UKEOF survey on motivations in Citizen Science

Back in September I posted about a new UKEOF project to understand motivations in citizen science well, now the survey is ready! The survey was created by HIlary Geoghegan (Reading) and Glyn Everett (UWE) and is designed to uncover motivations around participation in citizen science and other types of environmental volunteering. Citizen science is now an established means of collecting, analysing and responding to data about the natural environment. However, in order to fulfil its potential, we need to know more about why people participate.

This survey is funded by UKEOF<> – a partnership of public sector organisations with an interest in using and providing evidence from environmental observations. UKEOF have a citizen science working group committed to understanding the human dimensions of participating in citizen science.

The survey link is:

Data from the survey will be anonymous and will form the basis of an open access report on what motivates people to participate in environmental citizen science projects and other environmental volunteering opportunities. We are interested in attracting a range of responses from citizen scientists and environmental volunteers across a variety of projects in the UK relating to the environment, including tree health, air quality, biodiversity and pollination.

We’d be really grateful if you could circulate this survey through your networks, social media and other online resources, that would be very much appreciated. The survey will be open until 20th December.

We will be in touch with all projects mentioned in the survey once we have drafted the final report, as we fully appreciate the importance of a joined-up approach.

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact me:

UKEOF Study to understand motivations for citizen science.

Here in York we’ve had a busy summer, and some of our work (at least…) has paid off. In a project led by Hilary Geoghegan of the University of Reading, I’ve been awarded, along with Rachel Pateman and Sarah West here at SEI and Glyn Everett at UWE, a contract to undertake a study of motivations in citizen science comissioned by UKEOF (who published the influential ‘Guide to Citizen Science‘). We’re excited to be working together as this project brings together some previous collaborations. The project builds on a seminar that Hilary and I led for the British Ecological Society Special Interest Group on Citizen Science back in June on participants in citizen science where we changed the historical focus on how to do citizen science, to the people involved in citizen science. What motivates them? what impact it has on them and what impact do they have on the projects that they are involved in? Our new contract also builds on some of the recent DEFRA funded research that Sarah, Rachel and I have been doing on data returns in citizen science and trying to understand what motivates people to return data in different types of projects.

We’ll not only be looking at what motivates participants in citizen science, but what motivates people who initiate citizen science (whether they are from the academic community, an NGO or others) and what motivates policy makers to be involved. We’ll also be looking at some of the de-motivators, or why some people who could use citizen science don’t. We’ll be looking at citizen science across a range of subject areas, from pollination, to ecology, to climate change to tree health and across scales from local site specific projects to national ones.

Keep an eye out here for updates on our findings and outputs.

Exploring the Links between Post-Industrial Landscape History and Ecology through Participatory Methods

We’ve just had a paper published in PLOS ONE about some work we (two MSc by research students Kevin Rich and Mike Ridealgh, Mike Ashmore, Steve Cinderby and myself) did way back in 2011 on two brownfield sites near Wakefield. This was a really interesting piece of work, because we were using a mixture of participatory mapping approaches, citizen science surveys and our own surveys to uncover how the history of these sites has influenced the ecology that can be seen on site today. If you’d like to read the paper, it can be found here

Scrub grassland at Upton Country Park. Kevin Rich

Scrub grassland matrix at Upton Country Park. Photograph by Kevin Rich (2011)

Through these approaches, we were able to capture information about the sites that would not have been possible otherwise, and to me, this work really highlights two things: the value of doing so-called ‘mixed-methods’ research, and the value of working in a participatory way. If you read the paper, you’ll see that these approaches allowed us to gather rich and detailed information about these two sites. So, huge thanks are due to everyone who took part.

In the paper, we explain the methods that we used for recruiting participants, the methods we used for our mapping and our citizen science surveys, in the hope that other researchers will use these methods in their own work. But if you have any questions that you’d like answering, please comment below, on the paper itself, or drop me an email.

Science is for parents (and grandparents) too!

I’ve just had the pleasure of evaluating the outcomes from an course run by the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York, with the aim of teaching parents and grandparents the science that their children get taught at school. For the past few years, this ‘Science is for parents too’ course has been funded by the Wellcome Trust, which means it is free to attend.

This has been a really nice project to evaluate, partly because Alex, the course tutor, and his colleagues at CLL, have clear outcomes of what they want to achieve through the course. They want to increase attendees’ confidence in helping their children with homework, increase people’s knowledge about the science that children are taught in school, improve people’s attitudes towards science, and they also want these positive changes to be transferred to the children.

Having clearly defined outcomes like this is helpful for when I’m designing the evaluation because I know what it is I’m trying to measure against. So, for this course, we did a pre- and post- questionnaire design, asking parents using a Likert scale (Strongly agree to Strongly disagree) with statements about their confidence, whether they read about or watch science programmes, and their understanding of the science taught in schools. I combined this with a longer questionnaire after the course with open-ended questions to allow attendees to write in their own words about their experiences. This gave some really rich detail about the effectiveness of the course, including some unexpected outcomes, such as that one parent had been inspired to set up an after-school science club!

