Behavioural Change Strategy Co-Designed at ECSA 2022 Conference

In citizen science, there is a general expectation that participants will change their behaviour as a result of the project. Depending on the context and nature of measurement campaigns, desired behavioural change can be conceived differently, from switching to green travel options (air quality monitoring) to stopping mowing one’s lawn (biodiversity monitoring).


Citizen science literature abounds with guidance on how to measure and stimulate behavioural change. To better understand which of the existing approaches have the best fit with COMPAIR, we decided to launch a series of exploratory workshops that would be held at major events focusing on citizen science. The goal is to critically examine available tips and advice and then use the findings to co-create a robust engagement and evaluation framework for COMPAIR pilots.


The first such workshop took place in Berlin on 7 October 2022, as part of the ECSA conference. This biennial event attracts hundreds citizen science practitioners across a wide range of disciplines, and so was a perfect opportunity to gather expert opinions on how best to measure and stimulate behavioural change.


The workshop was a joint effort between COMPAIR and SOCIOBEE, an H2020 citizen science project that also focuses on air quality and behavioural change. The workshop started with a general introduction into both initiatives, after which participants were asked two questions.


Is behaviour change easy to achieve? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority said it is not. Slightly less people said it depends. And only a few answered definitely yes (Figure 1).


Figures 1: A Mentimeter question about achieving behavioural change in citizen science projects



Do you know any examples when people changed their actions after participating in citizen science? Here, most participants said no, but at the same time expressed interest in learning more about them. Eight people in the room said they know about successful examples and are happy to share them with others (Figure 2).


Figure 2. A Mentimeter question about successful citizen science projects that achieved behavioural change



After these general questions participants were divided into groups to answer two specific questions about behavioural change (Figures 3 and 4).


How to define and measure behavioural change, and why it’s important? Participants said that behavioural change should be conceived on different levels, not only at the level of an action, but also belief and knowledge, because the latter are often a prerequisite for a sustainable change in one’s behaviour.


To effectively measure behavioural change it’s important to first understand where participants stand in relation to what is being measured. Do they know a lot about pollution? Are they already doing a lot of ‘green’ activities e.g. cycling, walking, plant-based diet? Other things being equal, someone who starts from a lower base is likely to report more impact than someone who is already quite advanced in these areas.


One of the participants said that projects often assume that people want or are ready to change. Projects therefore have a tendency to impose this narrative, almost in a top-down fashion, when in fact people may be driven by simpler motivations, such as a desire to try something new, to meet new friends, to have fun. These should be thoroughly captured at the outset to understand why people join a citizen science project in the first place, and how big the potential for behavioural change is.


Figure 3. A group brainstorming how to define and measure behavioural change, and why it's important



How to stimulate behavioural change, especially among the disadvantaged groups? Here, participants agreed that projects cannot really force people to change. This should come from within. Thus a project’s role is to create favourable conditions for this change to happen. In particular, this requires creating conditions where

  • People feel safe and welcome

  • People see citizen science as a source of personal growth and development

  • People feel heard by project administrators and those who will be using collected results e.g. policy makers

  • People can trust the information they receive and the data they collect

  • People have sufficient time reflect on the findings and discuss them with peers


Figure 4: A group discussing ways to stimulate behavioural change



The workshop stimulated a lively discussion among participants (almost 30 attended the session) and, as already mentioned, represents the first step to creating a robust behavioural change model for use in COMPAIR and beyond. As we further test, refine and exchange ideas with sister projects on this important topic, the accumulated knowledge will become a valuable source of information to new citizen science initiatives looking for validated approaches to evaluating participation outcomes in the context of air quality monitoring.


But we’re also happy to hear from others. If you have ideas on how to measure and stimulate behavioural change, or if you would like to run a joint workshop in the future, drop us a line here. Let’s make citizen science more impactful, together!

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