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Engaging Youth in Citizen Science

How do you include younger individuals in citizen science projects – where participants are typically older? Evan Groen, DRIFT-intern working on European research project ACTION, shares some insights.
 
Definitions of citizen science (CS) are varied and contested; however, most agree that it is “the inclusion of members of the public in some aspect of scientific research”.(1) There is a high diversity of topics addressed by citizen science, and participants can be engaged in a variety of tasks. Participants are not (just) the subject of the research, but engage in gathering data, analysis, or forming research questions and more. For example, Meet je Stad is a project started by citizens in Amersfoort that measure the impact of climate change using sensors. Volunteers of the Dutch Butterfly Conservation identify and count butterflies along specified routes. On a different scale, Galaxy Zoo participants classify images of galaxies on Zooniverse, a popular online platform for citizen science projects.
 
Participants in CS projects are typically older.(2,3,4) The average age of the volunteers is around 50 years old which makes sense as a lack of time is the most commonly stated barrier to participation.(3,4,5) Younger individuals can be busy with school and work limiting free time to become involved in citizen science. While it is therefore understandable that younger people are underrepresented within CS, it is important to increase the participation of younger generations. Engaging in CS and collaborating with scientists can make research more relevant and impactful for those that participate.(6) CS also has the potential for learning and empowerment(7), which is particularly relevant to younger people.
 
Motivations for participating
 To involve more young volunteers in CS it is important to know if they have different motivations for participating. While some research finds that there are no differences in motivations between age groups(8), other studies have found that younger participants identify career related motivations(9,10) and learning(11) as more important. However, young and old participants shared many motivations in common and motivations considered more important by younger individuals were not their primary reason for joining.(9) While there can be differences in motivations between younger and older participants, they are not highly significant and are project and context specific. 
 
Understanding how young individuals participate can also provide insight into increasing their engagement. In a study on an online CS platform, most young participants did not contribute regularly but did remain active for a long time period.(12) This differed from older participants and is likely related to the finding that lack of time is a barrier. Young participants were clearly interested as they remained active in the project despite irregular contributions. Out of the 102 participants in this study, 48 participated in a project that actively attempted to recruit young participants, while the next most popular project had only 24. This shows that increasing the number of young participants is possible with targeted recruitment.
 
Collaboration and targeting
Another potential method of increasing participation in CS is through incorporating projects into schools. The use of CS projects in education is increasing in popularity(13), and provides an opportunity for otherwise busy students to engage in CS. Using CS to supplement science curriculum has been found to result in increased engagement, higher learning results, increased self-efficacy and positive attitudes towards the environment.(14,15) This can have both positive implications for the young individuals involved and society in general. 
 
While currently there is a higher proportion of older participants in CS, projects that collaborate with schools, or target younger individuals during recruitment demonstrate that engaging younger individuals is possible. This can benefit the project, as it could result in more participants and also benefit the young individuals participating. Further research and efforts by organizations will need to be conducted in order to increase the engagement of all age groups. 
 
More participatory, inclusive, citizen-led: ACTION aims transform the way we do citizen science and create methodologies, tools and guidelines to democratize the scientific process. Read more about the project.
 
[1] Eitzel, Melissa, et al. “Citizen science terminology matters: exploring key terms.” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice (2017): 1-20. http:// doi.org/10.5334/cstp.96

[2] Aucott, Paula, Humphrey Southall, and Carol Ekinsmyth. “Citizen science through old maps: Volunteer motivations in the GB1900 gazetteer-building project.” Historical Methods: A Journal of Quantitative and Interdisciplinary History 52.3 (2019): 150-163.

[3] Domroese, Margret C., and Elizabeth A. Johnson. “Why watch bees? Motivations of citizen science volunteers in the Great Pollinator Project.” Biological Conservation 208 (2017): 40-47.

[4] Merenlender, Adina M., et al. “Evaluating environmental education, citizen science, and stewardship through naturalist programs.” Conservation Biology 30.6 (2016): 1255-1265.

[5] Richter, Anett, et al. “The social fabric of citizen science—drivers for long-term engagement in the German butterfly monitoring scheme.” Journal of insect conservation 22.5-6 (2018): 731-743.

[6] Hecker, Susanne, et al. “Innovation in open science, society and policy–setting the agenda for citizen science.” Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy; UCL Press: London, UK (2018). 1-23

[7] Edwards, R., et al. “Learning and developing science capital through citizen science.” Citizen Science: Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy; UCL Press: London, UK (2018). 381-390.

[8] Tiago, Patrícia, et al. “The influence of motivational factors on the frequency of participation in citizen science activities.” Nature Conservation 18 (2017): 61.

[9] Alender, Bethany. “Understanding volunteer motivations to participate in citizen science projects: a deeper look at water quality monitoring.” Journal of Science Communication 15.3 (2016): A04.

[10] Rotman, Dana, et al. “Motivations affecting initial and long-term participation in citizen science projects in three countries.” iConference 2014 Proceedings (2014).

[11] Ganzevoort, Wessel, et al. “Sharing biodiversity data: citizen scientists’ concerns and motivations.” Biodiversity and Conservation 26.12 (2017): 2821-2837.

[12] Herodotou, Christothea, et al. “What Do We Know about Young Volunteers? An Exploratory Study of Participation in Zooniverse.” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice 5.1 (2020).

[13] Ellenburg, Jessa A., et al. “Global Ozone (GO3) Project and AQTreks: Use of evolving technologies by students and citizen scientists to monitor air pollutants.” Atmospheric Environment: X 4 (2019): 100048.

[14] Kermish-Allen, Ruth, Karen Peterman, and Christine Bevc. “The utility of citizen science projects in K-5 schools: measures of community engagement and student impacts.” Cultural Studies of Science Education 14.3 (2019): 627-641.

[15] Kelemen-Finan, Julia, Martin Scheuch, and Silvia Winter. “Contributions from citizen science to science education: an examination of a biodiversity citizen science project with schools in Central Europe.” International Journal of Science Education 40.17 (2018): 2078-2098.


Date
March 30, 2020