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Martin, VY 2016, 'Science engagement from the audiences’ perspective: can participatory marine science communication increase public engagement in science?', PhD thesis, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.

Copyright 2016 VY Martin


Collaborations between scientists and members of the public, often referred to as citizen science, are contributing to not only advancing science, but are thought to create stronger relationships between science and society. The Australian science engagement strategy, Inspiring Australia, identified marine science as having potential to achieve the goal of increased public engagement with science. To examine this potential, this thesis focusses on the impact of public participation in marine research to improve broader public engagement in science.

To date, very little research has examined public perspectives on participation in science. A review of previous studies indicated a focus on volunteers who have been actively involved in citizen science, highlighting a gap in knowledge about the potential to recruit new volunteers, and broader public opinion about how they want to participate. Little is also reported about backgrounds and current science engagement of volunteers, limiting an assessment of the role of participatory science in increasing public science engagement. This thesis considers Australians’ interest in assisting marine research, the barriers and drivers for participation, and the likely consequences for public engagement in science.

To investigate these issues, mixed-method research was conducted in two phases: (i) 110 face-to-face interviews with marine users in four regions of Australia, and (ii) a national-level online survey of 1145 marine users. The findings indicate there is an untapped audience for participation in marine research, willing to spend considerable time volunteering. To understand the drivers and barriers for participation a case study approach was taken using the Redmap citizen science project, in which members of the public are asked to submit photographs of marine species which are not common in a particular area. Results showed a significant barrier is people’s perceived lack of knowledge of marine species. The drivers for participation were opportunities to learn more about marine species and contribute to scientific knowledge. The people most likely to volunteer for marine research were found to be already highly engaged in science. This implies public participation in scientific research is unlikely to bring about large-scale positive shifts in public science engagement due to pre-existing positive belief systems motivating the majority of willing participants. This research concludes that participatory approaches to science communication need to be reconsidered if the primary goal is to increase public engagement in science. A new model is presented on the influence of public participation in research on national-level public science engagement.