Volunteer-centric approach needed to diversify citizen science participation

The public plays an increasingly active role in on-the-ground research, but the percentage of those getting involved must increase to raise true engagement.

Citizen science projects have grown in popularity over the last 100 years or so, with members of the public undertaking data gathering tasks that contribute to large scale research. This practice is particularly common in terms of environmental work reliant on everyday observations. 

But while the use of these methods is widespread, genuine participation is lagging behind. An investigation conducted by North Carolina State University has turned the lens back on the process itself, and found that 77% of citizen science volunteers studied were participating in multiple projects. This suggests that the overall cohort of people involving themselves in such studies is a relatively small proportion of the population. 

man in blue and red floral shirt and black pants standing on gray concrete pavement during

In terms of demographics, citizen scientists were also overwhelmingly white, and well-educated. The results, which come from the first study of engagement across multiple citizen science projects, were first published in the journal BioScience. This points to a need for those leading citizen science surveys to use ‘volunteer-centric’ approaches to encouraging participation, addressing issues in the project design that could exclude marginalised group,s and consider the setup holistically. 

 ‘The multi-project participants were eight times more likely to be White and five times more likely to hold advanced degrees than the general population,’ say Bradley Allf of North Carolina State University. ‘Citizen science participants are nearly exclusively individuals who, relatively speaking, already have access to science… [So] citizen science may not be effectively broadening public participation in science.’ 

The 2022 edition of Bugs Matter, a UK citizen science survey about Britain’s insect population, is currently open for participation. 


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