PCST Network

Public Communication of Science and Technology


Flocking to Citizen Science
Using Social Media to Attract, Retain, Support and Encourage Volunteer Participants

Andrea Liberatore  

Since 2007 the New Zealand Garden Bird Survey (NZ GBS) has provided an annual snapshot of garden bird populations based on observations by members of the general public. Like all citizen science projects, retention of current volunteers and recruitment of new participants is vital to its success as a useful indicator of biodiversity trends. In May of 2015 a Facebook group was created for NZ GBS with the goals of encouraging new participants and creating a supportive community of practice. The group is being followed as a case study to examine whether these goals are being met. Guided by principles of Communities of Practice research, the member-driven group was set up to foster a common identity and encourage sharing of information, expertise and stories. Through an identity lens, the content of posts and comments were analysed for themes, number and types of interactions, and intention to change behavior. The group has attracted continued participation beyond the 2015 survey. In the first three months, members posted (N=778), commented (N=4,943) and liked (N=16,646) for an average of 249 interactions per day. Members have used the group to share knowledge and expertise on everything from feeding and photographing birds to avian disease identification and advice about reporting banded bird sightings. The Facebook group provides a platform for reporting back to participants on goals and results of the NZ Garden Bird Survey. Analysis of social media interactions can aid in documenting other outcomes that may arise out of engagement with citizen science. In this instance enhanced biodiversity awareness, urban habitat creation and increased engagement with local wildlife have been noted. This talk will examine benefits and challenges of supporting a group of geographically dispersed volunteer participants via social media. Tips and practices for creating a vibrant and supportive community will be discussed.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.