I want to measure the impacts of citizen science projects
...by creating impact stories

Why is it relevant?

Due to the stakeholder engagement inherent within citizen science initiatives, good, clear communication is essential particularly when communicating the impacts of your citizen science project. Good communication of impacts can lead to further desired changes.  

One way to do this is by crafting impact stories. Impact stories are engaging narratives, that contain the same features as traditional stories, characters, events and a plot. They are used to explain a journey from where a citizen science initiative or project began, detailing what it has done or achieved and creating an emotional connection with the audience. Within citizen science, impact stories can be used by initiatives to demonstrate their value, for example to policy- or decision makers. Specifically, impact stories can be used to capture and communicate current and emerging citizen science impacts on policy.  

In your impact story, you will explain the issue you were trying to tackle and talk about moments or events when you were aware of a change that had occurred in relation to the problem you were working on. For example, you can use an impact story to report on a moment or event where you felt empowered in a discussion with authorities because you had gathered data and insights through your work as a citizen scientist.  

How can this be done?

One approach to creating impact stories for citizen science is the Citizen Science Impact StoryTelling Approach (CSISTA) produced by the WeObserve Impact Community of Practice. CSISTA was primarily developed for use by citizen science practitioners in order to convey key policy impacts of citizen science initiatives. 

As part of CSISTA, the CSISTA Impact Inquiry Instrument was created. This instrument is a means for collecting qualitative data, which is used to illustrate distinct impacts of a citizen science initiative, e.g.  in terms of influencing policy and decision making. 

CSISTA is comprised of three steps: 

Step 1 

Learning about policy impacts using the CSISTA Impact Inquiry Instrument to gather qualitative data from citizen science initiative leaders about realised and potential policy and decision-making impacts.

Step 2 

Deciding on storytelling goals, the storytelling instrument, and relevant data. The storytelling instruments consist of guidance for writing short stories in an Impact Brief or Impact Narrative form. 

Step 3 

Crafting an impact story in a brief or narrative form, which can be used to convey policy impacts of a citizen science initiative to broader audiences (e.g. practitioners may provide stories to decision makers). 

CSISTA case study: Litter Intelligence

Litter Intelligence is a New Zealand-based citizen science project focusing on gathering data and insights and organising action for a litter-free world by collecting litter on beaches. Using CSISTA, an impact story for the initiative was created.  

This impact story was able to convey the impact of the initiative's volunteer and stakeholder engagement, using insightful quotes from project volunteers and by highlighting the effects of the digital infrastructure put in place by the project. Crucially, the impact story also focused on the policy impacts of the projects, highlighting its unique inclusion in national governmental reports and policy proposals, as well as previous collaborations with governmental departments. 

Useful Resources

PAPER: The paper Capturing and communicating impact of citizen science for policy: A storytelling approach provides a detailed outline of the WeObserve CSISTA methodology, as well as insight into the development of the methodology.  

BOOK CHAPTER: The chapter “Communication and Dissemination in Citizen Science” in the book “The Science of Citizen Science” describes the importance of communication and dissemination in citizen science more generally. It provides examples of successful strategies and identifies the factors that determine success. It also describes some of the challenges that can arise and how to overcome these. 

PAPER: The paper “Citizen Scientists’ Preferences for Communication of Scientific Output: A Literature Review” contains the outcomes of a review on participants’ preferences for communication of data, findings, and scientific publications in the context of citizen science projects, which will also be relevant for Citizen Observatories. 

GUIDELINES: The Scivil practical guide to communication and engagement in citizen science, “Communication in Citizen Science” provides valuable guidance for developing and executing a communication plan for a citizen science initiative or Citizen Observatory. 

GUIDELINES: The WeObserve Cookbook provides guidance to set up and/or run a Citizen Observatory, and features a variety of support for citizen science practitoners for example to communicate the results effectively.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 824711.

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