2016

A study part-conducted by researchers at the University of York shows that ‘helping wildlife’ and ‘contributing to scientific knowledge’ are among the key motivating factors for citizen scientists.

Citizen scientists are members of the public who volunteer their time to contribute to scientific research. There are millions of volunteers across the UK who give their time on a regular basis.

Understanding Motivations for Citizen Science, led by the University of Reading’s Department of Geography & Environmental Science in partnership with the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience at the University of the West of England, investigated reasons why 147 citizen scientists gave their time to gather information for such research.

Primary motivations were named as ‘helping wildlife in general’ and ‘contributing to scientific knowledge’, with other motivations including enthusiasm for the subject, enjoyment, and skills development.

Organisational factors relating to feedback and good project management were also shown to be vital to maintaining participation.

Interviews with stakeholders in citizen science found that they were motivated by advancing science and improving policy and management but also held altruistic motivations around education, engagement and generating impact for their participants’ lives.

Alison Dyke, Community Scientist at SEI, said: “Citizen science is a growing field and has been developing in terms of assuring data quality. As it is increasingly used to contribute to evidence, it’s really important to think about how the motivations of the scientists, policymakers and project leaders who design and lead these initiatives can be aligned with the motivations of the participants.”

“Understanding the motivations of participants will help us to collect useful, good quality data and to maintain participation.”

Citizen science is mentioned in a number of government action plans surrounding tree health and plant biosecurity, pollination and air quality.

The research was funded by the UK Environmental Observation Framework (UKEOF).

Vicky Morgan, UKEOF’s Programme Manager, said: “UKEOF is pleased to have commissioned this research, which deepens our understanding of how to work with citizens to gather evidence to protect our environment.”

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