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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Recruit Participants: Reality Check




Citizen science can reach groups that are not "fired up" by formal methods of teaching science.

It's important to be careful about not overwhelming participants with the amount of science shared, while at the same time not "dumbing down" the information.

Citizen science can provide an outlet for amateur experts who did not choose science as a profession.

There's a balance to keeping the project challenging for amateur experts, without overwhelming beginners. Think about:
  • whether your project should cater to one or multiple levels of expertise
  • how to channel advanced expertise effectively
Some Features that Work:
  • offering "strands"
  • offering leadership opportunities (e.g., training or responding to questions of less experienced volunteers)
  • acknowledging contributions (e.g., co-authorship, status achievements)

Recruiting numerous observers can help answer critical scientific questions.

For some audiences, knowing they're contributing to science is compensation enough for participation. But association with science and/or scientific organizations can be intimidating and/or unappealing to some.
  • Do recruitment strategies emphasize advantages for volunteers?
  • Avoid perception (or reality) of exploitation. One tip: avoid the phrase: "this project uses volunteers to..."

Responding to local/global environmental concerns, and capitalizing on current interest in the connection between human health and environmental health.

Inspiring participation while avoiding the "doom and gloom" scenarios that can be associated with critical environmental issues. Negativity can turn people off: focus on the positive opportunities citizen science offers for addressing concerns.

CS can offer a hands-on, engaging way for anyone to learn about and make use of scientific information important in their lives.

There's a need to inspire more diversity in participation: economic, young/old, racial, cultural, geographical.

Leveraging technology to reach out to new audiences:
  • youth
  • geographically distributed participants
Some tech tools for recruitment.

Technology in some cases can become a barrier to recruitment and participation. Consider:
  • Do people have access to computers/internet?
  • Are target users inspired or intimidated by tech in question?
Target the use of technology carefully to draw people in and enable their participation, and remember: methods of recruitment will greatly influence who participates.


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Deciding whether to charge a volunteer participation fee to help cover recruitment, training, and project maintenance costs.

Charging a participation fee is not appropriate for all programs, as it can potentially exclude important volunteers. Charging fees can offer some opportunities, however:

  • people value what they pay for (become invested)
  • scholarships can be made available (be sure they're well advertised)
  • ability to provide return on investment (e.g., academic credits, value-added services)

  • find and acknowledge underwriters for materials, equipment, etc.

Methods of recruitment will greatly influence who participates.

Check with local PR firms about possible pro bono work, for assistance in planning an audience-specific marketing campaign.

Science is just a tiny part of what engages people daily. How to interpret science to catch the attention of potential volunteers?

Show how issue affects them directly. Citizen science can address critical local or global issues of concern (see opportunities above).


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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