Our top tips for a successful citizen science project – November

Posted on December 1, 2021

Last month, we started our top tips for a successful citizen science project series.

The first blog looked at the three guiding principles of a successful citizen science project, ‘Simple, Sexy and Sell’. These give a strong basis for creating your citizen science project but there are still plenty of aspects to consider before taking the plunge. 

For this month’s top tips, we delve a little deeper into the actual data side of the project. 

Data – maximising quality is key 

Citizen science enables you to collect data on a scale not usually possible by other means. However, for most projects the data collected must be of high quality to be useful; something which can be difficult to ensure when engaging the general public with specialised subjects.

Here are some of the best ways to maximise both engagement and the reliability of your data:

  • Keep it simple. Decide what you need to collect data on and then remove anything you don’t absolutely need. The less questions you throw at your audience the better. This will help to increase long-term engagement and enable participants to more easily focus on the questions you do ask.
  • Spend time focusing on your survey structure.  Make sure you design your survey to remove repetition and reduce the amount of time it takes to complete. Focus on maximising clarity for the recorder.  
  • Ensure that your questions are as unambiguous as possible.  Ask very clearly worded questions and spend time reviewing them with non-expert friends and family to help make sure you get the answers you are after.
  • Avoid free-text like the plague.  Apart from collecting information like comments, always provide ‘hard-coded’ responses for your survey where possible.  You can do this by using drop downs, tick boxes or multi-selects to restrict answers to set responses.
  • Carefully consider how you collect numeric data.  Are people going to be able to be accurate with their evaluations? Can you provide ranges or restrict the minimum and maximum number to help limit mistakes?
  • Include conditional questions where relevant, so that participants only ever see relevant questions in your survey.
  • Develop ID guides so citizen scientists have the ability to check their answers quickly 
  • Include photo questions so participants can upload evidence that you can then validate at a later stage

Bigger isn’t always better 

When conducting a citizen science project, it’s easy to think that the more people that take part the better, but that’s not always the case.  Sometimes, what you will want to focus on is building a dedicated community.  This is often the case with more involved surveys, or those that rely on some underlying knowledge or expertise.  Each project is different and must be designed according to its objectives, subject and methods.  Some factors that can affect the scale of engagement are:

  • How geographically widespread is the subject we’re interested in?
  • Does participation require some degree of training or prior knowledge?
  • Is doing the survey risky in some way and/or dependent on physical abilities that limit who should take part?
  • Will a local campaign get better engagement than a national campaign?
  • How much data do we actually need?
  • How much can you actually afford to spend on marketing and building engagement?

It is important to be realistic about these and related points. Setting achievable objectives and expectations before you start a project will enable you to focus your limited resources in the right places and engage the right audiences in the right ways.  It should also produce better results over the long term. 

Analysis paralysis – how to avoid it

Planning a citizen science project and getting the public engaged in collecting data is an exciting process.  If you’ve designed your project well and you’ve been lucky enough to encourage people to take part in your survey it’s now time to review, analyse and report on the findings. 

Planning ahead for this stage not only means you’re prepared to review the sometimes vast quantity of records you’re about to receive, but it also enables you to share the results with the public quickly, making them more likely to remain engaged in the project and help in other ways. 

So, how do you deal with the data and make sure it’s in a usable state?  Again, much of this comes down to the scale of data being collected, coupled with the size of your team dedicated to working with it.  

  • Do you have dedicated team members who can review the information or is it just you?
  • If the data volume will be extremely high, could you further engage your audience with reviewing and ‘cleaning’ the data? Gamifying data verification can be a fantastic way to achieve this and can propel your project into a different realm.
  • If using software, find a system that enables you to easily work with and verify your records so that you can weed out poor quality or spurious records. Read our latest blog to find out how Coreo can help you do that.
  • It’s unlikely any data collection software will also provide you with the toolset you need for data analysis.  So, make sure you can easily export your data for use in Excel, QGIS or whatever systems you will be using for that stage of your project.


Citizen science projects are a fantastic way to collect data at scale and engage people with research. Perhaps the overarching key to success is to keep things simple.  You can’t always choose your subject but, with a well planned project, you can optimise the type and scale of engagement you achieve.  And by considering all of the factors we’ve covered in our blog posts you should be able to avoid the common pitfalls and be well on your way to setting up a super successful citizen science project.  Good luck and let us know how you get on!

If you’re thinking of conducting a citizen science project and want some advice, or find out more about how software could help you, please email hello@natural-apptitude.co.uk.