A framework for evaluating and designing citizen science programs for natural resource monitoring

We present a framework of resource characteristics critical to the design and assessment of citizen science programs that monitor natural resources. To develop the framework we reviewed 52 citizen science programs that monitored a wide range of resources and provided insights into what resource characteristics are most conducive to developing citizen science programs and how resource characteristics may constrain the use or growth of these programs. We focused on 4 types of resource characteristics: biophysical and geographical, management and monitoring, public awareness and knowledge, and social and cultural characteristics. We applied the framework to 2 programs, the Tucson (U.S.A.) Bird Count and the Maui (U.S.A.) Great Whale Count. We found that resource characteristics such as accessibility, diverse institutional involvement in resource management, and social or cultural importance of the resource affected program endurance and success. However, the relative influence of each characteristic was in turn affected by goals of the citizen science programs. Although the goals of public engagement and education sometimes complimented the goal of collecting reliable data, in many cases trade-offs must be made between these 2 goals. Program goals and priorities ultimately dictate the design of citizen science programs, but for a program to endure and successfully meet its goals, program managers must consider the diverse ways that the nature of the resource being monitored influences public participation in monitoring.