COASST citizen science program

Scaling Up Cost-Efficient Community Engagement in Coastal Resource Management

Researchers identified the key elements leading to successful citizen science endeavors using COASST as a model.

Principal Investigator

Julia Parrish, University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Co-Principal Investigators

Heidi Ballard, University of California Davis

Sean Rowe, Oregon State University


Citizen science offers unique opportunities to build public engagement, community capacity, and societal relevance for science, while addressing major environmental and resource issues in a timely, cost-efficient fashion. But it must be done well, engendering enhanced learning, long-term involvement, and the knowledge required to collect accurate data. This project quantitatively and qualitatively gauged the essential elements of a rigorous, successful coastal science program, using individual demographics, organizational, community, and regional predictors, and focus group evaluations.

Research Updates

Using the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) as a case study, the West Coast Sea Grant research team employed quantitative and qualitative methods to explore factors associated with volunteer retention. The findings could help citizen science project planners tailor their programs to successfully retain volunteers. In addition to constructing a multivariate model based on volunteer information, their data collection sites and their communities, the team jointly conducted nine focus groups to identify emergent themes linked to joining and staying involved.

Results from quantitative analysis of retention indicated that the number of people on a survey team, how far they travel, and their age were all influential factors for retention. Older individuals surveying in pairs that don’t travel far to their study beach stayed on as volunteers longest. Weather appeared to have no effect. Focus group participants valued a well-organized program that collected meaningful data and reported regularly to volunteers on the larger data patterns and uses. The team also made progress on in-practice products that can be used to develop or expand rigorous coastal citizen science programs.