Uncovering Connections across Citizen Science Projects: A Social Network Analysis

Sara Futch, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, won Best Overall Poster at the Citizen Science Association Conference 2019 for her poster, “Uncovering Connections across Citizen Science Projects: A Social Network Analysis.” Conference attendees selected Sara’s poster via in-person votes during the poster session.

Citizen Science Projects
Sara Futch’s poster

Here’s more from Sara about her research:

“My name is Sara Futch, and I’m a graduate student in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology with a minor in Human Dimensions at North Carolina State (NC State) University. Our research team in the Public Science cluster at NC State is using  SciStarter analytics to start to understand how volunteers are engaging in projects across the citizen science landscape. We’ve seen evidence that some volunteers are joining multiple citizen science projects, so I am working to map and understand these volunteers’ patterns of engagement among different types of projects. To do this, I’m using digital trace data that is an anonymized record of when volunteers join projects on the website. I’m then using a research paradigm called Social Network Analysis to map how projects are connected by an underlying network of shared volunteers. So, when a volunteer joins multiple projects, they help connect these projects in the network. Understanding engagement across projects could inform coordination efforts in the field of citizen science by identifying opportunities for collaboration between projects with many shared volunteers, and could inform volunteer management by illustrating current activities across the landscape of projects.

This research is still in its early stages, but we do have some exciting preliminary findings! We’ve seen that many volunteers are in fact joining multiple projects. The 4,000+ anonymous volunteers in the sample join a range of 1-24 projects, with an average of 3. The most connected projects are SciStarter Affiliates, which are projects that have opted to use the SciStarter Affiliate tools, including the participant Application Programming Interface, which allows SciStarter users to log contributions to these projects on their SciStarter dashboard. The increased participation in Affiliate projects makes sense, as these projects are often more visible on the website. Anecdotally, we are seeing connections across online and offline projects, as well as across project topics.

The next step of my research is to complete statistical analysis of connections across online and offline projects, so I will know soon if there are statistically significant connections across groups.

In summary, my preliminary findings indicate that there are contributions across projects — individuals joining multiple projects. My next step is to examine further the connections across online and offline projects. Other graduate students in the Public Science cluster are studying optimizing volunteer management, understanding volunteer outcomes, and other topics in citizen science through the use of the SciStarter analytics.”

Categories: Citizen Science Conference, CitSci Research, SciStarter News

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About the Author

Sara Futch

Sara Futch

Sara is interested in understanding and encouraging stewardship at the crossroads of communities and nature. She believes that authentic collaborations between communities and scientists, through citizen science efforts, are an important starting point for many stewardship behaviors. She hopes that her research can inform best practices in citizen science project management and allow project managers to maximize both their scientific and educational outcomes. Sara received bachelor’s degrees in Psychology and German from Wofford College and is currently working towards her MS in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at North Carolina State Universities. She is also in the Public Science Cluster and after graduation hopes to work with environmentally focused non-profits to promote authentic and beneficial community engagement with nature. You can connect with Sara on Twitter @saraefutch or via email at sefutch@ncsu.edu.