Personal motives for engaging in citizen science – A view from two professionals

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  Reading Time: 6 minutes

In this interview, we talk to two professionals who have each worked in different research fields which have utilized citizen scientists as part of their profession and research.
Interviewees wished to stay anonymous, and their pseudonyms in this interview will be Elsa Bennett and Jorma Hyvärinen. While Elsa worked on projects associated with archaeology and metal detecting, Jorma worked on a project that relied on citizen scientists to collect data about weather phenomena. Interviews with professionals who utilize citizen science in their profession give two different perspectives on what motivates them to participate in CS projects. In addition, it gives insight into how it has changed over time.

First steps in citizen science activities

In order to better understand their motivations for participating in citizen science, interviewees were asked how they became involved.

Elsa felt that engaging with others who are interested in the same topics and learning from them was fulfilling for her. She was an amateur archaeologist herself when she was a teenager, and back then she wanted to engage with professionals and found it to be a valuable experience.

E.B.: My background in archaeology was that I started as an amateur archaeologist. So, I understand that it is to be on the other side, being an amateur archaeologist and wanting to engage with the researchers and I find it to be very important. Also, it is very rewarding for me, as an archaeologist, to work with the public.

Engaging with others who are interested in the same topics is fulfilling

Elsa had some negative experiences as an amateur, so she tried to change that by collaborating with amateur archaeologists. Her motivation to make a change to the hierarchical culture in the archaeological community was not welcomed very well at first.

E.B: In Finland, back in the day, people looked down on amateur archaeologists. It has been very hierarchical. There is this hierarchy, perhaps even still today. But thank god it is going down now. For example, people working in these agencies, it was like this ivory tower, where you looked down. And then, citizens that would come with something they had found by mistake when ploughing a field, would be perhaps treated a little bit disrespectfully. And I never liked that. So, when I started collaborating with amateurs, especially with the avocational metal detectors, I got quite negative feedback from my community. Because they felt like I was working with the wrong side.

On the other hand, Jorma was recruited by his supervisors and did not have the same kind of early engagement in citizen science. He was interested in mobile app development, and the project that he got recruited for happened to involve citizen science on the side. He heard about a hyped-up way to collect data (crowdsourcing) and that is what got him even more motivated.

J.H.: This was something different. It was the first time I got in touch with a mobile application. So that was one reason to be interested, but also the crowdsourcing. We can actually activate our citizens to be involved and to get some data from them. Maybe some pictures, even some videos. The data itself was very interesting. It was not just numbers or some other boring stuff. It was about connecting with the citizens.

When getting into what citizen science meant for each of the interviewees, the theme of interacting between citizen scientists and professionals was prevalent. So, for them, citizen science was not just a way to use citizens as data collectors. Citizen scientists were seen as assets who you could learn from and engage with.

E.B.: I think that is more about getting knowledge or the social aspect of participation, consequently, realized in my work that many times engagement is valued because of the social impact. Especially in the case of metal detectors, who want to work with archaeologists. They want to learn from us. They want to engage, but also so that not only they do learn from us, but we learn from them. For me, that has been the best reward for working in citizen science. I have learned so much by working with citizens.

J.H.: In my opinion, citizen science means that there is some data or feedback we get from the citizens. It may be via the internet, or like in this case, we had the app with the weather data. There were pictures, videos, and information about is it raining or if there was a thunderstorm. So, from my perspective, it’s especially the data we can use from the citizens. I think citizen scientists should be informed, and they should get feedback that they are sending data or that they are involved in the project. So, there is a connection between the citizens and not just that “okay just be there and mind your own business, we are dealing with CS here.”

Over the course of the projects, interviewees noticed that their engagement developed and changed.

E.B.: In the beginning, I used the public for consultation, and I think now I am trying to aim for a two-way partnership, but perhaps the work I do is still more collaborative than a partnership. But I am aiming for a partnership. So, I am very aware of what citizen science is and where I am and where I want to be. And how I want to develop it.

While making a change and developing the way community, and she works around citizen science seems to motivate Elsa, Jormas motivation for the project went up and down during the project. When the weather was calm and nothing happened regarding the project, motivation decreased due to a lack of data.

J.H.: We didn’t have many expectations at the start of the project. We did not set any goal that we want to get 10 000 observations in a certain time because we did not know how popular or how interesting it could be. So, we did not have many expectations. Then the start of the release (of the weather app) was really successful. So, we got very good hype. But then again, when the weather did not have anything to offer, it was boring. When there was nothing weather-related stuff, then the interest went down. So that was also affecting our interest that it went because the amount of data we got was not that good anymore.

From Jormas’ point of view, his interests shifted from manually sent data to automatically sent data over time. The data collection process became more convenient as a result, according to him.

J.H.: Now I am more into automatic sensors that can automatically send data. People do not have to do anything else than accept that the device is now sending the data. Now we get a lot more data and it is easier.

Motives identified

The main personal motives pointed out to are involved in Citizen Science projects are:

  • Learning from citizens to developing a partnership between professionals and amateurs
  • Collecting data and experimenting with novel technology.

Both participants emphasized the importance of citizen scientists feeling engaged in their projects in order to motivate both themselves and everyone involved.

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Important notice

We would like to inform that this project is inactive since December 2022. As a result, the content presented on this website is static, which means it cannot be updated, and no new information will be added. Consequently, interactive features such as the search function, or subscription and commenting capabilities are unavailable.