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Do I have to analyze the data, too?

September 7th, 2021

Citizen Science: What activities interest participants?


Till Bruckermann, Hannah Greving, Miriam Brandt & Ute Harms


In recent years, opportunities for citizens to participate in the scientific research process have been increasingly created in both the sciences and the humanities. What do the activities of citizens in scientific research projects look like?

In citizen science, people voluntarily contribute to research projects. In addition to contributing to science and putting scientific findings into practice (e.g., in species conservation), some projects involving citizens are also intended to provide participants with a basic education in the sciences. As part of the collaborative project WTimpact, we investigated the question of which opportunities for participation in the research process are used by citizens for the citizen science project Wildlife Researchers in Berlin.

How can participation in science be described?

Public participation in science was described early on as a ladder on which citizens can climb from simple insights into science to deeper engagement with and even advancement of scientific knowledge. In this context, projects with citizen participation are often assigned to different participation models, depending on the type of participation in the scientific activities. These models describe participation in data collection (contributory projects), additional involvement in the analysis of data (collaborative projects), and the development of new questions and research projects (co-created projects). Interviews revealed that the motivation of participants in citizen science projects was primarily related to participation in data collection for science. However, since few citizen science projects have offered participation opportunities beyond data collection or examined actual participation at different project stages, this results in a research gap that we are filling by investigating the citizen science project wildlife researchers in Berlin.

The Wildlife Researchers Project in Berlin

In the Wildlife Researchers in Berlin project, citizens participated in collecting data on the ecology of wildlife in the city. They recorded the frequency of sightings of terrestrial mammals using camera traps set up in their own backyards. Citizens who participated in the project were also given access to statistical analysis of the data. The project offered an Internet platform where participants could upload images of wildlife taken by their camera traps and identify or validate the species. Participants could also evaluate their own captured data or the entire dataset and analyze, for example, which environmental variables (such as degree of sealing and tree cover) influence the distribution of different wildlife species. Furthermore, they could discuss their results and questions with other participants and the participating scientists in the forum.

How is "participation" measured?

We collected data on the participation of citizens using log files. These log files contain data allowing conclusions regarding the activities of the participants on an Internet platform - e.g., about how often and for how long certain pages of the platform were visited. The activities on the Internet platform could be assigned either to data collection (uploading, determining and validating images; viewing tutorial on image determination) or to data analysis (performing statistical analyses; uploading and discussing results in the forum). We analyzed the activities recorded in the log files separately in terms of the frequency of active participation (activity ratio) and the frequency of passive browsing on the Internet platform (lurking ratio) for data collection and analysis.

What participation opportunities do researching citizens take advantage of?

The activities of the participants were analyzed for three similarly proceeding field studies in the wildlife researcher project in Berlin and showed deviating activity patterns for data collection and data analysis. For methodological reasons, we only analyzed the data of those participants who had agreed to the tracking of activities (log-file collection) and had actively participated in the data collection and analysis for at least two days. All three field studies showed that active browsing was higher during data collection than during data analysis. Passive browsing was lower during data collection than during data analysis. The findings are consistent with previous research on the motivations of project participants: Data collection is of higher interest than data analysis. Furthermore, when compared to another citizen science project (Weather-it) in which participants engaged in weather data collection, it was found that activity was lower overall in the Wildlife Researchers in Berlin project, but only when considering the entire project duration. However, when activities during data collection and data analysis were considered separately, participants’ activity for data collection in the Wildlife Researchers in Berlin project was similar to the Weather-it project.

What do the results mean for further research?

Further questions arise from the results regarding both fostering participation and learning effects from participation in citizen science projects. If participants are primarily active in data collection, it remains unclear whether the effects of citizen science projects found in surveys to date can be attributed to participation in more sophisticated activities such as data analysis. Further research should therefore look more closely at the different types of participation. In addition, the findings show that it is probably not enough to simply offer participants the opportunity to engage in different phases of the research process, as they make little use of this. This raises the question of how to encourage participation in the evaluation of data. Further results from laboratory studies in the collaborative WTimpact project suggest that psychological ownership of the data in particular (i.e., the feeling of owning the data) and the perceived role in the project could promote active participation in data analysis. Participants may also need more guidance and direction to participate more actively in data analysis.

The WTimpact Project

"WTimpact: Collaborative Knowledge Development as a Transfer Instrument - from Knowledge Transfer to Knowledge Exchange" was a joint project of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research (TROPOS) in Leipzig, the Leibniz Institute for Knowledge Media (IWM) in Tübingen and the Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN) in Kiel. The project was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) for a period of three years.

The goal of the WTimpact project was to find out what impact Citizen Science has on participants and how to optimally design Citizen Science projects in the future. Researchers from the natural sciences and educational research worked together to develop and evaluate a transfer tool that supports collaborative knowledge development between the public and science.

Greving, H., Bruckermann, T. & Kimmerle, J. (2020). This is my project! The influence of involvement on psychological ownership and wildlife conservation. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology, 1(1), Article 100001.

Bruckermann, T., Greving, H., Schumann, A., Stillfried, M., Börner, K., Kimmig, S. E., Hagen, R., Brandt, M., & Harms, U. (2021). To know about science is to love it? Unraveling cause-effect relationships between knowledge and attitudes toward science in citizen science on urban wildlife ecology. Journal of Research in Science Teaching. Advance online publication.


Prof. Dr. Till Bruckermann

was a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Biology Education at the IPN and is now working at the Leibniz University Hannover. In the WTimpact project, he researched participation in citizen science projects and the connections to the development of an understanding of science.

Dr. Hannah Greving

is a postdoctoral researcher in the Knowledge Construction Group at the Leibniz Institut für Wissensmedien. She conducted research in a WTimpact subproject on the influence of collaborative knowledge construction on attitude and emotional reference.

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Dr. Miriam Brandt

is head of the Science Management Department at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. She led the WTimpact project and is interested in the effects of citizen science projects on participants.

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Prof. Dr. Ute Harms

is director of the Department of Biology Education at the IPN and led the WTimpact subproject on the influence of the transfer instrument on knowledge and understanding of science.

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