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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Measure Effects: Reality Check




There are many ways to do citizen science, and many ways projects can make an impact.

Different project models demand the identification of specific, measurable outcomes. Read more about different engagement models in a 2009 NSF report to the Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE).

New projects are well suited to start with the end in mind, identifying project goals around which evaluations can be designed.

Having a broad view of the "end" as more than just collecting data. Projects exist because of a complex network of individuals who need to be impacted in some meaningful way in order to keep up their involvement.


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Thinking of effectiveness in the practice of science is not necessarily intuitive for scientists.  Scientists and evaluators are professional partners coming from dramatically different backgrounds.

There are similarities between science and evaluation. Partners need to find a way to speak a common language.

Determining the scope of what you will evaluate... you can't evaluate everything!

Evaluation provides incentives to focus project efforts around targeted goals.

Getting buy-in for evaluation from program developers. Finding and funding the infrastructure for evaluation.

Knowing when you have enough data for statistical significance.

Do a cost/benefit analysis to determine the most efficient scale of data collection.

Form fatigue/resistance... participants feel like they are being tested, rather than making contributions to project improvement.

Tech support staff changing systems in the middle of testing.

Communicate and work with technology staff to better understand the system, and to appropriately time changes to receive effective feedback.

Variability of participant experiences (background knowledge; experience with project).

Evaluating multiple objects with a single measure.

Evaluating hard-to-measure outcomes, such as long-term effects.

Using terms precisely (community, volunteer, participant...).



Know of any opportunities for or challenges to this step?  Soon you will be able to share them through our discussion forum.


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Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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