Research snapshot #4

Monica Peters 3MT contestant, Perth 2014

Browsing through the latest Nature Space newsletter reminds me why I undertook this PhD. The endlessly inspiring stories raise important questions of how community environmental groups could be situated within the growing citizen science movement in NZ and what input groups may provide to shaping community freshwater objectives under the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

I am currently writing up the wealth of data collected through last year’s questionnaire. The first article “Action on the ground: A review of community environmental groups’ restoration objectives, activities and partnerships in New Zealand” has been submitted to the NZ Journal of Ecology. The journal’s open access policy means that content remains accessible to the people for whom the content matters such as environmental managers and community groups. Two more articles are also in preparation, “Engaging in citizen science: community environmental monitoring in New Zealand” (working title), and “The use and value of citizen science data in New Zealand” (working title). The latter also incorporates data from interviews carried out with resource managers, scientists, environmental consultants and NGO staff.

In addition, I am also writing a chapter on citizen science for an updated version of a Lake Restoration Handbook (to be published in 2015). By comparison to its more narrowly focused predecessor, this version acknowledges the multifaceted nature of restoring these complex systems and therefore includes social, cultural political and economic considerations.

I’d like to add a thank you to both of my supervisors Prof. David Hamilton and Dr. Chris Eames for their unfailing support, patience and insightful comments on my various manuscripts.

Recently I had an opportunity to present my research in a different way – summarised into a speech 2 minutes and 50 seconds long, with a single slide as a backdrop. As last year’s 3MT (3 Minute Thesis) overall winner at the University of Waikato, I had a chance earlier this month to compete against 47 other winners from universities throughout Australasia and Southeast Asia. It was a privilege to be among so many passionate and skilled communicators.

The main angle I outlined in my speech was how community generated data has the potential for wider use beyond the scope of groups’ own restoration projects. This also forms the purpose of my research trip to the US where I’ll be based until early December 2014. In looking more closely at volunteer water quality monitoring programs, I aim to see what can be learned from US examples that could be reconfigured to suit NZ. Being a practical person, I’m curious about the nuts and bolts of running a monitoring program reliant on voluntary input by community members. I will also explore key aspects of programs such as quality assurance/control procedures, maintaining volunteer momentum, sourcing funding… it’s a sizable list!

The wealth of community/volunteer monitoring initiatives in the US show what an incredibly valuable contribution can be made by community volunteers towards better understanding environmental change. Though resourcing for establishing and supporting programs are ongoing challenges (many conversations with US counterparts over the last few days have underscored that), ingredients also highlighted for successful large-scale citizen science/volunteer monitoring initiatives include long-term vision, leadership, and strategic direction. Though the research trip has barely begun, programs appear to be incredibly diverse which raises the question of how program structure is linked to outcomes. Exploring that however will have to be basis of another trip…!

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