I am the subject of a research project into citizen scientists. My mind has been probed!

I recently had the pleasure of a morning in the company of Dr. Ria Dunkley.  Ria is a post-doc researcher at the Sustainable Places Research Institute, part of Cardiff University.  Ria has noticed that a) ‘Citizen Science’ is all the rage and, b) no one actually knows why people volunteer to do it.  So she’s set up a research project to find out.  And I was one of her first victims – sorry, subjects.

This is Ria, checking out the TrackaTree project.

RD track a tree

In case you’re wondering, ‘citizen science’ is when ordinary people voluntarily do things to help scientific research projects.  This doesn’t have to be at the ‘Large Hadron Collider’ level of science – everyone who takes part in the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch is a citizen scientist (as long as they get round to sending their results in).

As I quite enjoy collecting data, and it’s a great reason to get out into the countryside, I’ve taken part in quite a few surveys.  As well as the Big Garden Birdwatch I’ve done surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology, Plantlife and Butterfly Conservation.  And, of course, the meadow establishment trials that the Naturetale Restoration Foundation will run will take this involvement to a new level.

What resulted in Ria contacting me, though, was my involvement in the TrackaTree phenology project.  This collects data on when things such as bud break, leaf burst and flowering occurs at specific locations.  Its aim is to build a database that will enable scientists to analyse how nature is affected by changes in the weather and climate.

Ria wanted to know lots of deep, deep stuff about my motivations for doing this kind of thing, and what I get out of it.  What could be better: a couple of hours to waffle on about yourself to someone – and to someone who has to be polite!  She is going to carry out 20-30 in-depth interviews with people who do citizen science and see what patterns emerge.  Hopefully her other interviewees will talk some sense I shall be interested to hear the degree to which patterns do emerge, or how variable everyone is.  The results will enable organisations that commission citizen science projects to structure and publicise these in ways that maximise involvement.

Ria is keen to talk to more people who are / have been involved in doing ‘citizen science’, which probably means most of you.  If you would like to help her (and help to counter the rubbish I spouted) she would love you to contact her. Her details are:

Ria Dunkley (Research Associate)

Sustainable Places Research Institute

Cardiff University,

33 Park Place,



Email: dunkleyra@cardiff.ac.uk

Tel: 029 208 75726

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