Blog Post

The One-Year Trial is Over: Please Tell Us What You Think

The CSA Board of Directors would like input, from all connected with the Citizen Science Association, on CSA’s membership structure.
As a young organization, CSA has been striving to fulfil our vision, mission, and goals which were informed by input from this rapidly growing community. We are putting in place the structures to support activities with staff and cyberinfrastructure for conferences, workshops, working groups, an academic journal, and more. The CSA works by organizing community so that our membership (ALL OF US!) can collectively advance the field of citizen science.
When the CSA launched in February 2014, membership for the inaugural year was free, and this continued through 2016. In the fall of 2016, responses to a survey about CSA membership benefits revealed which benefits people valued the most. The TOP TWO most valued benefit were not direct benefits for individuals, but BENEFITS FOR ALL:

  • #1 “advancing the visibility of, and respect for, citizen science.”
  • #2 “supporting the development of open-access resources for the field.”

And #3 was related to the tangible personal benefits of engaging with the community: “discounted registration to conferences and workshops.”
In March of 2017, the CSA launched a 1-year trial period with the current membership and fee structure. Details are available here:
For the 2017 calendar year, we have over 5,000 non-paying community members and 500 paying members. You ALL are valuable to the success of the CSA and the advancement of citizen science. We want to learn about the hopes and wishes for the CSA from ALL of you so that the Board of Directors can make properly informed decisions about membership fees and structure for the coming year.
With this email, we are opening a period of public discussion on this thread, and then we’ll follow-up with an anonymous survey. Please comment below if you would like to share your input about the current membership structure and fees. We are curious to learn what tangible benefits make (or would make) membership worthwhile to you. Also, what intangible benefits make (or would make) membership worthwhile to you? We want to better understand your expectations and needs so that we can organize our community to reach its greatest potential.
Thank you for your input,
Caren Cooper and Na ‘Taki Osborne Jelks
on behalf of the CSA Board Governance Committee

7 thoughts on “The One-Year Trial is Over: Please Tell Us What You Think

  • I’d like to hear the argument for why membership fees should be a major source of our financial support. The Center for Open Science is supported by major donors, and those donors might want to support citizen science for the same reasons they support open science. I realize that an organization gains some credibility if it is supported by many people, rather than mostly by a few major donors, but it seems essential to raise funds in a way that works–Is 500 paying members enough?
    I’d also like clarity on what aspects of the CSA are for all citizen scientists vs just for project leaders–if conferences target project leaders, then it is understandable that other citizen scientists might think paying membership in CSA is not for them. There are over a million citizen scientists around that globe and they contribute a tremendous amount of money to “the cause” not just by donating their time, but by purchasing supplies and equipment. Consider that employees are reimbursed $50-$75/month to maintain a cell phone, so deploying a citizen science app to a half a million users (e.g. Globe Observer) would be asking citizen scientists to contribute $300 million/year just on provision of smartphones. Citizen scientist have repeatedly met such expectations, so the money is clearly out there. Perhaps more of it would come to the CSA if more people believed that the CSA is essential to their own role (like equipment is).

    • PS: I’m not suggesting that conferences and journals should target anything other than project leaders (or academics), nor that we should stop having conferences and journals (those are strategic targets!). However, I am suggesting that we spend a bunch of time thinking about what other activities we can (and do) engage in that bring value to the rest of the citizen science community, and how those activities can be sources of income. For example, can we make our website so valuable that people would click a “donate” button and pay to support it? Can we make Citizen Science Day so effective that groups would pay for some special kind of listing? An online store basically charges makers a fee to be listed, so our store could list not only $30 T-shirts but also free apps (for which the makers pay us $500/year to be listed). One idea that came up in the ethics working group was to create a social app for research ethics review and charge investigators $50 per plan it reviews. Institutions are currently so overwhelmed (reviewing an average of 30 protocols per meeting) that an industry of commercial IRBs is rising which charge on the order of $10,000 per plan, and institutions are entirely skipping ethics review for science like water-quality testing that does not meet regulatory standards of “human subjects”, “animal subjects” or recombinant DNA. Although ethics review committees are supposed to include community members, most citizen scientists do not know how to find an opportunity to serve in that capacity–this would give them an easy way to plug in (no charge to reviewers) and what an awesome opportunity to learn about and participate in science!
      Andrea makes a good point that membership fees might be a short-term funding solution. In that case, the experiment will not be over until we have tested our long-term solution.

  • Andrea Wiggins

    The usual benefits of professional memberships include things like those mentioned here — but on an off year where a conference discount doesn’t kick in, it’s not as compelling, and truthfully that’s the main direct benefit to me unless membership is required to submit (like ESA). For an academic, it’s also common to pay a professional membership out of pocket while the organization/grant gets the registration discount, which is a bit perverse, and yet I keep doing it because professional memberships can’t be reimbursed. The pricing is on par with another membership (ACM) that I’ve maintained out-of-pocket since 2006, but the non-discount benefits are quite different for structural reasons, so it’s hard for me to identify tangible/intangible benefits that are compelling for membership fees.
    Like Chris, I wish there were other revenue streams that could support the organization (e.g., certification, etc.) but recognize that building capacity for other funding models will take time. There are at least a handful of other organizations with which members have considerable overlap, so co-sponsorship or co-membership options could be an interesting strategy, particularly if it could be aligned with a Special Interest Group or other formal structure in the partner community. Not that I expect AGU or ESA or VSA (etc) would necessarily be up for it, but maybe worth exploring since citizen science is necessarily a space where many members will always be split between multiple affiliations and for various reasons, will always renew the other one and may consider this one optional. If this were an add-on to another membership at a similar price point as my SIG membership ($55/year), I’d give it much more serious consideration in a non-conference year (also single auto-renewing transactions are way easier).
    Commercial and crass as it may seem, the revenue streams from merchandise sales supporting the likes of the March for Science and Sarcastic Rover appear to be nontrivial and might be worth evaluating as well. Merchandising certainly isn’t a long-term strategy but might provide short-term cash infusions for getting other efforts off the ground. I would totally buy a $30 T-shirt (and wear it to other conferences), especially if a few other criteria were met (limited issue designs, good garment sourcing, etc.) I know of literally zero sources for an awesome citizen science t-shirt…

    • Pam DiBona

      I agree with all you’ve said here, Andrea. We government types are in the same boat re: professional membership fees.

  • OK, so I looked over the membership fee structure and I like the fact that the ‘free’ (Community) option is still available and I don’t say that due to any miserliness on my part. In fact, I’d be happy to pay the Individual Membership fee, which is not unreasonable and is comparable to many other membership fees. No, I say that because, the free option still avails members who might not be able to afford the Individual Membership access to some critical aspects of the CSA, such as:
    –Access to join and participate in the citizen science discussion listserv
    –Access to monthly newsletter updates about activities in the field
    –Access to read articles in CSA’s journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, and:
    –Access to post and read job and academic openings on the CSA job board
    And, those options alone might be enough for many people.
    As to the question of question of professional memberships, I don’t really feel qualified to comment on that topic, as there as others here on this page, like Adrea Wiggins, who have more experience with them than I do in that area.
    I find the $400/yr. annual fee for non-profits quite reasonable, but am curious as to why it’s limited to only 5 members.
    In general, I would be willing to pay an Individual Membership fee on an annual basis, as long as it remained in the current range of $30-$90/yr.
    I hope this was the feedback you were looking for. I shall encourage others to join the discussion.

  • Lynda Newnam

    Most valuable: CS discussion list
    Fees: free option essential – demonstrates support for volunteering fundamental to CS

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