Going Beyond Hooked Participants: The Nibble-and- Drop Framework for Classifying Citizen Science Participation
Many citizen science (CS) programs aim to grow and sustain a pool of enthusiastic participants who consistently contribute their efforts to a specific scientific endeavor. Consequently, much research has explored CS participants’ motivations and their relationship to participant recruitment and retention. However, much of this research has focused on actively participating citizen scientists. If researchers want to elucidate the relationship between participant factors (such as demographics and motivations) and participant retention, it is necessary to develop a more comprehensive picture of the different degrees of participation in CS. This paper presents a framework for classifying participation throughout the participant’s engagement in a CS project/program. We suggest a CS participation model that captures the dynamic nature of participation across an arc of volunteering. Called the Nibble-and-Drop Framework, the model describes multiple exit points and stages of contribution typical of participation in a CS program. Applying the framework to the NASA GLOBE Observer (GO) CS program, we found that it captured the dynamics of participation in a global-scale, mobile, app-based, contributory-style CS project. The framework guided our analysis of how different participant factors correlate with degrees of participation. We found that participants were motivated to initially participate because they wanted to contribute to NASA research and science. Participants who dropped out of the program at various points often initially engaged through specific collection events and did not feel the need to continue contributing beyond the event; other drop-outs doubted whether their contributions were meaningful, showing again the need to ensure that participants understand the value of their engagement in a CS project.
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