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Reinforce: Why do citizens join citizen science projects?

Why do citizens join citizen science projects?

Citizen science by definition needs the contribution of citizens. But why should the general public volunteer to help professional scientists to conduct research?

Understanding volunteers’ motivations for participating in citizen science projects is essential in order to plan these projects and to reach a high level of citizen engagement. In the literature, different reasons moving citizens to join these projects have been examined. We are going to highlight the most relevant ones that could help to define the benefits citizens can gain in taking part in REINFORCE.

Some people might join because of altruism, meaning that their motivation has to be analysed within the context of possible mutual benefits, in opposition to a one-way benefit from helper to receiver (Crowston & Fagnot, 2008). Therefore, their motivation can be the willingness to help scientists.

On the contrary, some people can join due to self-referential motivations, as a method of self-education or as a social activity. In this category, we can include the ones looking for opportunities for learning or career advancement: the volunteer may have the goal of gaining career experience through joining a volunteer project (Clary et al., 1998).

Another motivation can be interest in the project’s content (O’Brien & Toms, 2010).

Other factors that can motivate citizens to volunteer in citizen science projects are related to the projects’ specific tasks, such as the variety of skills required and the task’s perceived significance. It has been proven that, when a task requires a person to engage in activities that challenge or stretch his or her skills and abilities, that task is experienced as meaningful by the individual. This is where many recreational activities, such as puzzles for example, achieve much of their fascination from: they test the intellectual or motor skills of the people who do them (Hackman & Oldham, 1976).

An interesting motivation that has turned out to be the primary one in a study analysing the motivations behind the Galaxy Zoo citizen science project is the willingness of participants to contribute in the research. The fact that contributing to science is a major motivator for citizen science participation, meaning that Galaxy Zoo volunteers have a genuine desire to be involved in scientific research, is one of the reasons why the Galaxy Zoo project was so successful (Raddick et al., 2013).

All the studies that have been conducted within this topic highlight that volunteers have many different motivations for participating in volunteering activities, such as citizen science projects, and that different reasons can also coexist. REINFORCE will take these contributions from the literature into account in order to deliver citizen science projects that citizens can find meaningful to join.


Clary, E.G. & Snyder, M. (1999), “The Motivations to Volunteer: Theoretical and Practical Considerations”, Psychological Science, 8(5), 156‐159

Crowston, K. & Fagnot, I. (2008), “The Motivational Arc of Massive Virtual Collaboration”, in Proceedings of the IFIP WG 9.5 Working Conference on Virtuality and Society: Massive Virtual Communities

Hackman, J.R. & Oldham, G.R. (1976), “Motivation Through the Design of Work: Test of a Theory”, Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 250

O’Brien, H.L. & Toms, E.G. (2010), “The Development and Evaluation of a Survey to Measure User Engagement”, Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 61, 50

Raddick, M. J., Bracey, G., Gay, P. L., Lintott, C. J., Cardamone, C., Murray, P., Schawinski, K., Szalay, A.S., & Vandenberg, J. (2013), “Galaxy zoo: Motivations of citizen scientists”, Educ. Rev, 12(1), 010–106.

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