Construction and validation of a scale system to measure motivational and organisational functions of

Voluntary Engagement in Citizen Science Projects for Nature Conservation

The significance of voluntary science to society has attracted particular attention recently. In the past ten years, the active participation of citizens in scientific research processes has experienced a considerable boom. The main aims of these projects are essentially the mutual transfer of knowledge between science and society and the increase in public awareness and acceptance of scientific research. At the same time, given the limited financial resources in nature conservation and natural science, there is an increasing need to involve helpful volunteers actively in projects. Citizen Science is therefore a form of participation that seeks solutions for socio-scientific issues (SSI) and serves the communication of and participation in science - currently politically highly valued goals.


Both methodically and conceptually, these topics provide important links to psychology. This volunteerism can be defined as a form of prosocial behaviour. In this paper, the concept is extended to voluntary natural scientific activities in which wildlife and its habitats, not humans, are the beneficiaries.


Very little empirical data is available on the motivational structures of citizen scientists and the organisational framework that promotes engagement. The use of differing survey instruments, questions and analyses makes the findings difficult to compare with each other. A unified inventory to measure these aspects systematically is lacking.


For this purpose the scale system MORFEN-CS (Motivational and ORganisational Functions of voluntary ENgagement in Citizen Science) was developed and tested. Based on findings from the relatively well explored volunteerism in the context of social and charitable engagement, it was postulated that the commitment to natural science projects fulfills not only one function, but simultaneously several functions for the individual. The new inventory was based on the theoretical Model of Influences on Participation in Citizen Science (Penner, 2002) and utilised in parts the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI; Clary, Snyder, Ridge et al., 1998) and the Scales of the Attitude Structure of Volunteers (SEEH, Bierhoff, Schülken & Hoof, 2007).


Based on intensive literature research as well on focus group discussions and expert interviews (study 1, N = 38) these item pools were revised and complemented with new functions. The scale system was applied in a pretest (study 2, N = 11) and in an online survey of N = 209 citizen scientists (study 3), using a four-level scale. The respondents were involved in a citizen science project and had collected hair samples of the European Wildcat over several years. These were genetically analysed and transferred to a nationwide database. A first construct validation was conducted. The model structure was confirmed in line with the hypothesis using confirmatory factor analyses. The results indicate an acceptable to good quality of the scales. MORFEN-CS 1 includes eight motivational functions loading on two superior factors (four prosocial functions, i.e. nature conservation values, socio-political responsibility, citizen science, social motives, and four self-serving functions, i.e. training, recognition, work-life balance, career) as well as four organisational functions (i.e. project organisation, project coordination, communication, and qualification) loading on one superior factor.


For application in a fourth study, the items were slightly revised, a few added and presented with a six-level response scale. Participants in this survey were citizen scientists who are studying the insects of Saxony and are working locally to improve insect-friendly habitats
(N = 216). The multifactorial structure of MORFEN-CS 2 was replicated by confirmatory factor analyses. Once again, the eight motivational and four organisational functions were found. In contrast to study 3, however, the models with superior factors had to be rejected. The examination of convergent validity was carried out with four short scales, which show similarities between selected functions and the concepts self-determination / autonomy (Neubauer & Voss, 2016), self-efficacy (Beierlein, Kovaleva, Kemper & Rammstedt, 2014), need for cognition (Beißert, Köhler, Rempel, Beierlein, 2015) and connectedness with nature (Schultz, 2002). The positive matches tend to show the expected pattern, and for some, the relationships are also significant. However, the overall very low correlations speak rather for an autonomy of the new scales. The criterion validity test was carried out by correlations with selected socio-demographic variables. Conforming to the hypothesis the social motives become more important with increasing age and the career function becomes less important. Satisfaction with the overall project is slightly higher for younger people.

The publication of this psychometric personality test as an aid to collective diagnostics should contribute to a standardisation of empirical data collection in this field and thus facilitate the comparability between different projects and participation formats. Due to methodological limitations resulting from the projects examined, MORFEN-CS 2 is not to be understood as a finished inventory, but rather as a basis for further research and constructive development. The latter is discussed in detail.


In addition to presenting the scale system the work has another aim: to describe the two groups of volunteers as comprehensively as possible, and to provide detailed information about personal pre-requisites and characteristics of Citizen Scientists in Germany for the first time. Some of the findings are of immediate relevance to the planning and implementation of future citizen science projects. For this reason, conclusions and detailed recommendations for practical nature conservation projects are formulated.





deutsch – english



Ich engagiere mich in diesem Projekt, weil (ich) ...

I am volunteering in this project, because (I) ...


Gemeinnützige Motive

Prosocial functions



Nature conservation values


...etwas für eine Sache tun kann, die mir persönlich wichtig ist.

...can do something for a cause that is personally important to me.


...meine persönlichen Werte zu den Projektzielen passen. personal values match the project goals.

3 dem Projekt aktiv zum Naturschutz beitragen kann.

...can actively contribute to nature conservation in the project.


...mich gerne für (wildlebende) Tiere einsetze. to support the preservation of wildlife.


...dem Verlust der Lebensräume etwas entgegensetzen will.

...want to do something to help to stop the loss of habitats.


Soziale Motive

Social Motives


...dadurch Teil einer Gemeinschaft bin, die sich für dieselbe Sache einsetzt.

