This PhD project explores the role of volunteering in the natural environment and specifically examines citizen-science initiatives aimed at children and young people. This research explores campaigns such as the British Trust for Ornithology’s Garden Birdwatch, The Woodland Trust’s Nature’s Calendar, Big Butterfly Count, and Garden BioBlitz, which are framed as both scientific biodiversity and ecosystem surveys as well as outdoor learning encounters for children in the UK.
Whilst there has been considerable recent interest in citizen science across the natural and social sciences (i.e. Dickinson and Bonney, 2012; Tweddle et al. 2012; Woolley et al. 2016), little attention has been paid to the motivations, experiences and outcomes for children engaged in citizen science, as well as the benefits and challenges for stakeholders of working with them. Some isolated studies have usefully demonstrated links between these activities and future career pathways (i.e. Hiller and Kitsantas 2014). However, there is a dearth of research on how, when and why children and young people are invited to participate in crowd-sourcing or related research activities, as part of a wider British ‘public’. Although Geoghegan et al. (2016) recently found that ‘getting children involved’ was a motivation for parents to engage in citizen-science, there is a lack of research with children themselves that identifies their own experiences, captured through methodologies which incorporate their own voices.
This project addresses these gaps in existing research seeking to address the following research questions:
How do citizen science campaigns/projects target and engage children and young people?
What have been the motivations, experiences and outcomes for children and young people engaged in citizen science activities in the UK, and what is the legacy of this work?
What are the benefits and challenges for stakeholders of children and young people’s participation in citizen science campaigns, and the legacy of this work?
Overall, this PhD project utilises qualitative research to bridge the gap between studies on citizen science from a biodiversity and conservation perspective (i.e. Devictor et al. 2010) and social science investigations into the geographies of informal education, volunteering and nature-based learning (i.e. Mills and Kraftl 2014).
The project will employ three qualitative methods to interrogate the above research questions.
Archival and Policy Research. This first stage provides historical context to the emergence (or rebranding) of national citizen-science campaigns and activities. This initial stage of the methodology addresses research question 1 and will also critically analyse recent policy documents from UK Government and charities on their strategies to engage children in citizen-science.
Semi-structured interviews with children and young people. Qualitative interviews will be conducted with children and young people who recently participated in, or are currently participating in, citizen-science. This sample would reflect different audiences, backgrounds and engagement with different organisations. This second stage of the methodology addresses research question 2.
Semi-structured interviews with third sector organisation volunteer managers or education co-ordinators. The final stage of the data collection and analysis involves semi-structured interviews with stakeholder representative to address research question 3.
Training and Skills
The student will develop their conceptual understanding of citizen-science and related academic debates on ‘participatory’ research in the natural environment. They will develop methodological skills in qualitative research with both adults and children, as well as further their understanding of policy processes in UK government and third sector organisations. The student will develop their research skills and techniques in creating and handling an original qualitative dataset, qualitative data analysis, ethical processes and policies, data management, and liaising with stakeholders. They will have the opportunity to present their research at relevant national and international workshops and conferences.
Year 1: Research methods training and development. Literature review on citizen-science and project key themes. Research design development. Initial archival and policy research. Identification of exact case-study campaigns, timelines and regional focus for methodology. University ethics application for qualitative interviews with children and stakeholders.
Year 2: Recruitment and delivery of qualitative fieldwork (semi-structured interviews). Finalise archival and policy research. Data analysis training (NViVo11). Transcription and data analysis of semi-structured interviews with children and young people and stakeholders using NViVo 11 for thematic coding. Draft conference presentation as appropriate, with view to journal publication. Confirm thesis chapter structure.
Year 3: Final data analysis. Writing and editing of PhD thesis chapters. Ongoing conference presentations and publication plans. Feedback to stakeholders.
Partners and collaboration (including CASE)
The project will utilise and nurture existing relationships with national and local youth organisations and schools in the first instance via previous research-based links. We are actively looking for a CASE partner at the time of writing. The PI has extensive experience in research working with children and young people and has supervised doctoral research in collaboration with the Scout Association and Outward Bound Trust. This project aims to foster new links with national campaigns and stakeholders, depending on the exact case-study examples developed by the student and supervisory team in due course.
For further information about this project, please contact Dr Sarah Mills (Geography and Environment, Loughborough University – S.Mills@lboro.ac.uk). For enquiries about the application process, please contact Geography and Environment, Loughborough University (SocSciRes@lboro.ac.uk). Please quote CENTA when completing the application form.