We also administered a pre- and post- course questionnaire to the children of the parents attending the course, and we had a control group of children whose parents were not attending the course. This allowed us to test the children’s knowledge of science and attitudes towards science, with the pleasing findings that:

  • Children whose parents attended the courses showed an increase in scientific knowledge throughout the course, with a control group showing smaller increases in knowledge or no improvement in knowledge over the same period.
  • A greater proportion of children whose parents attended the courses would like to be a scientist after the course compared to the control group.

I’ll add a link to the report once it has been published, but I wanted to share the parents’ responses to the question ‘do you think you have benefitted from taking part in the course’. Here, I coded all their responses into categories, and then in Wordle, I used the advanced settings to tell the software how many times that code was mentioned. So, the larger the word, the more times it was mentioned. Knowledge, the largest word, was mentioned by 10 different parents (out of 22).

Wordle of benefitsThis image nicely reflects back to some of the other things I’ve blogged about in the past: often, participants in projects feel there are different outcomes to those intended by those running the course, for example, here, three people mentioned that the course was helping them with their jobs, and two wrote of the value of being on and seeing the university campus. I think this highlights the value of using a mixture of qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods – without giving parents the opportunity to discuss their experiences in their own words, we might not have seen the wide-ranging benefits that this course can have.

Social learning for climate change adaptation and development

In a recently released (and open access!) paper, we look at the social learning literature to draw out lessons for those working on climate change adaptation in international development practice.

The potential for social learning to address complex, interconnected social and environmental challenges, such as climate change adaptation, is receiving increasing attention in research and practice. Social learning approaches vary, but commonly include cycles of knowledge sharing and joint action to co-create knowledge, relationships, and practices among diverse stakeholders. This results in learning and change that goes beyond the individual into communities, networks, or systems.

To support those looking to purposively design social learning interventions for adaptation, we focus on four areas: lessons learned and the principles adopted when using a social learning approach, examples of tools and methods used, approaches to evaluating social learning, and examples of its impact. While we identify important lessons for practice within each of these areas, three cross-cutting themes emerge. These are:

  • the importance of developing a shared view among those initiating learning processes of how change might happen and of how social learning fits within it;
  • the centrality of skilled facilitation and in particular how practitioners may shift toward being participants in the collective learning process; and
  •  the need to attend to social difference, recognizing the complexity of social relations and the potential for less powerful actors to be co-opted in shared decision making.

Click here to read more…

Praise for the power of storytelling

This weekend I had the privilege of attending a conference at Lancaster University with the rather long title “Participatory Research: Working and communicating with communities: Good Culture and Precariousness”. Now, because life has been rather busy the last few months (hence the lack of blog posts), I hadn’t found much time to think about what to expect from it. Day one focused mainly on a participatory project run by Matthew Johnson of Lancaster University which explored what culture means with two groups of people, one from Ashington in Northumbria, and the other from Brisbane, Australia. You can read about the project here. I found the whole weekend to be very stimulating and refreshingly different from any conference I’ve ever been to. One of the things that really struck me (again, see previous post on this) was how important telling stories can be in breaking down barriers between people and establishing shared understanding, and it is so much more interesting to start a conversation, as is traditional within Australian Aboriginal communities, about your family and where you have come from, than the more common opener at conferences: “So, what do you do?”!

Although we tend to work across disciplines here at SEI, this conference really brought home to me the power of bringing people with diverse interests into one room. The conference was small, about 20 people, a mixture of ‘academics’ and people who had participated in the project, and we discussed family, culture, mining, japanese drumming, ethics, citizen science, perfume, personas, jewellery, film-making, power relations, sacred places…..and so much more. And that was just in the sessions themselves!

Thanks to all involved, a great weekend which will stay with me for a long time.

New project: Data submission within citizen science projects

This month Rachel, Alison and I started an exciting new piece of work looking at data submission within citizen science projects. This is a really important piece of work because hundreds of thousands of people across the UK are taking part in environmental citizen science projects, surveying sites for wildlife and passing this information on to scientists and others who can use it to better understand our environment. BUT, experience from the OPAL project suggests that many people take part in these surveys but then don’t submit their data anywhere.

Looking for wildlife is one part of doing citizen science projects such as the UK Ladybird Survey (photo from BBC)

Looking for wildlife is one part of doing citizen science projects such as the UK Ladybird Survey (photo from BBC)

We want to explore why people do, and don’t, submit their data, and as we’re working closely with the OPAL team at Imperial, we hope to be able to put our findings straight into practice in order to make any necessary improvements to the data submission process. So, we’ve developed a short Survey Monkey questionnaire, which should take 5 minutes to complete, for people who have done an OPAL survey – it can be found at

The other part to this research is a large face-to-face survey, which is being conducted by a marketing company, who are asking a representative sample of people across the UK whether they have taken part in any citizen science projects, and then asking the same questions as in the OPAL questionnaire. This will allow us to put our findings from the OPAL questionnaire into the wider environmental citizen science context.

We’ll report on findings in this blog when they are available this summer.