If scientists are to see citizen scientists as colleagues rather than ‘data-drones’, they must gain an understanding of volunteers’ motivations for participating. Meeting the expectations of volunteers and engaging their knowledge and expertise helps to maintain their motivation to contribute and prevents “poor recruitment or high exit rates from research programs”

Wright et al. 2015

In our last session of this course we got introduced to René van der Wal, Professor of Environmental Citizen Science at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), whose research addresses the impact of participating in citizen science on participants and the broader impacts of citizen science on society as a whole.

René is working on multiple citizen science-related projects, including a new collaborative initiative called EnviroCitizen that aims to investigate the ways that engagement with citizen science promote environmental citizenship. Environmental citizenship can briefly be described as the promotion of environmentally conscious behavior through an increased sense of communal responsibility. We learned about the importance and relevance of a fruitful interaction between scientists and citizens that further stimulates participation and even triggers engagement beyond their initial interests.

We found a lot of parallels between René’s work and our group’s research. For instance, we were introduced to René’s research on the impact of digital platforms on citizen science participation. This work focused on the BeeWatch platform, which enthusiasts use to submit their pictures of bumblebees and get feedback from experts on their identification. Through the observation of this popular species, the BeeWatch coordinators expect people to know better and engage with the conservation of other species such as weeds, grasses and flowers. A major finding of René’s research with BeeWatch is that the perceived experience of learning was key to participants’ engagement with this platform. Because several of us work with digital citizen science platforms, an improved understanding of what drives participant engagement with digital platforms could be really valuable.

We also enjoyed the chance to talk with René about the exciting and sometimes challenging opportunities that arise from working in an interdisciplinary team. Our own Transforming Citizen Science team spans a wide range of academic disciplines, and being able to learn how our disciplines interact and inform one another is a real strength of our research group. René is an interdisciplinary pro, having collaborated throughout his career with academics ranging from social scientists to mathematicians to environmental humanities scholars. So it was great to hear his perspective on the practicalities of establishing collaborations across academic disciplines. Citizen science is a topic that cuts across many distinct academic fields, so growing our skills in building interdisciplinary partnerships will serve all of us well into the future.