Tuesday, June 5, 2012

How to Define Citizen Science Success

Photo Courtesy: EU Social
I'm working on another long-term thought piece and wanted to get your opinions first.  I'll provide much more background later (to get your initial reactions without bias), but here are the initial questions I'm trying to answer:

  1. How does one define "Success" for a citizen science project?
  2. How can the "Success" of a citizen science project be measured? 
I'm honestly not even sure if there is a common quantifiable measure for citizen science, but for this exercise let's assume there is. 

What are your thoughts?  I'm interested to hear them in the comments below.


  1. I think the answer to both of these questions would depend largely upon the objectives of the actual project, and also the type of project. For example, is the aim of the project the rapid analysis of large packages of data such as a shared computing project? In which case the number of CPU cycles that have been donated, or the number of active participants may be a key indicator of success. Quantitative measures of the number of observations or work units completed may also be a measure of success in distributed thinking projects such as the Zooniverse projects. However, the quality and accuracy of the work come into play here – and this needs to be assessed also to get an idea of the success of a citizen science project. Even if a project involves a lot of citizens, if the results are not reproducible or of poor quality, then I don’t think the project can be considered a success. The number of publications produced as the result of citizen science input could also be used a marker of success, and certainly many of the online citizen science projects have links to the resulting publications (e.g. folding@home, Galaxyzoo. Foldit). I guess another way to approach it, would be to consider more qualitative measures regarding the views of those who participate in citizen science projects. For example, what do they get out of participating? Do they feel they are making a valuable contribution? Are they learning about science? Are they inspired to get more involved in other scientific activities? What are the relationships like between the scientists who organise such projects and citizens who become involved? I think there are many interesting ways one can approach this issue……

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