... am part of a community supporting the same cause.


...mich mit anderen gemeinsam engagieren kann.

...can get involved together with others.


...Leute mit ähnlichen Interessen treffe. people with similar interests.


Gesellschaftspolitische Verantwortung

Socio-political responsibility


...ich Missstände im Naturschutz beheben helfen möchte. to rectify deficits in nature conservation.


...ich eine gesellschaftlich sinnvolle Aufgabe erfüllen möchte. to perform a socially meaningful task.


...ich naturschutz-politische Veränderungen anstoßen möchte. to initiate political changes concerning nature conservation.


Citizen Science

Citizen Science


...damit einem wissenschaftlichen Forschungsprojekt diene.

...want to support a scientific research project.


...über das Projekt mit Wissenschaftler*innen in einen fachlichen Austausch komme. interested in a professional exchange with scientists in the project.


...wissenschaftliche Prozesse besser verstehen lerne.

...can learn to understand scientific processes better.


...damit einen Beitrag zur Artenerfassung und zum Umweltmonitoring leisten kann.

...want to contribute to species identification and environmental monitoring.


...zum Austausch des Wissens zwischen Bürger*innen und Forscher*innen beitragen kann.

...can engage in knowledge exchange among citizens and scientists.


Selbstdienliche Motive

Self-serving functions





...ich neue Sichtweisen auf Natur gewinnen kann.

...can gain new perspectives on nature.


...ich durch mein konkretes Handeln Neues lerne und praktisch anwenden kann.

...through my concrete actions I can learn something new and apply it.


...ich theoretisches Fachwissen und Methoden lernen und anwenden kann.

...can learn and apply theoretical knowledge and methods.





...den Eindruck habe, gebraucht zu werden.

...get the impression of being needed.


...für meinen Beitrag eine Anerkennung erhalte.

...receive recognition for my contribution.


...mich dabei selbst verwirklichen kann.

...can self-realise myself.



Work life balance

23 meinem Engagement alles so tun kann, wie ich möchte - anders als im Berufsleben.

...can do everything I want in my volunteering - unlike in professional life


...einen sinnvollen Ausgleich zu meinem Beruf suche.

...find a meaningful balance to my professional job.


...mich durch den Aufenthalt in der freien Natur von beruflichen Anforderungen erholen kann.

...can recover from job requirements by being in nature.





...Erfahrungen machen möchte, die ich auch im Beruf nutzen kann. to make experiences that I can also use in my job.


...sich das freiwillige Engagement positiv auf meine beruflichen Kompetenzen auswirken kann.

...volunteering might positively affect my professional skills.


...Kontakte knüpfen und pflegen kann, die für meine berufliche Entwicklung von Vorteil sein können.

...can establish and cultivate contacts that can be beneficial for my career.




Organisationale Funktionen

organisational functions



Ich engagiere mich in diesem Projekt, weil (ich) ...

I am volunteering in this project, because (I) ...





...mir klar ist, welche Aufgabe(n) ich im Projekt übernehmen kann.

...know which tasks I can perform in the project.

2 Projekt eine Einführung in wissenschaftliche Methoden bekomme. getting an introduction into scientific methods.


... mit einer wissenschaftlichen Methode arbeiten kann.

...can work with scientific methods.





...Zeit und Dauer meines Engagements selbst bestimmen kann.

...determine time and duration of my engagement myself.

5 einen regelmäßigen Austausch mit den Projektkoordinatoren gibt.

...there is regular contact with the project staff.

6 im Projekt verschiedene Aufgaben und Aktionen gibt, die ich mir selbst auswählen kann.

...can choose between different tasks and actions in the project.


...mich insgesamt gut betreut fühle. experiencing good support overall.


Kommunikation und Rückmeldung

Communication and Feedback


...zeitnah eine Rückmeldung über die Ergebnisse meiner Arbeit erhalte.

...promptly get feedback on the results of my work.


...über die Erfolge im Gesamtprojekt informiert werde. given information on successes in the overall project.


...insgesamt den Eindruck habe, dass mein persönliches Engagement hilfreich für das Gesamtprojekt ist.

...get the impression that my personal engagement is helpful for the entire project.





...das Projekt insgesamt sehr gut organisiert ist.

...the project is very well organised overall.


...Arbeitsmaterialien zur Verfügung gestellt werden. materials are provided.


...mir das übergeordnete Projektziel klar ist.

...the overall project goal is clear to me.


...das Projekt durch einen Verein/eine Organisation betreut wird.

...the project is carried by a society/organisation.


Notes: Six-point scale. 1 = strongly disagree, 6 = strongly agree




See publications for more information (or get in contact):

Nicola Moczek. Freiwilliges Engagement für Citizen-Science-Projekte im Naturschutz. (German)

Pabst Science Publishers, Lengerich; 11/2019; 276 Seiten

Print (30 Euro):  ISBN 978-3-95853-560-2; eBook (15 Euro): ISBN 978-3-95853-561-9


Moczek, N.; Nuss, M. & Köhler, J.K. (2021). Volunteering in the Citizen Science Project “Insects of Saxony”—The Larger the Island of Knowledge, the Longer the Bank of Questions. Insects 2021, 12(3), 262; Special Issue The Citizen Science Approach for Expanding the Research on Insects



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