Assessing the efficacy of citizen science contributions to global issues through a program evaluation tool developed by Earthwatch Institute
The potential for citizen science to deliver rigorous science, influence management planning and policy, and meaningfully engage participants is enormous, however our ability to evaluate the impact of citizen science programs remains largely an unexplored area.
Earthwatch Institute has developed a “Measures of Success” evaluation tool and has evaluated over 140 individual projects doing researcher-facilitated citizen science around the globe over the past seven years (2008-2014). Projects assessed include research related to climate change, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning and health, sustainable agriculture and forestry, ocean and freshwater health, and landscape-cultural interactions. Evaluation metrics include: contributions to peer reviewed publications, total research hours, total taxa studied, contributions to local and regional management planning and policies, contributions to local pro-environmental action, contributions to local livelihood enhancements, and specific conservation impacts (e.g. increase in species abundance, protection of habitats and ecosystem services, etc.).
Independent from this process, we also evaluate the volunteer experience through post-fielding surveys, which capture, among other metrics, the degree that they feel their work contributed to the research objectives, an explanation of relevance and significance of the project research, and how the research addresses these larger global environmental issues.
Here we present the criteria we developed and the results from our evaluation of seven years of citizen science research. We identify trends in the research design and citizen science programmatic structure leading to increased scientific outputs (e.g., peer-reviewed scientific literature, influence on public policy and natural resources management), community engagement, and positive volunteer experiences. We will share lessons learned that may be helpful and informative to others developing similar citizen science project evaluation tools.
Earthwatch citizen science volunteers contributed nearly 700,000 total hours of data collection in the field between 2008-2014, focusing on a collective total of 692 species across all projects (with 38 of these species being classified as ‘Endangered’ or ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN). Researcher outputs totaled 534 peer-reviewed publications across all years, for an average of 1.66 per project per year.