Interfacing participation in citizen science projects with conversational agents




chatbots, citizen science, engagement, machine learning, communication


This paper assesses the use of conversational agents (chatbots) as an interface to enhance communication with participants in citizen science projects. After developing a study of the engagement and motivations to interact with chatbots, we explored our results. We based our analysis on the current needs exposed in citizen science literature to assess the opportunities. We found that chatbots are great communication platforms that can help to engage participants as an all-in-one interface. Chatbots can benefit projects in reducing the need for developing an exclusive app while it can be deployed on several platforms. Finally, we establish design suggestions to help citizen science practitioners to incorporate such platforms to new projects. We encourage the development of more advanced interfaces through the incorporation of Machine Learning to several processes.

Author Biography

Manuel Portela, Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Postdoc Researcher at Web Science and Social Computing (WSSC) Department of Engineering and Technologies of Information and Communication (ETIC)


Amato, F., Marrone, S., Moscato, V., Piantadosi, G., Picariello, A., & Sansone, C. (2017). Chatbots meet ehealth: Automatizing healthcare. CEUR Workshop Proceedings, 1982, 40–49.

Androutsopoulou, A., Karacapilidis, N., Loukis, E., & Charalabidis, Y. (2019). Transforming the communication between citizens and government through AI-guided chatbots. Government Information Quarterly, 36(2), 358–367.

Attridge-Stirling, J. (2001). Thematic networks: an analytic tool for qualitative research. Qualitative Research, 1(3), 385–405.

Bickmore, T., & Cassell, J. (2005). Social Dialogue with Embodied Conversational Agents. In J. C. J. van Kuppevelt, L. Dybkjær, & N. O. Bernsen (Eds.), Advances in Natural Multimodal Dialogue Systems (pp. 23–54). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Brandtzaeg, P. B., & Følstad, A. (2017). Why people use chatbots. In Lecture Notes in Computer Science (including subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics) (Vol. 10673 LNCS, pp. 377–392).

Brenton, P., von Gavel, S., Vogel, E., & Lecoq, M.-E. (2019). Technology infrastructure for citizen science. In Citizen Science (pp. 63–80).

Celino, I., Calegari, G. R., & Fiano, A. (2016). Towards Talkin’Piazza: Engaging citizens through playful interaction with urban objects. In 2016 IEEE International Smart Cities Conference (ISC2) (pp. 1–5). IEEE.

Cvitanovic, C., van Putten, E. I., Hobday, A. J., Mackay, M., Kelly, R., McDonald, J., … Barnes, P. (2018). Building trust among marine protected area managers and community members through scientific research: Insights from the Ningaloo Marine Park, Australia. Marine Policy, 93(May), 195–206.

Eitzel, M. V, Cappadonna, J. L., Santos-Lang, C., Duerr, R. E., Virapongse, A., West, S. E., … Jiang, Q. (2017). Citizen Science Terminology Matters: Exploring Key Terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 2(1), 1.

European Commission. (2019). Building Trust in Human-Centric Artificial Intelligence. Retrieved from

Gajendar, U. (2016). Empathizing with the smart and invisible. Interactions, 23(4), 24–25.

Goebel, R. (2012). Intelligent Virtual Agents. In Y. Nakano, M. Neff, A. Paiva, & M. Walker (Eds.), 12th International Conference, IVA 2012, Santa Cruz, CA, USA, September, 12-14, 2012. Proceedings (Vol. 7502). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Haklay, M. (2013). Citizen science and volunteered geographic information: Overview and typology of participation. In Crowdsourcing Geographic Knowledge: Volunteered Geographic Information (VGI) in Theory and Practice (Vol. 9789400745, pp. 105–122).

Haklay, M. (2019). Participatory citizen science. In Citizen Science (pp. 52–62).

Heritage, J. (1991). Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Garfinkel and Ethnomethodology. Wiley.

Hubal, R. C., Fishbein, D. H., Sheppard, M. S., Paschall, M. J., Eldreth, D. L., & Hyde, C. T. (2008). How do varied populations interact with embodied conversational agents? Findings from inner-city adolescents and prisoners. Computers in Human Behavior, 24(3), 1104–1138.

Independent High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence. (2019). Definition of AI: Main Capabilities and Disciplines. Retrieved from

Io, H. N., & Lee, C. B. (2018). Chatbots and conversational agents: A bibliometric analysis. IEEE International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, 2017–Decem, 215–219.

Irwin, A. (1995). Citizen science: A study of people, expertise and sustainable development. Routledge.

Kieslinger, B., Schäfer, T., Heigl, F., Dörler, D., Richter, A., & Bonn, A. (2018). Evaluating Citizen Science: Towards an open framework. In Citizen Science - Innovation in Open Science, Society and Policy (p. in press).

Kullenberg, C., & Kasperowski, D. (2016). What is citizen science? - A scientometric meta-analysis. PLoS ONE, 11(1), 1–16.

Luger, E., & Sellen, A. (2016). “Like Having a Really Bad PA.” In Proceedings of the 2016 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’16 (pp. 5286–5297). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Lynch, M. (1994). Scientific practice and ordinary action. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moore, R. J. (2018). Studies in Conversational UX Design.

Okamoto, M., Yang, Y., & Ishida, T. (2001). Wizard of Oz Method for Learning Dialog Agents. In M. Klusch & F. Zambonelli (Eds.), Cooperative Information Agents V: 5th InternationalWorkshop, CIA 2001 Modena, Italy, September 6--8, 2001 Proceedings (pp. 20–25). Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Paikari, E., & Van Der Hoek, A. (2018). A framework for understanding chatbots and their future. Proceedings - International Conference on Software Engineering, 13–16.

