Horizon CDT Research Highlights

Research Highlights

Enabling Environmental Citizenship with the British Geological Survey

  Clifford Richardson (2017 cohort)   www.nottingham.ac.uk/~psxcpr

Citizen Science (CS) is defined as scientific work undertaken by members of the general public in collaboration with professional scientists [1]. Volunteers are commonly utilised for data collection but can also be involved with the interpretation of data, initiating research questions, project design and dissemination of results [2]. Thus, CS can encompass a wide range of activities with varying degrees of involvement, engagement and citizen empowerment. CS has large potential to help meet some of the needs of environmental monitoring at a variety of geographic and temporal scales. There is, however, a need to better understand the potential for citizen scientists to become more involved in such programmes [3].

The British Geological Survey recognises the benefits of CS and aims to improve and expand its activities in this field. Currently there are few examples of CS projects with a primary focus in Geology or Paleo-Earth Sciences [4],[5]. Thus, there is the potential to improve existing projects and devise novel approaches which will have global applicability. This doctoral research will perform CS case studies which focus on geo-hazards (e.g. landslides, ground-water flooding). Such hazards are diverse and have a wide range of spatial and temporal scales [6]. The detection, monitoring and understanding of many of these may be significantly enhanced by the addition of citizen contributions in support of traditional techniques.

Engaging greater numbers of citizen scientists increases the potential for better spatial and temporal coverage and may lead to serendipitous knowledge discovery [7]. However, significant inequalities are found in participants [8] both in terms of their diversity (gender, age, ethnicity, education) and in the fact that a small number of participants contribute the majority of activity. Greater understanding of the recruitment, motivation and retention of citizen scientists is required [9] and drives a research need to capture more structured information about the citizen scientists [10]. Improved understanding of the citizen scientists will enhance both engagement and the confidence which may be placed in the quality of contributors’ inputs. A novel aspect of this research will be the evaluation of participation through social-psychological determinants of engagement with environmental issues. An understanding of these determinants could aid the development of CS projects and strategies which are able to diminish feelings of remoteness from environmental issues, potentially leading to increased participation, action and policy support [11].

This research will aim to promote engagement amongst individuals (those who currently do and don’t participate) and seek to establish communities of volunteers (real and ‘virtual’) who share beliefs and work collectively towards a common goal [12]. Developing a sense of community and connectedness may lead to increased value from CS projects [13], empowerment for both citizens and scientists and new project management insights [14]. The potential of collective efficacy (mutual trust combined with a willingness to act on behalf of the common good [15]) arising from the formation of CS communities will be explored.

This project will add to knowledge of best-practice in the fields of citizen engagement and environmental collective efficacy. These will be applicable across a range of CS disciplines.


  1. Storksdieck M, Shirk J L, Cappadonna J L, Domroese M, Göbel C, Haklay M, Miller-Rushing A J, Roetman P, Sbrocchi C & Vohland, K, 2016, Associations for Citizen Science: Regional Knowledge, Global Collaboration. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 1(2): 10, pp. 1–10
  2. Haklay M, 2013, Citizen Science and Volunteered Geographic Information: overview and typology of participation. In: Sui D Z, Elwood S & Goodchild M F (Eds), Crowdsourcing Geogr. Knowl. Volunt. Geogr. Inf. Theory Pract. pp 105–122, Springer, Berlin
  3. UK Environmental Observation Framework, 2017, http://www.ukeof.org.uk/our-work/citizen-science
  4. Aristeidou M, Scanlon E & Sharples M, 2013, A design-based study of Citizen Inquiry for geology. In: Maillet K, & Klobucar T (Eds), Proceeding of the doctoral consortium at the European conference on technology enhanced learning collocated with the EC-TEL conference, pp 7-13, CEUR
  5. Viles H, 2016, Technology and geomorphology: Are improvements in data collection techniques transforming geomorphic science? Geomorphology 270, pp 121–133
  6. Cignaa F, Tapetea D & Lee K, 2018, Geological hazards in the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the UK: From the global to the local scale perspective. Earth-Science Reviews 176, pp 166–194
  7. McKinley D C, Miller-Rushing A J, Ballard H L, Bonney R, Brown H, Cook-Patton S C, Evans D M, French R A, Parrish J K, Phillips T B, Ryan S F, Shanley L A, Shirk J L, Stepenuck K F, Weltzin J F, Wiggins A, Boyle O D, Briggs R D, Chapin III S F, Hewitt D A, Preuss P W & Soukup M A, 2017, Citizen science can improve conservation science, natural resource management, and environmental protection. Biological Conservation 208, pp 15–28
  8. Haklay M, 2016, Why is participation inequality important? In: Capineri C, Haklay M, Huang H, Antoniou V, Kettunen J, Ostermann F & Purves R. (Eds) European Handbook of Crowdsourced Geographic Information, pp 35–44, Ubiquity Press London
  9. Blaney R J P, Jones G D, Philippe A C V & Pocock M J O, 2016, Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring: Towards a Methodology for Evaluating Opportunities, Costs and Benefits. Final Report on behalf of UKEOF. WRc, Fera Science, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology
  10. Comber A, Mooney P, Purves R S, Rocchini D & Walz A, 2016, Crowdsourcing: It Matters Who the Crowd Are. The Impacts of between Group Variations in Recording Land Cover. PLoS ONE 11(7): e0158329
  11. Schuldt J P, Rickard L N & Yang Z J, 2018, Does reduced psychological distance increase climate engagement? On the limits of localizing climate change. Journal of Environmental Psychology 55, pp 147-153
  12. Nov O, Arazy O, & Anderson D, 2011, Technology-Mediated Citizen Science Participation: A Motivational Model. Proceedings of the Fifth International AAAI Conference on Weblogs and Social Media, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence
  13. Starkey E, Parkin G, Birkinshaw S, Large A, Quinn P & Gibson C, 2017, Demonstrating the value of community-based (‘citizen science’) observations for catchment modelling and characterisation. Journal of Hydrology 548, pp 801–817
  14. Chase, S K & Levine, A, 2017, Citizen science: Exploring the Potential of Natural Resource Monitoring Programs to Influence Attitudes and Behaviours. Conservation Letters, pp 1-10
  15. Shen X-L, Lee M K O & Cheung C M K, 2014, Exploring online social behavior in crowdsourcing communities: A relationship management perspective Computers in Human Behavior 40, pp 144–151


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This author is supported by the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (RCUK Grant No. EP/L015463/1) and British Geological Survey.