Citizenship science – the participation of volunteers in scientific research – continues to gain in popularity. However, many scientific volunteering projects are faced with, so to speak, “staff turnover” – people come, but when the wave of initial enthusiasm subsides, they leave and do not return.
Therefore, quite a lot of research in recent years has been devoted to the study of motivation to engage in scientific volunteering and the development of mechanisms to stimulate such participation. Although there are some methodological problems with both motivation and mechanisms.
In the first case, researchers rely on what people tell about themselves, for example, in questionnaires, and thus the relationship between what volunteers say about themselves and what they actually do is not tracked. In the second case, the development is based on the assumption that mechanisms using rewards (for example, money) can contribute to an increase in the number of participants, but here they often do not take into account the downside of the coin – most volunteers attracted in this way quickly lose interest.
Therefore, a group of scientists from Lappeenranta University of Technology (Finland), as well as the University of Queens in Belfast and the University of Washington, organized a study to find out what the value orientations underlying participation in digital scientific volunteering projects are and how they affect digital interactions between participants. The results of the work are described in an article published in the journal International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.
The researchers took Shalom Schwartz’s theory of basic values as a basis. Within the framework of this theory, ten basic human values are defined, which arise from three universal human needs: social interaction, biological needs, and group survival needs. These ten core values correlate with four higher-level values: readiness for change, altruism, stability and self-realization.
Accordingly, since these values can influence the online behavior of volunteers, studying this influence can provide valuable information for developing incentive mechanisms. At the same time, it will expand the understanding of user experience in online communities and will be useful in general for creating and evaluating digital technologies.
The experimental site was the Finnish city of Lappeenranta, where local residents, having teamed up with scientists, public and municipal organizations, developed and implemented digital civil science tools for environmental monitoring. The project was carried out in 2018-19. over 12 months, and 243 people took part in it.
The project participants used portable Bluetooth devices with which they could report three types of sightings: an invasive plant, a beautiful place, and abandoned objects like a leaky boat on the shore of a lake. With the help of the mobile app, volunteers could send photos, create observation subprojects for specific occasions, and keep abreast of the efforts of colleagues on the project. Finally, a website was launched, where observations were published so that the local administration could react to the information received from the project volunteers.
It turned out that the primary desire to participate in the project correlated primarily with such values as altruism and safety. But then the differences appeared: those for whom care for others, altruism was more important, more willingly joined the project, but it was much easier to abandon it as soon as they started. But those participants for whom safety was more important were two and a half times more likely to become permanent participants. “I love my city and I love having it in good condition,” they said, maintaining the environment gave them a sense of social security.
Further, it turned out that in the pair of values ”safety” and “readiness to change”, each was associated with different types of use of digital project tools. For example, participants who were open to new things were more willing to interact with the digital system, say, viewed observations submitted by other participants, even if they themselves had nothing to add. But connoisseurs of “security” were not inclined to this and were connected to the project for a shorter time and usually with a clear, narrowly set task like sending their own observation.
The authors conclude, cautiously, that the values of security and stability appear to be the most powerful factors in encouraging participants not to quit. However, the cultural characteristics of the society where the project is being carried out also play a role, and the setting of the task also matters: if the participants were offered, say, “to make money by reporting problems in the city,” the profiles of the participants and their observed behavior would probably be would be different.
One way or another, for the development of civil science, it is important to understand what to appeal to, urging people not only to become, but also to remain volunteers: to their natural desire to help each other and to an equally natural desire to preserve what has been achieved, providing a safe living environment, in the broadest sense. The details, of course, differ in each specific case, but it is obvious that when developing mobile applications for civil science projects, such as citizen science, it is important to go beyond narrowly understood functionality by reminding users what they came for.
Source: Автономная некоммерческая организация "Редакция журнала «Наука и жизнь»" by www.nkj.ru.
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