How can we engage more diverse audiences in large-scale citizen science projects for broader societal impact?

How can we engage more diverse audiences in large-scale citizen science projects for broader societal impact?

Author: Victoria Martin – Cornell University, United States

Rick Bonney – Cornell University
David Bonter – Cornell University
Emma Greig – Cornell University
Bruce Lewenstein – Cornell University
Drew Margolin – Cornell University
Tina Phillips – Cornell University

Citizen science programs operating at large scales typically attract thousands of participants, across sizeable geographic areas (regional, national and global). Many people make well-intentioned yet lofty claims about the societal impacts these programs can achieve as a tool for engaging and communicating science with the public. However, it has become apparent that the potential reach of large-scale citizen science may be stifled by the types of adult audiences that typically participate (who often share characteristics with others in the same project, such as age, gender, education, and/or interest in science).

There are many reasons why particular types of people are more likely to participate in large-scale citizen science. To achieve the societal-level impacts many projects (and the field at large) aspire to, a concerted effort is needed to ensure greater diversity of participants and audiences. Yet, for many citizen science projects, incorporating diversity into their engagement and communication strategies is no simple task given the practical constraints on time, resources and within-project expertise. This paper presents work-in-progress exploring how we can better understand and engage audiences who are under-represented in large-scale citizen science, and how important participants’ social networks are for diffusing new scientific knowledge arising from citizen science.

Using a case study from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, this research explores one of the Lab’s large-scale citizen science projects, Project FeederWatch (, which currently attracts more than 20,000 participants in the U.S. and Canada annually. A mixed-method approach is being used to examine: (i) how to engage younger participants than the typical “FeederWatcher” (i.e. usually over 50 years old), and (ii) how potential participants’ social networks might be useful to communicate new scientific knowledge with audiences beyond those directly involved. This research addresses several questions in the U.S. National Academy of Sciences’ 2017 research agenda for science communication.

The author has not yet submitted a copy of the full paper.

Presentation type: Individual paper
Theme: Society
Area of interest: Applying science communication research to practice