To have your citizen science cake and eat it? Delivering research and outreach through Open Air Laboratories (OPAL)

Poppy Lakeman-Fraser, Laura Gosling, Andy J Moffat, Sarah E West, Roger Fradera, Linda Davies, Maxwell A Ayamba, René van der Wal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)
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BACKGROUND: The vast array of citizen science projects which have blossomed over the last decade span a spectrum of objectives from research to outreach. While some focus primarily on the collection of rigorous scientific data and others are positioned towards the public engagement end of the gradient, the majority of initiatives attempt to balance the two. Although meeting multiple aims can be seen as a 'win-win' situation, it can also yield significant challenges as allocating resources to one element means that they may be diverted away from the other. Here we analyse one such programme which set out to find an effective equilibrium between these arguably polarised goals. Through the lens of the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) programme we explore the inherent trade-offs encountered under four indicators derived from an independent citizen science evaluation framework. Assimilating experience from the OPAL network we investigate practical approaches taken to tackle arising tensions.

RESULTS: Working backwards from project delivery to design, we found the following elements to be important: ensuring outputs are fit for purpose, developing strong internal and external collaborations, building a sufficiently diverse partnership and considering target audiences. We combine these 'operational indicators' with four pre-existing 'outcome indicators' to create a model which can be used to shape the planning and delivery of a citizen science project.

CONCLUSIONS: Our findings suggest that whether the proverb in the title rings true will largely depend on the identification of challenges along the way and the ability to address these conflicts throughout the citizen science project.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)16
JournalBMC Ecology
Issue numberSuppl 1
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jul 2016


  • Citizen science
  • evaluation framework
  • Lessons learned
  • OPAL
  • outputs
  • outreach
  • public participation in scientific research
  • research
  • trade-off
  • volunteers


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