Dunedin Citizen Science Working Group #1: Shaping #citsci Down South via Dynamic Discussion

Transforming values through citizen science

Transforming values through citizen science

For this working group meeting (Oct 29), Alastair Cole (NZ Landcare Trust), and I met with our Dunedin-based colleague, Craig Simpson. The inaugural Dunedin working group for the ‘Citizen Science meets environmental restoration’ project meeting was held in the historic Otago Museum Annex (a former post office!), with around 30 participants joining for a full morning of discussion. As with the Auckland meeting we let participants define themes which were debated in small groups, and then as a whole group.

Participants included representatives from agencies (Dunedin City Council, Otago Regional Council and the Department of Conservation), the University of Otago, community groups, the Participatory Science Platform and private business. The NZ Landcare Trust has already facilitated 3 other meetings (Nelson, Palmerston North and Auckland), each with the purpose of establishing a network of practitioners, enablers and interested parties. The discussions in these initial gatherings are necessarily wide-ranging so that a foundation of ideas, issues and experiences can be created to support subsequent meetings.

Alastair Cole (Cit Sci Project Coordinator, LHS facing camera) & Craig Simpson (Otago Project Coordinator), both NZ Landcare Trust

Alastair Cole (Cit Sci Project Coordinator, LHS facing camera) & Craig Simpson (Otago Project Coordinator), both NZ Landcare Trust

Understanding FUNDING as an enabler
The topic of funding has been raised throughout each of the regions. The purpose of funding, elegantly summarised in the plant diagram, highlights the need for the funding to ‘sow and germinate’ the idea/project as well as sustain its growth.

Funding: context, purpose and outcomes

Funding: context, purpose and outcomes

Also discussed, was the need for creating flexible funding focused on outcomes and not rules. With funding scarce for project coordination and administration, financially supporting volunteer coordinators or project coordinators would enhance the professionalism of projects. A suggestion was to lobby for making citizen science funding and donations to be tax deductible.

Payment for expertise

Payment for expertise

Reciprocity was underscored with suggestions that groups thank all project benefactors and partners and provide them with reports, photos and other tangibles. This ‘giving back’ not only acknowledges the value of funders’ support for the project, but also provides them with ‘reflected kudos’ drawn from groups’ achievements.
How are projects sustained/supported after funding stops?

Recruiting PARTICIPANTS
‘How to move public interest into active participation/engagement – what’s the hook in?’
Solid brainstorming produced diverse solutions beginning with knowing and understanding what the project is trying to achieve. Once established a project profile can then be developed, starting with a catchy name (e.g., Naturewatch, Zooniverse, BioBlitz). A project champion(s) combined with strong supporters, good promotion/publicity and marketing (following corporate and sports-type approaches), are also critical factors. Involving well-supported young organisers was also suggested to expand the demographic profile of the project, and to create social events to promote and showcase project activities.

The working group also discussed the importance of telling simple, well-focussed stories and learning from other citizen science projects. To enhance the participation of Maori, suggestion included working with marae to build ideas, gather recruits and grow networks. To increase school participants, projects could be better aligned to the curriculum.

Broadening age group & gender for citizen science participation

Broadening age group & gender for citizen science participation

With diverse participants (e.g., citizens, scientists, students, families), an emphasis was placed on making projects easy to join, but also enabling people to become involved in a range of ways and for different time scales.

Sustaining PARTICIPATION
‘Changing volunteer pool: young people mobile so problem with long-term projects’
With the need for long-term commitment to projects, ways discussed of sustaining participation included building community capacity and breaking perceived public/science barriers by showing people that everyone can ‘do’ science. New technologies that facilitate engagement and information sharing (e.g., apps) were also suggested along with providing rewards to participants (e.g., financial credits, meaningful engagement applied to management, and celebrating successes). Giving helpful, rapid feedback was highlighted as was developing a succession plan to avoid volunteer burnout. Having a regional citizen science coordinator to provide the group/project with support as well as a hub of information sources were also put forward.

