Around the Zooniverse

On Monday, panelists in Online Citizen Science and Science Center Participation: Parallels? presented early findings of a three-year study examining motivation and engagement patterns of volunteers for, an online citizen science project that engages volunteers in science investigations during leisure time.

Arfon Smith, chief technological officer,, began by giving an overview of Zooniverse and its purpose. It began as one project, Galaxy Zoo, which asks the general public for help in analyzing an extremely large data set of galaxy images. The contributions made by citizen scientists to that project have resulted in over a dozen published papers. That success led to the launch of other projects that now comprise Zooniverse, which has developed a basic ethics code for its citizen science projects: participants are considered to be “collaborators” not “users”; the work must contribute to real research; and projects should not waste people’s time.

Jordan Raddick, education coordinator, ESRI, Johns Hopkins University, and Jason Reed, online motivation researcher, Adler Planetarium, then presented what they learned about volunteers so far. They’ve found that people with no previous experience with Zooniverse understand what they are supposed to do, enjoy using the projects, personally get something out of it, can feel that their efforts and the projects make a contribution to science, and can intend to and actually do more with the project. Among experienced users, “I enjoy contributing to science” was the most common motivation for participating.

Karen Carney, associate vice president for visitor experience and learning, Adler Planetarium, talked about the Adler Planetarium’s motivations for engaging visitors in citizen science through exhibitions and programs, including the goals of bridging visitors to ongoing science and helping people to understand the nature of science. She also described some of the challenges of engaging on-site visitors in online projects and posed questions for attendees to consider and discuss. What motivates people to participate in science in different kinds of informal settings? Are any motivations or behaviors the same between ISE engagement and online citizen science? Can we convert bricks to clicks or vice versa?