Citizen Science 2015 marked the inaugural meeting of the Citizen Science Association from Feb 11- 12 in San Jose, California. Over 600 participants from 25 different countries converged to discuss the increasing contribution of citizen science to both scientific research and education.
Participants included scientists-turned-communicators, educators, researchers, technology specialists, geeks, community citizen science practitioners, program managers and many others. Notably absent were policy makers and environmental managers – those who benefit from data produced by volunteers within citizen science projects.
The conference opened with a key note by Dr. Chris Filardi who currently directs the Pacific Programs at the New York-based Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation. Dr. Filardi illuminated his personal journey from being a bird-focussed scientist working in remote Papua New Guinea to one who gradually began to understand, appreciate and reframe his research questions within a far broader socio-ecological context. Situating science squarely within society formed a meta-theme of the conference and was presented through many different formats and narratives.
Participants were spoiled for choice: six concurrent sessions comprised speed talks, panels, workshops, ‘standard’ presentations and storytelling. A lengthy poster session wrapped up Day One and a Bioblitz in downtown San Jose featured in Day Two. Topics included: research and evaluation; broadening engagement; lifelong learning; digital opportunities and best practices. Within these topics we learned about participatory action research with nomadic herders in central Asia and tourists in the Caribbean; citizen science as a vehicle for social justice; sophisticated volunteer networks providing equally sophisticated biological data for management decision-making… in all a bewildering array of projects with community volunteers in the starring role. Creative means for engaging volunteers and evolving projects to enable both changing social and scientific needs to be met, also provided much food for thought.
The use of technology was inevitably a well-explored theme with each session generating a continuous commentary via twitter and other social media channels. The spectrum of technology ranged from crowds and clouds, to literally sellotape and string. At the DIY end were community mapping projects in utilizing a tethered balloon with a basic digital camera dangling below – the shoot button depressed with a strategically placed stone held in place with a rubber band. At the opposite end of the spectrum was online gaming involving tens of thousands of participants around the globe mapping the brain.
So where does New Zealand fit into all of this? I provided an overview of “grassroots” citizen science, in other words the monitoring carried out by community groups within their environmental restoration projects. I used kiwi call counts in Northland as a case study to demonstrate the integration of volunteer data with wider iconic species recovery efforts, and contrasted this with habitat data collection. The latter mostly remains within groups and is not shared with resource managers let alone science providers.
The 3 New Zealanders present were all from universities: Waikato, Victoria and Lincoln. Given the current interest (and investment) in citizen science from the government, sending staff – even just one person, would have opened a world of opportunity. Citizen science is global and we’re part of it. There’s plenty to learn from overseas examples and if we do a good job of providing leadership and strategic direction for citizen science here in New Zealand, there’ll be plenty to learn from us too.
This is one of many blogs that have emerged from the conference: Muki Haklay from Extreme Citizen Science has links to other posts on his own blog. Into twitter? then check out the #citsci2015 conversation thread.