Partala, T., Surakka, V., & Lahti, J. (2004). Affective Effects of Agent Proximity in Conversational Systems. In Proceedings of the Third Nordic Conference on Human-computer Interaction (pp. 353–356). New York, NY, USA: ACM.

Peters, C. B., Zhan, Y., Schwartz, M. W., Godoy, L., & Ballard, H. L. (2017). Trusting land to volunteers: How and why land trusts involve volunteers in ecological monitoring. Biological Conservation, 208, 48–54.

Piccolo, L. S. G., Mensio, M., & Alani, H. (2019). Chasing the Chatbots. In Studies in Computational Intelligence (Vol. 342, pp. 157–169). Springer International Publishing.

Piccolo, L. S. G., Roberts, S., Iosif, A., & Alani, H. (2018). Designing chatbots for crises: A case study contrasting potential and reality. Proceedings of the 32nd International BCS Human Computer Interaction Conference, HCI 2018.

Portela, M., & Granell-canut, C. (2017). A new friend in our Smartphone ? Observing Interactions with Chatbots in the search of emotional engagement. In Proceedings of Interacción ’17.

Preece, J. (2016). Citizen Science: New Research Challenges for Human–Computer Interaction. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 7318(June), 1–28.

Ruijten, P. A. M., Midden, C. J. H., & Ham, J. (2016). Ambiguous Agents: The Influence of Consistency of an Artificial Agent’s Social Cues on Emotion Recognition, Recall, and Persuasiveness. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 32(9), 734–744.

Sacks, H. (1992). Lectures on Conversation. Victoria (Vol. 1). Wiley.

Sacks, H., Schegloff, E. A., & Jefferson, G. (1974). A Simplest Systematics for the Organization of Turn-Taking for Conversation. In Language (Vol. 50, pp. 696–735). Linguistic Society of America. Retrieved from

Sangati, F., Abramova, E., & Monti, J. (2018). DialettiBot: A telegram bot for crowdsourcing recordings of Italian dialects. CEUR Workshop Proceedings, 2253.

Schröter, M., Kraemer, R., Mantel, M., Kabisch, N., Hecker, S., Richter, A., … Bonn, A. (2017). Citizen science for assessing ecosystem services: Status, challenges and opportunities. Ecosystem Services, 28, 80–94.

Sharma, N., Greaves, S., Siddharthan, A., Anderson, H. B., Robinson, A., Colucci-Gray, L., … van der Wal, R. (2019). From citizen science to citizen action: Analysing the potential for a digital platform to cultivate attachments to nature. Journal of Science Communication, 18(1), 1–35.

Shaw, B. J., Draux, H., García Martín, M., Martin, J., & Bieling, C. (2017). Contributions of citizen science to landscape democracy: potentials and challenges of current approaches. Landscape Research, 42(8), 831–844.

Shirk, J., Ballard, H. H. L., Wilderman, C. C., Phillips, T., Wiggins, A., Jordan, R., … Bonney, R. (2012). Public participation in scientific research: a framework for intentional design. Ecology and Society, 17(2), 29.

Skarlatidou, A., Hamilton, A., Vitos, M., & Haklay, M. (2019). What do volunteers want from citizen science technologies? A systematic literature review and best practice guidelines. Journal of Science Communication, 18(1), 1–23.

Skjuve, M. B., & Brandtzæg, P. B. (2018). Chatbots as a new user interface for providing health information to young people. In Y. Andersson, U. Dalquist, & J. Ohlsson (Eds.), Youth and news in a digital media - Nordic-Baltic perspectives (pp. 59–66).

Spiers, H., Swanson, A., Fortson, L., Simmons, B. D., Trouille, L., Blickhan, S., & Lintott, C. (2019). Everyone counts? Design considerations in online citizen science. Journal of Science Communication, 18(1), 1–32.

Starkey, E., Parkin, G., Birkinshaw, S., Large, A., Quinn, P., & Gibson, C. (2017). Demonstrating the value of community-based (‘citizen science’) observations for catchment modelling and characterisation. Journal of Hydrology, 548, 801–817.

Surmenok, P. (2016). Chatbot Architecture. Retrieved September 9, 2016, from

Tallyn, E., Fried, H., Gianni, R., Isard, A., & Speed, C. (2018). The Ethnobot. In Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - CHI ’18 (pp. 1–13). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.

Tavanapour, N., Poser, M., & Bittner, E. A. C. (2019). Supporting the Idea Generation Process in Citizen Participation - Toward an Interactive System With a Conversational Agent As Citizen Participation - Toward an Interactive. Proceedings of the European Conference on Information Systems (ECIS), 1–17.

Vallabh, P., Lotz-Sisitka, H., O’Donoghue, R., & Schudel, I. (2016). Mapping epistemic cultures and learning potential of participants in citizen science projects. Conservation Biology, 30(3), 540–549.

Wallace, R. S. (2009). The Anatomy of A.L.I.C.E. In R. Epstein, G. Roberts, & G. Beber (Eds.), Parsing the Turing Test: Philosophical and Methodological Issues in the Quest for the Thinking Computer (pp. 181–210). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.

Zamora, J. (2017). I’m Sorry, Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That. In Proceedings of the 5th International Conference on Human Agent Interaction - HAI ’17 (Vol. 41, pp. 253–260). New York, New York, USA: ACM Press.




How to Cite

Portela, M. (2021). Interfacing participation in citizen science projects with conversational agents. Human Computation, 8(2), 33-53.