Scientists@home (and in the Back Yard): Understanding the Motivations of Digital Citizen Science Volunteers

Lecture / Panel
For NYU Community




Internet-based citizen science is a low-cost way to strengthen the scientific infrastructure and engage members of the public in science. It is based on two pillars: technological (developing computer systems to manage large amounts of distributed resources) and motivational (attracting and retaining people who would be willing to contribute their computing resources, skills, time, and effort to a scientific cause). While the technological pillar was widely studied, the motivational dimension received little attention to date. We surveyed 4376 volunteers in three citizen science projects, of varying task granularity levels. We found that collective and intrinsic motives are the most salient motivational factors, whereas reward motives seem to be less relevant to citizen scientists. In addition, we found that most motivational factors are susceptible to differences in the contribution’s task granularity. Future digital citizen science projects need to create dynamic contribution environments that allow volunteers to start contributing at lower-level granularity tasks, and gradually progress to more demanding tasks and responsibilities.