Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Choose A Question: Reality Check




Citizen science can (and should) both answer scientific questions and inform specific audiences about that science. 

It can be difficult to balance the two goals. Decide:
  • What is the driving force of your particular project?
  • For you and your partners, which must come first, deciding on the question or the audience?
Use creativity and partnerships to help ensure that goals for science and volunteers are complimentary.

Citizen science can address a wide range of outcomes and goals.

Try to do everything, and you may get lost. Having focused goals from the outset means targeted efforts for better results, and puts projects a step ahead in planning for evaluation.

Citizen science can address community needs and interests.

Using the term "community" without specifying what is meant can limit communication of goals and accomplishments. Is it the:
  • physical, geography-based community? (e.g., neighbors in a watershed)
  • community of practice/interest? (e.g., birdwatchers)
  • user community? (i.e., who is interested in the data?)

Citizen science can work on a variety of geographic scales.

Small and large scale projects can't easily accomplish the same goals. Among other considerations:

  • having many distant participants makes personal communication and local impact difficult
  • working closely with participants in one region may mean proportionally fewer volunteers and thus less statistical power of data

Volunteers can provide a powerful means of accessing otherwise unavailable data and answering previously intractable questions.

Avoiding exploitation of volunteer "labor". How can the project design explicitly address needs and interests of potential volunteers?



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

FOOT stars

back arrow Previous Step   Toolkit tiny globe Steps         
  Next Step Go arrow

(form a team)

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

More about this...