Typical participant experiences during Earthwatch program ‘Project Manta’ include monitoring manta rays
(A) and applying methods to identify individual mantas (B).

By Angela Dean, Georgia Day, Richard Fuller, and Cassandra Nichols.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; check back soon for a link to the full paper.

Citizen science is the term given to a suite of activities where ordinary citizens contribute to scientific research.  In the context of nature conservation, it is often argued that participating in nature-based citizen science programs can inspire and encourage participants to continue their involvement in nature conservation.  However, there are many ‘parts’ of a citizen science experience, and we don’t know which parts of this experience are most important for encouraging longer term engagement in conservation action.

We worked with the Earthwatch Institute, which provides immersive citizen science programs where citizens work closely with scientists to assist with data collection and data processing in a range of nature-based settings. We wanted to assess what parts of the citizen science experience were most associated with increases in knowledge and likelihood of future action.

Firstly, we analysed evaluation surveys, completed by 608 Earthwatch citizen scientists. We found that the main experiences associated with increased subjective knowledge were learning, social interactions with others, and cultural experiences. Interestingly, programs that involved wildlife observation or handling were associated with less increase in subjective knowledge. With regard to likelihood of future action, we found that this was linked to having a sense of contributing, or ‘making a difference’.

To give greater richness to these findings, we also interviewed 11 citizen scientists and analysed these interviews using qualitative approaches. People reported that experiences with nature were important in creating an enjoyable experience, and providing context for learning. However, interacting with others (both scientists and other participants) and showing how the efforts of citizen scientists make a difference can help citizen scientists expand their perspective about conservation problems and solutions.