Managing DATA QUALITY
Data collection, analysis, interpretation, reporting, administration and control were all included in this discussion. The cyclical process of science was expressed as four steps that also enhance the defensibility of citizen science generated data. Training and possible expert input were identified for each step given the challenges for groups (particularly steps 2-4).
1. Sampling and study design: clear hypothesis and methodology; standardised frameworks
2. Methodology: robust to determine what the data are telling you
3. Reporting and archiving: telling the story that’s simple but not too simple; making data accessible and sharing data; using existing archives (where is the archive housed and can databases be consolidated?)
4. Evaluation: determining whether the question was answered, the study sampling/study design needs revising and how useful the results are for achieving project objectives

Determining data quality

Determining data quality

A debate evolved recognising the much broader social and cultural dimensions of citizen science projects. Developing a hypothesis from the outset can limit elements of ‘magic, surprise and curiosity’ within a project, with schools now adopting a curriculum that fosters open and creative enquiry. It was also highlighted that questions can change as a project evolves.

Expert input for strengthening data quality

Expert input for strengthening data quality

Understanding and enhancing VALUES
Citizen science was highlighted as a vehicle for increasing curiosity and for fostering inquiring and critical minds. Given the social and cultural dimension – the ‘citizen’ in citizen science, it was suggested that current science and environment centred definitions should be broadened to include values, culture, spirituality and human relationships (although for some, defining citizen science was of less importance than engaging people in projects).

Deepening and extending the socio-cultural focus of citizen science acknowledges the social benefits and values that can emerge. Trust, respect and effective communication are integral to this and are prerequisites for creating citizen science that is both collaborative and inclusive. There are however issues with silos occurring, hence the need to not limit citizen science to STE(A)M (Sci, Tech, Engineering, (Arts), Maths) education programmes. Revising the current definition of citizen science to include all forms of sci/tech may lead to innovation and new connections forming. Incorporating Maori perspectives on citizen science/projects along with how different ways of knowing (e.g., matauranga maori) and learning could be embedded in projects were also put forward, with the need for further discussion in this area acknowledged.

Key actions/principles arising from the discussion included:
– Staying flexible, adaptive and agile and incorporate feedback loops when planning and attending to communication process within the project
– Identifying collective values and the purpose at the outset and defining examining as the project matures
– Creating case studies demonstrating the benefits beyond science and including how critical thinking, curiosity and enquiry were fostered
– Developing criteria for success that include wider community benefits (relationships) and values
– Seeking a bi-cultural approach that includes Maori as initiators of projects

Creating an information HUB
The need for a ‘hub’ was raised to provide critical information on areas such as models of funding; how to apply for funding; commonly accessed and less conventional sources/methods of funding (e.g., crowdsourcing); how to be transparent when reporting on funding received and other areas such as what training is available reporting.

A wider function of a hub is to connect volunteers and project coordinators as well as regional/national projects to share key information and avoid reinventing wheels. The Participatory Science Platform e.g., holds regional road shows sharing knowledge on what is funded.

Field officer support for citizen science projects

Field officer support for citizen science projects

Providing regional and national SUPPORT
The development of a regional citizen science support network in Dunedin would assist answering questions such as ‘In Otago, what are the best ways to increase uptake/contribution to the new Hector’s Dolphin Sightings app? A key role would also be creating networking opportunities for the many groups in the region, hosting regular open workshops/forums so that ideas and resources and experience can be shared.

Next Steps: LOCAL/REGIONAL
1. Investigate both local and national examples and carry out a meta-analysis to determine the key drivers for keeping projects and communities going.
2. Develop best practice for developing and sustaining citizen science projects by investigating what has worked and what hasn’t
3. Source support for a citizen science coordinator/field officer
4. Take projects to the community/marae
5. Conduct a funding workshop for groups/organisations wishing to develop citizen science projects

Next Steps: NATIONAL
1. Focus on the social dimensions of citizen science i.e. work out the ‘why’?
2. Run workshops for scientists to learn how to work in citizen science
3. Develop a national citizen science SWAT team

The next steps for the project were run the next working group meeting (early 2017) as a practical, field-based event. Participants would look at existing groups/projects followed by lending their expertise and skills to helping an emerging project to grow. A summary of all 4 working group meetings will also be produced as a blog before the end of the year.

Any comments or ideas? Feel free to add to this post or email Alastair.Cole@landcare.org.nz

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