Motivating Citizen Scientists to Excel

Sunday, 15 February 2015
Exhibit Hall (San Jose Convention Center)
Sally D. Hofmeyr, Animal Demography Unit, Rondebosch, South Africa
Background: The Animal Demography Unit at the University of Cape Town coordinates more than 20 international biodiversity-related citizen science projects. The projects are based in South Africa but are currently extending into the rest of Africa. Initially the focus was only on birds, but it has now broadened to include a wide range of other biodiversity as well: mammals, reptiles, amphibians, invertebrates, trees, and even vegetation change within whole landscapes. The ADU has had to think creatively to develop strategies for communicating with project participants, to keep them motivated and excited about participating. Methods: The ADU is extremely active in its communication with project participants. It maintains a busy Facebook page and runs several Facebook groups about the projects or the taxa they focus on. In 2014 we held four Citizen Scientist Days – half-day events held at important centres around South Africa. Each event featured talks by several members of the ADU and several project participants. The talks covered a wide range of topics, but all of them either gave feedback about what was being done with project data, or centred around individuals’ experiences while participating in the projects. In this way, members of the audience were both educated about the value of the data they had contributed and inspired to participate more by the stories of fellow participants.  We also held a Citizen Science Week, during which we issued a series of challenges to project participants that encouraged them to increase their participation. These challenges were announced on the ADU Facebook page and on Twitter, and shared in relevant groups.  We used data submission rates during 2014 to examine the effects of the Citizen Scientist Days and the Citizen Science Week. Facebook Insights data were also analysed to assess the reach and impact of all communication related to these events. Results: Analysis is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest that data submission rates increased by 30% immediately following Citizen Scientist Days and the Citizen Science Week. Not surprisingly, responses were positively correlated with attendance at the Citizen Scientist Days. Conclusions: Our findings suggest a range of strategies that may be successful for similar organisations wanting to increase project participation levels in citizen science projects. For example, organising and then vigorously promoting events that bring together citizen scientists, give them feedback about what has been done with the data they have contributed, and motivate them by sharing experiences, are likely to be successful.