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Key motivations for citizen scientists revealed

A study on the motivations for ‘citizen scientists’, who volunteer their time to support scientific research, has found that ‘helping wildlife in general’ and ‘contributing to scientific knowledge’ were primary motivations for the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who give up their time on a regular basis to gather millions of environmental records

Howard Cambridge / Published on 20 May 2016

Related people

Sarah West

Centre Director

SEI York

Alison Dyke

Research Fellow

SEI York

Rachel Pateman


SEI York

Understanding Motivations for Citizen Science, led by the University of Reading’s Department of Geography & Environmental Science in partnership with the University of York’s Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) and the Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience at the University of the West of England, investigated reasons why 147 citizen scientists gave their time to gather information for such research.

Primary motivations were named as ‘helping wildlife in general’ and ‘contributing to scientific knowledge’, with other motivations including enthusiasm for the subject, enjoyment, and skills development.

Organisational factors relating to feedback and good project management were also shown to be vital to maintaining participation.

Interviews with stakeholders in citizen science found that they were motivated by advancing science and improving policy and management but also held altruistic motivations around education, engagement and generating impact for their participants’ lives.

Alison Dyke, Community Scientist at SEI, said: “Citizen science is a growing field and has been developing in terms of assuring data quality. As it is increasingly used to contribute to evidence, it’s really important to think about how the motivations of the scientists, policymakers and project leaders who design and lead these initiatives can be aligned with the motivations of the participants.”

“Understanding the motivations of participants will help us to collect useful, good quality data and to maintain participation.”

Citizen science is mentioned in a number of government action plans surrounding tree health and plant biosecurity, pollination and air quality.

The research was funded by the UK Environmental Observation Framework. Vicky Morgan, UKEOF’s programme manager, said:  “UKEOF is pleased to have commissioned this research, which deepens our understanding of how to work with citizens to gather evidence to protect our environment.”

The full project report and summary document can be downloaded here:

If you’re interested in finding out more, please contact Dr Alison Dyke: [email protected]

Topics and subtopics
Governance : Participation
Related centres
SEI York

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