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.


“Suddenly, science is all part of your life”. Changing attitudes through teaching.

Many parents attending the “Science is for Parents Too” course which I recently evaluated said the same thing: they had been ‘turned off’ science when they were at school and couldn’t see it’s relevance to their daily lives. Then, when their children came home and asked for help with science homework, they don’t feel confident enough to help. This then increases the chances of the children themselves thinking that science isn’t for them, isn’t relevant, or is too hard.

Over the past few years, the Centre for Lifelong Learning at the University of York, with support from the Wellcome Trust, have been trying to address this problem by running a course designed to teach parents the science that their children learn at school. It aims to increase their scientific knowledge and their confidence in helping their children with science homework. And it seems to be working! Parents are talking about what they have learned on the course with their families over dinner, they are doing simple experiments with them at the weekend, and they feel more able to support their children with their homework, for example one mother said “now I’m like ‘yeah, look, I can help, I can have a look’, rather than ‘let’s wait until Dad gets home’”.

As well as increasing participants’ knowledge and confidence, parents have reported changes in attitudes. I asked parents in a questionnaire “Has the course changed your views or attitude towards science in any way? If so, how?”, and put the 16 responses into the Wordle below. As I’ve said before (here) I like to use these to start thinking about the codes, or themes, that come from the responses. “Yes” is obviously prominent, as is “positive”, and “interested”, but some of the smaller words are interesting too.

ViewsFor example, the word TV is there, because two respondents said that they watch more science on television since the course, for example one person wrote “Yes, in a positive way. Watching TV programmes with science in them, are not daunting”. Another parent said that she likes to “listen to things like the Life Scientific on the radio now, which I didn’t use to, I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near it, I was probably more ‘I won’t bother with that because I won’t understand what is going on’, so this has sparked more interest.” These quotations indicate that the course is having positive effects beyond those it intended.

What I’m really interested in is whether these changes can be sustained over the longer term, and I want to do a follow-up questionnaire with parents in 6 months time, to see if they are still talking to their families about science, and if their enthusiasm for science still stands.

What is your household’s impact on the environment?

Did you know that over a third of UK carbon emissions come directly from actions linked to individuals? Most of these are related to our personal travel, housing, energy use and food. Every time we purchase something, from a new pair of shoes to an electric drill, we are having an impact on the environment, known as a footprint. A few years back, Anne Owen, who used to work at SEI developed an online tool which anyone can use to calculate their household (or individual) footprint. The hope is that a greater understanding of the impact you are having as an individual will lead to changes in behaviour. The problem is that there is an increasing body of evidence to suggest that there is not a clear link between people’s knowledge, their attitudes towards the environment, and their behaviour towards the environment.

We’re doing some really interesting work with the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York, funded by Joseph Rowntree Foundation looking at if and how residents of a new housing development in York change over time in terms of their environmental behaviours and attitudes. The development, Derwenthorpe, has been designed to be environmentally and socially sustainable, with various pro-environmental interventions such as a car-club scheme, well-insulated homes, a community biomass hot water system. Our role is to see whether these interventions have any impact on the household greenhouse gas emissions, and if so, which interventions are most effective.


We’re comparing this community to other new sustainable developments across the UK, and to households more generally, so if you’re interested in finding out the impact of your lifestyle on the environment whilst helping our research, please complete the tool at


Evaluation of Environmental Education PhD: the stick-person version


I recently completed my PhD which looked at evaluation within environmental education. One of my friends asked to read it, and another said “Can I have a Ladybird version?” (Ladybird books are children’s books). This gave me an idea…here is the stick-person version of my PhD! (Warning, I have never been a very creative person….)

Picture 1Picture 2Picture 3Picture 4Picture 5Picture 6Picture 7Picture 8Picture 9Picture 10Picture 11Picture 12

If anyone is interested in reading the full version, please get in touch!