Characterizing Novelty as a Motivator in Online Citizen Science

Publication Type:



School of Information Studies, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, USA (2019)



Citizen science projects rely on the voluntary contribution of nonscientists to take part in scientific research projects. Projects taking place exclusively over the Internet face significant challenges, chief among them is the attracting and keeping the critical mass of volunteers needed to conduct the work outlined by the science team. The extent to which platforms can design experiences that positively influence volunteers’ motivation can help address the contribution challenges. Consequently, project organizers need to develop strategies to attract new participants and keep existing ones. One strategy to encourage participation is implementing features, which re-enforce motives known to change people’s attitudes towards contributing positively. The literature in psychology noted that novelty is an attribute of objects and environments that occasion curiosity in humans leading to exploratory behaviors, e.g., prolonged engagement with the object or environment. This dissertation described the design, implementation, and evaluation of an experiment conducted in three online citizen science projects. Volunteers received novelty cues when they classified data objects that no other volunteer had previously seen. The hypothesis was that exposure to novelty cues while classifying data positively influences motivational attitudes leading to increased engagement in the classification task and increased retention. The experiments resulted in mixed results. In some projects, novelty cues were universally salient, and in other projects, novelty cues had no significant impact on volunteers’ contribution behaviors. The results, while mixed, are promising since differences in the observed behaviors arise because of individual personality differences and the unique attributes found in each project setting. This research contributes to empirically grounded studies on motivation in citizen science with analyses that produce new insights and questions into the functioning of novelty and its impact on volunteers’ behaviors.