The roots of my research lie in my projects with the NZ Landcare Trust and also in the international development sector, where I worked with communities on sustainable land management projects.
Over the years, I have had the privilege of working with many community groups. Mostly made up of volunteers, hundreds of these groups throughout NZ have self-mobilised to address pressing local environmental issues. The grassroots nature of their restoration projects is what makes community-led biodiversity conservation so compelling and so unique. However, the larger question of what these groups collectively contribute to the conservation locally, regionally and nationally remains unanswered. Understanding more about groups, their projects and science activities was therefore vital.
Groups and their projects
The research, for the first time, enhances our understanding of groups at a national level: the heterogeneity of the groups themselves and their projects, the nature of their partnerships (e.g., with agencies), and the reliance groups have on those partnerships to carry out their restoration projects. The research provides insights into the interconnected socio-environmental focus of groups’ projects and groups’ function as key nodes in their communities both for environmental action, and for sharing information to the wider community about those actions and the importance of them.
The term ‘Grassroots citizen science’ was used to describe the monitoring activities carried out by groups, highlighting that the monitoring agenda is usually groups’ own. The term for this type of science was initially community-based environmental monitoring (CBEM), which now forms part of broader, highly dynamic international movement: citizen science.
- Grassroots biodiversity conservation in NZ is unique on account of being a national movement made up of autonomous groups who all identify as community restoration practitioners
- Partnerships (including government agencies, NGOs, science providers, iwi) are critical for sustaining groups, with groups diversifying their partnerships in line with funding needs
- Multiple group fora address regional issues such as kiwi decline, and there are opportunities for similar collaborative models to be developed elsewhere in NZ
- Half of groups have active output monitoring programmes with resourcing (funding and human) and technical advice required to help remaining groups develop programmes
- Large-scale, long-term volunteer programmes measuring water quality do not exist though the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management may create the opportunity for this to develop
- Community group-generated data are an underused resource although there are many attitudinal and systemic barriers currently limiting possible use
- A national strategy for how to manage and use volunteer generated data is lacking
It has been a fascinating and engaging study, where the way in which academic research is shared and promoted has changed rapidly. Outreach and communication (e.g., delivering workshops, presentations and engaging in social media), created a balance during a largely inwardly focused and in-depth period of study.
Intellectually, I gained much insight into theories of volunteer motivation and public participation, theories that after decades, are now being debated and redrawn within the context of citizen science. Citizen science has transitioned from being a practical action and social engagement movement to a research paradigm supported by a growing body of scholarship.
Personally, I enhanced my diplomacy skills (never my strong point!) – particularly when receiving reviewers’ comments for papers. Their comments highlighted a very different philosophical stance, and has made me more aware of how powerfully my work over the last two decades at the interface between science and the community has shaped my outlook. As for my grammar… that remains… patchy!