Build your community first
I’ve worked in the technology space for 20+ years and yet, I can tell you a successful citizen science program is not guaranteed by the development of a mobile app alone. Of course, a comprehensive, well-designed app can provide many interesting and useful features, but ultimately, the success of a citizen science program relies on an engaged community of—you guessed it—citizens. It sounds obvious, but many programs fail to achieve this.
One of the more successful programs of this type I have witnessed is the BC Cetacean Sightings Network run by the crew at Ocean Wise in British Columbia, Canada. The program has been operating for over 20 years and in 2015, it introduced a mobile application to increase whale sighting reports from members of the public. The app known as WhaleReport has helped the Network achieve 70% more whale sighting reports since its launch. However, a large part of its success came as a result of the amazing community outreach and engagement program the Network runs.
The BC Cetacean Sightings Network have actively promoted the program to a variety of stakeholders including residents, marine based workers, lighthouse keepers, commercial ferry and whale sighting companies, building a strong community of citizen scientists to submit sighting reports. So while the WhaleReport app has made the process easier, and has facilitated an improved reporting experience, the strong engagement with varied and committed reporters was a key success factor.