Palmerston North citizen science working group #1: A ferment of ideas!

Early morning arrival in Palmerston North
For this working group meeting (April 11), Alastair Cole (NZ Landcare Trust), and I travelled to Palmerston North. Landcare Research, tucked on the edge of the sprawling Massey campus, hosted the inaugural working group meeting for the region. With close to 40 participants, it was dynamic! The meeting was one of a series we are co-facilitating as part of the Ministry for the Environment funded project: ‘Citizen Science meets environmental restoration: Measuring success through monitoring’.

As with the Nelson working group meeting, many different sectors were represented: environmental management, research, education and policy along with community volunteers, with some new to citizen science (‘just wanted to see what it was all about’), to those already coordinating or wanting to coordinate projects. An important part of the project overall is to establish a network of practitioners, enablers and interested parties. These initial working group meetings are to scope ideas (so the discussions are necessarily wide-ranging), which can be refined in subsequent working group meetings as the project moves into years two and three.

Terminology
The term citizen science is often described as ‘public participation in scientific research’, which is very, very broad. In building a common understanding of what citizen science is, and can be in New Zealand, we need a common language. The UK Environmental Observation Framework summary was used to initiate discussion:

Volunteer collection of biodiversity and environmental information which contributes to expanding our knowledge of the natural environment, including biological monitoring and the collection or interpretation of environmental observations

Participants highlighted the lack of reference to using standardised frameworks for data collection, and wanted to broaden activities to include the ‘interpretation’ data/environmental information. Participants proposed that notions of transparency and inclusivity through open-source, open standards and open access should be integrated into any definition, along with communicating holistically. ‘Grass-roots’ should also be acknowledged given the wealth of community-led projects currently underway in NZ that include a science component.

Alastair and I will likely begin the next working group meetings (Auckland and Christchurch, mid-year) with a similar discussion.

Alastair in facilitation mode
Citizen science and mātauranga māori
The relationship between citizen science, which is based on western frameworks of design, research and interpretation, and mātauranga māori / pūtaiao mātauranga (indigenous knowledge / science, scientific technique) was acknowledged as complex and an area much in need of further investigation. Numerous examples of science-based toolkits were outlined such as the Cultural Health Index that incorporate cultural values, and are based on relevant indicators.

Communication, science and community engagement
Each of the participants outlined their area of interest, from which three broad questions emerged. These were dissected and debated in a world café set up, where each table hosted one question and participants moved around each table after a set period.

Q1: How can an information loop be created to communicate science and environmental change?
– Strengthening the use of existing traditional and social media channels and reaching out through new ones. Suggestions included ‘Citizen Science Ambassadors’
– Broadening participation to include PhD students, iwi and hapu (tribe and subtribe), immigrants
– Using a ‘common language rather than scientific language’ to communicate so that information is understood by the target audience
– Creating opportunities for community members and others to come together formally e.g., workshops or informally e.g., meetups utilising existing networks and means of communication such as email lists and newsletters
– Centralising citizen science information sources and outputs where ownership is retained. NatureWatch NZ already goes some way toward meeting this need

World cafe session in full flight
Q2: How can projects be designed to measure success where data are reliable, accurate, and useful?
The responses covered scientific, social and political domains highlighting the multi-dimensionality of monitoring. It is necessary to ask what the ‘problem’ is, then determine what should be monitored, how, as well as by whom, and for which purpose. Scientific considerations included defining the aim of the project in tandem with the outputs and outcomes to be achieved; what to measure against (and the need for accurate baselines), and how to measure. The wealth of tools available to facilitate monitoring e.g., online data bases, spreadsheets and smartphones adds a further layer of decision-making.

Knowing which other projects are underway and accessing historical studies are of strategic benefit, but another aspect is to capture ‘dying knowledge’ to avoid potentially valuable information from becoming lost.

Social practicalities include the dynamics of the group and their level of interest; their skill sets along with the time available to do work/tasks. Engaging the data collectors in the ‘nitty gritty’ of project design may also rely on volunteers’ access to expert knowledge and resources (e.g., training manuals). One participants stressed that expertise often develops as the project develops, which may affect the data.

The necessity of defining the political context of the project (e.g., iwi, Department of Conservation, local and central government), was raised, along with determining the needs and expectations of funders.

Q3: How can citizen science be used as a tool for collaboration and engagement?
Participants firstly determined the scope and nature of citizen science projects underway including monitoring (e.g., individual species; pest and weed control); interpretation and history collection. The motivation for engaging in citizen science was diverse, covering education; making a difference; personal satisfaction; upskilling; justifying funding; greenwashing; enhancing coverage and creating intergenerational knowledge as well as fulfilling statutory responsibilities. This reflects the diverse nature of actual and potential participants such as schools; retirement, iwi and community groups; farmers; scientists; local and central government; landowners, students and museums.

To address how citizen science can be used as a tool for collaboration and engagement, communication once again became a central theme. Suggestions included newspapers, flyers, websites, social media (e.g, You Tube), wananga (tertiary institution catering for māori learning needs), events (e.g., BioBlitzes), and workshops (e.g., linked to Seaweek; Waitangi Day), although accessibility related to social inequality was flagged.

Matching projects to the NZ school curriculum and creating classroom activities for Enviroschools and others was another avenue discussed. The need for central information hubs was reiterated as well as utilizing existing online database such as Land, Air, Water Aotearoa. Lastly, collaboration between groups and agencies on projects to address duplication/share resources was highlighted.
Reporting back to the group at the end of the world cafe session
Working group wrap up
For the final question centering on the steps needed to progress citizen science regionally or nationally both reiterated and condensed points made during table discussions. It formed the beginning of a prioritisation process which will be expanded on as the project matures.

Science: Reliable, quality data that are accessible and communicated back to data providers / users
Coordination: Within and between projects as well as with other stakeholders. Coordination with with the maori pūtaiao (matauranga pūtaiao = science, scientific technique) space is also required
Technology: Developing and harnessing technology
Motivation: Incentivising project participants and maintaining energy levels
Centralisation: A citizen science hub e.g., including projects, available expertise in the form of a ‘Go To’ group for advice and support covering e.g., project development, scientific design, community engagement.

What next?
Participants invariably raised many questions, and flagged multiple areas for consideration. The next step – once meetings in Auckland and Christchurch have taken place, may include the following:
– Define citizen science for the New Zealand context
– Reflect on the potential synergies and discords between mātauranga māori/ pūtaiao mātauranga (indigenous knowledge / science, scientific technique) and citizen science
– Continue prioritising the practical steps needed to progress environmental citizen science to understand regional (i.e. working group) and national actions
– Determine who should be responsible, and how these steps can best be actioned

Background reading supplied:

Conrad, C. C., & Hilchey, K. G. (2011). A review of citizen science and community-based environmental monitoring: issues and opportunities. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 176(1-4), 273-291.
Peters, M. A., Eames, C., & Hamilton, D. (2015). The use and value of citizen science data in New Zealand. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, 45(3), 151-160
Wiggins, A., Newman, G., Stevenson, R. D., & Crowston, K. (2011). Mechanisms for data quality and validation in citizen science. Ine-Science Workshops (eScienceW), 2011 IEEE Seventh International Conference on (pp. 14-19). IEEE.

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One response to “Palmerston North citizen science working group #1: A ferment of ideas!

  1. Pingback: Auckland citizen science working group #1: Debating Funding, Education, Tech, Data & Collaboration… | monicalogues·

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