Researching a gamified citizen science app
Anne Bowser et al.
Figure 1: The Floracaching interface. This screen shot
illustrates the process of creating a floracache.
Floracaching is a gamified mobile application designed to gather plant
phenology data for Project Budburst (figure 1). Plant phenology data, which
includes things such as when a perennial begins to bud or when a tree’s
leaves begin to fall, is valuable to scientists who study things like the
dissemination of allergens and global climate change. In Floracaching the
central artifact that players interact with is a floracache, or a specific plant
(for example, the northern red oak planted in front of a college library)
designated as part of the game (figure 2). These floracaches are mapped in
the application so that any user can visit them. In that respect, Floracaching
shares some similarities with location-based games like Geocaching.
Users interact with the app by creating floracaches of new plants and by
checking into floracaches that already exist. Checking into a floracache
involves three optional tasks. First, after finding the floracache users check a
box to indicate the plant’s current phonological state, such as “all leaves
withered,” or “full flowering”. Second, users comment on a certain aspect of
the floracache. Users may also photograph the floracache. Floracaching is
played when users complete activities (designed to collect different types of
data) involving these tasks. For example, “Validator” asks users to visit a
new floracache and confirm its preliminary identification. These activities
can change in response to the specific needs of scientists collecting data.
 Bowser, A., Hansen, D., Boston, B., He, Y., Gunnell, L., Reid, M. & Preece, J. (2013). Using gamification to inspire new
citizen science volunteers. Submitted to Gamification Conference 2014.
 Bowser, A., Hansen, D., Preece, J., Hammock, J., He, Y., Rotman, D., Boston, C., Raphael, J., Reid, M. & Gamett, R. (2014).
Of natures and gamers: lessons from designing a mobile app for citizen science. Submitted to CSCW 2014.
 Bowser, A., Hansen, D., Raphael, J., Reid, M., Gamett, R., He, Y., Rotman, D. and Preece, J. Prototyping in PLACE: A
scalable approach to developing location-based apps and games. Proc. CHI ‘13. New York: ACM Press (2013).
Floracaching was developed as part of a co-design process involving 58
participants at 2 universities in 6 total iterations. We designed Floracaching
using PLACE, an iterative, mixed-fidelity approach to Prototyping
Location, Activities, Collective experience, and Experience over time in
location-based apps and games. As figure 3 illustrates, all of these aspects
are present in each iteration, although some aspects may be higher fidelity
than others. For example, our early iterations were considered high-fidelity
in regard to the activities that they included, but low-fidelity in their
representation of the social conditions included in the finalized game.
Figure 3: Understanding PLACE as a scalable approach to developing location-
based apps and games such as Floracaching
Figure 2: Floracaches from early and later sessions
Understanding the motivations of “natures” and “gamers”
Floracaching was created primarily to offer citizen scientists volunteers (referred
to as “natures”) a fun way of uploading their data from a mobile device. By
incorporating the motivational elements of games we also designed Floracaching
to engage a second user group of gamers and technology enthusiasts (“gamers”).
These two groups have different needs in terms of both the form an interface will
take and the specific content that it will include. Through our experiences co-
designing Floracaching we identified three key differences between these groups:
1.Gamers desire guidance, while natures prefer autonomy. During a post-
evaluation survey, gamers expressed opinions such as: “People like to be free but
sometimes it’s nice to say ‘we need this, go do this today.’” In contrast, natures
were more interested in exploring Floracaching on their own.
2.Gamers and natures integrate Floracaching into their lives differently. Natures
appreciated Floracaching because it fit well with their existing interests: “I liked it
a lot, just because I like to be outdoors.” Gamers were less willing to perform
lengthy and complex tasks, and needed the app to be convenient: “I’m not going
to drive an hour just to see if some plant bloomed.”
3.Gamers seek out challenge in a variety of game activities. In contrast, natures
prefer challenges that allow them to apply their domain knowledge, such as plant
Floracaching was recently evaluated with 71 undergraduates enrolled in a
selective science, technology, and society program. The motivations of those who
reported that they would use Floracaching (i.e., a gamified app) versus those who
would contribute to other citizen science projects are reported in table 1.
Acknowledgements: This research was conducted
as a team endeavor with other members of the
Biotracker research group (www.biotrackers.net).
This work was supported by NSF grants #CNS-
0628084 and #SES 0968456
Table 1: Comparing the motivations of participants who would use Floracaching with the
motivations of participants who would contribute to other citizen science projects
Use the Floracaching
Contribute to other
Is fun t= 4.145, p< .01 t= 3.493, p< .01
Supports my interest in plants t= 1.066, p= ns t= 3.023, p< .01
Helps me learn about plants and
t= 5.030, p< .00 t= 2.397, p< .01
Contributes to scientific data t= 1.943, p= ns t= 2.350, p< .03
Contributes to the public good t= 1.479, p= ns t= 2.190, p< .04
Can connect me to a community of
t= 3.521, p< .01 t= 1.998, p= ns
Could be a fun social activity t= 3.496, p< .01 t= 1.334, p= ns
Doing my best is motivating t= 1.275, p= ns t= 0.977, p= ns
Competing with my peers is
t= 2.044, p< .05 t= 1.374, p= ns
Earning badges is motivating t= 2.941, p< .01 t= 1.937, p= ns
Completing activities is motivating t= 3.264, p< .01 t= 2.289, p< .03