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Hoping for optimality or designing for inclusion: Persistence, learning, and the social network of citizen science

TitleHoping for optimality or designing for inclusion: Persistence, learning, and the social network of citizen science
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsParrish JK, Jones T, Burgess HK, He Y, Fortson L, Cavalier D
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Start Page1894
Date Published02/04/2019

The explosive growth in citizen science combined with a recalcitrance on the part of mainstream science to fully embrace this data collection technique demands a rigorous examination of the factors influencing data quality and project efficacy. Patterns of contributor effort and task performance have been well reviewed in online projects; however, studies of hands-on citizen science are lacking. We used a single hands-on, out-of-doors project—the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST)—to quantitatively explore the relationships among participant effort, task performance, and social connectedness as a function of the demographic characteristics and interests of participants, placing these results in the context of a meta-analysis of 54 citizen science projects. Although online projects were typified by high (>90%) rates of one-off participation and low retention (<10%) past 1 y, regular COASST participants were highly likely to continue past their first survey (86%), with 54% active 1 y later. Project-wide, task performance was high (88% correct species identifications over the 31,450 carcasses and 163 species found). However, there were distinct demographic differences. Age, birding expertise, and previous citizen science experience had the greatest impact on participant persistence and performance, albeit occasionally in opposite directions. Gender and sociality were relatively inconsequential, although highly gregarious social types, i.e., “nexus people,” were extremely influential at recruiting others. Our findings suggest that hands-on citizen science can produce high-quality data especially if participants persist, and that understanding the demographic data of participation could be used to maximize data quality and breadth of participation across the larger societal landscape.