Attracting & Retaining Citizen Scientists

Some conservation citizen science organizations run projects that can be quickly carried out by citizen scientists without supervision. And for those organizations, a common practice is to motivate people with a few good training events. Then, we encourage our citizen scientists to organize themselves and do the work individually or in a group based on what they prefer.

In a sense, we rely on the will of people to motivate themselves to do the work. We’re all short of time, people and money. So it seems like a good and considerate strategy.

I respect that, but we all remark that on average it is not working well. We might draw some people in, but we don’t keep a lot of them over time. Sustained interest and commitment are not growing fast enough.

And so, a big conversation topic these days among citizen science organizations is about our struggle to attract and retain people.

For sure, it is hard to pin any reason in particular. My take on this is that we would be better off thinking differently altogether.

The first thing is to recognize that people coming and going is the norm and not something to change. Yes, there are far too many distractions for people to keep steady and remained focused. We better accept that: it’s just the reality that we have to work with.

Then, let’s invite people to be with us in the field and make it a personal experience that we share at a deep level. But we can’t stop there. We have to pursue and keep being in that field with the people and repeat the experience, over and over again. That’s how we truly motivate. It makes ‘it’ personable and it illustrates our genuineness and commitment first-hand.

I guess it is about “leading by example” and walking the talk. It’s about doing the work and enjoying it fully. Then, as a result, it may be that some get inspired. It’s about being genuine. It’s about sharing with all and delegating to those who want to lead. It’s about empowering people all the time — all the way through.

Yes, there are more followers than leaders, and it’s totally fine. We have to respect that. Not everybody wants to take the reins: adjust! Both are needed. Treat everybody equally. People will come and go, be prepared for it. Don’t fight it. It has nothing to do with you.

Along the way, we probably will inspire someone for a second, a minute or more. We might not even get to know about it. That’s ok too. Just worship every second of our shared experiences.

Along the way, yourself or your work will affect people in such a way that they will want to be part of it. Let’s enjoy that moment when this happens, as well as every moment after. They’ll experience your joy, and likely will want to stay…

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ClaireMarch 8th 2019 | by Claire O’Neill 

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