Sneak Peek: An inventory of #citizenscience projects, tools and training opportunities in NZ

Holding a pateke, Moehau Environment GroupAs a part of the NZ Landcare Trust Citizen Science Meets Environmental Restoration project. I’ve been charged with bringing an inventory together that provide a snapshot of what’s happening around New Zealand. It will be a first. At this stage we need something comprehensive so that we can (1) determine the nature and scope of citizen science in NZ and, (2) evolve discussion around how citizen science can best be supported to achieve environmental as well as educational outcomes.

As I made progress on my PhD (now sitting on someone’s dining room table, somewhere, awaiting marking…), I began a spreadsheet of projects as I came across them. It wasn’t difficult given that citizen science projects have flourished around NZ, and that the use of term citizen science has gone a bit viral. It quickly became clear that using existing categories to characterise our projects wasn’t going to work that well, and that I’d have to come up with an alternative. I’ve steered away from looking at how participants are involved (see Bonney et al, 2009), and instead looked more at project structure, given the strength of the community-led restoration movement.

Four main categories of citizen science have materialised:

1. Crowd-sourced and open-ended
Data (e.g., observations of species or phenomena), are provided by volunteers to project coordinators either through direct entry into an online database, or manually through field data sheets. These projects are ongoing – there isn’t a recognised season or month as data can be submitted anytime. Because of the level of coordination required, these projects are often led by government agencies, universities or science providers. Examples of project objectives include determining long-term trends and investigating species distributions.
The Department of Conservation’s Marine mammal sightings and GEONET felt earthquake reports (a collaboration between the Earthquake Commission and Geological and Nuclear Sciences are good examples, though Naturewatch NZ is run by the New Zealand Bio-Recording Network Trust.

2. Crowd-sourced, time limited and repeated
Data are sourced from members of the public though over a limited time frame for specific projects. (e.g., The Great Kereru Count). There is often an emphasis on participant education. Examples include agency – community partnerships where agencies work with a specific group of people e.g. local residents, iwi/hapu, community environmental groups. Many of the surveys led by the Ornithological Society of NZ are also included in this category.

Cockle monitoring, Moehau Environment Group3. Crowd-sourced one-off events
Data are collected by the public in response to events such as floods, or to collect baseline data across all flora, fauna and fungi species from a locality as a Bioblitz or an Ecoblitz. Objectives may or may not include participant education.

4. Community-led monitoring / grassroots citizen science
This category I am intimately familiar with as it forms the basis of my PhD. In short: community environmental groups develop monitoring programmes to meet their restoration objectives. These programmes may be output-based (e.g., measuring the number of predators trapped) or designed to measure the outcomes of restoration management (e.g., change in populations and diversity of avifauna). Technical advice is often provided by partners from government agencies. Data are typically used to support funding applications and to guide restoration management, and often remain with the group themselves (Peters et al., 2015a,b, Peters et al., in press)

Also included will be a summary of the wealth of resources out there to help develop projects, to carry out monitoring across diverse ecosystem types and to evaluate learning outcomes. Diverse learning opportunities for wannabe citizen scientists as well as refreshers for more seasoned participants will likewise form a chapter.

The inventory will be available July, and I’ve shoulder tapped a few intelligent professional contacts to ensure that the content makes the grade. My fabulous colleague at the NZ Landcare Trust will be working her design magic on the final product. The inventory will be downloadable from the NZ Landcare Trust website and from my blog as well.

Bonney, R., et al., 2009. Public participation in scientific research: Defining the field and assessing its potential for informal science education. Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education: Washington, USA. p. 58.

Peters, M.A., D. Hamilton, and C. Eames, 2015. Action on the ground: A review of community environmental groups’ restoration objectives, activities and partnerships in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, . 29(2): 179-189.

Peters, M.A., C. Eames, and D. Hamilton, 2015. The use and value of citizen science data in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, . 45(3): 151-160.

Peters, M.A., D. Hamilton, and C. Eames. The current state of community based environmental monitoring in New Zealand (in press)

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