Support for citizen scientists through social media

Longnecker, N., Liberatore, A., MacLeod, C., Spurr, E.
Public Communication of Science & Technology (PCST). Dunedin, NZ, 3-6 April 2018

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The use of citizen science as a means of data collection has greatly increased over recent years. Recruitment and retention of volunteer participants is vital to the success of these projects and can be a time-intensive task for project managers. This research explores the use of social media to nurture a Community of Practice (CoP) for citizen scientists involved in the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey (NZGBS). CoPs create a space where people can share knowledge, excitement, stories and ideas about a particular topic and at the same time have been shown to facilitate deepening knowledge and the development of expertise. CoPs are especially useful for novices and for a dispersed group of participants.

A Facebook group was set up to support the NZGBS. Over its first two years, the development of the NZGBS online community enabled its geographically dispersed volunteers to interact with each other and share their common passion as bird lovers. The group has also provided a forum where members of all expertise levels can learn from and support each other in a way that requires little input from project managers.

This presentation reports results of a questionnaire of about 200 members of the NZGBS Facebook group as well as content analysis of interactions within the Facebook group of more than 2600 members. It will showcase some of the benefits and challenges of online support for citizen scientists and ultimately feature tips and lessons that can be applied to other projects.