#CitSci – Connecting local, regional, national and international initiatives… and mapping out pathways forward

Wellington waterfront

Poetry along the Wellington waterfront

It’s a busy time for citizen science: the Australian Citizen Science Association hosted a 3-day conference (#CitScioz2018, Adelaide, Feb 7-9) which drew local and international visitors to showcase major projects (e.g., Eyewire), and discuss areas such as policy development. While most delegates flew home, Dr. Lea Shanley (Co-Executive Director, Big South Data Hub, co-founder and former co-Chair of the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Community of Practice), crossed the Tasman to spend some time in NZ. She suggested we meet in Wellington to discuss how best to progress citizen science at a more strategic level in NZ. The following captures some of the main points in the meeting.

Growing citizen science networks

Team leader for Urban Ecology at Wellington City Council, Myfanwy Emeny, hosted the meeting which brought together Dr. Shanley, Brent Beaven, PF2050 Manager (DOC), Chris Arcus, Science developer (Ministry of Education), Terry Fenn, a secondary teacher on secondment to Min Ed), Charlotte Woods, Policy Analyst (Ministry for the Environment), and me, an independent citizen science projects coordinator and researcher (people+science). Victoria Metcalfe, National Coordinator, Participatory Science Platform (OPMCSA) listened in via Skype.

Bush City, Te Papa

Bush City, Te Papa: a 20 year old forest created on a small island outside the National Museum

The morning began with Dr. Shanley providing the US Federal Govt. definition of ‘citizen science’ (the term though widely used in NZ, is rarely fully defined).

Citizen science is…

“Contributions of the public to the advancement of scientific and engineering research and monitoring in ways that may include:

  • Identifying research questions
  • Designing/conducting investigations
  • Designing/building/testing low cost sensors
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Developing data applications
  • Developing technologies for science
  • Solving complex problems”

Dr. Shanley’s work in the US has included founding and co-Chairing the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Community of Practice. She worked closely with the White House to design the Memorandum on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science and the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act. CitizenScience.gov (which includes the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit) was developed through mobilizing federal staff. These achievements naturally raise the question of how we could expand and shape existing efforts to take citizen science further in New Zealand.

A vision for citizen science in NZ?

What is the overall vision for citizen science in NZ? We have 500+ community environmental groups with an unknown number monitoring their management efforts and less still, monitoring their conservation achievements. A suite of university-led/institution/organization led projects are now well-established, e.g., the annual Garden Bird Survey and Naturewatch NZ. There are initiatives that investigate climate change impacts (e.g., Kingtides Auckland), biosecurity (e.g., Myrtle Rust Reporter), cultural health (e.g., CHI), environmental health and condition (e.g., SHMAK), natural disasters (e.g., GNS felt earthquake reporting, citizen flood mapping). An ever-expanding range of technology and tools designed facilitate data collection, analysis and reporting (e.g., Trap.NZ, Hector’s Dolphin Sightings and WaiNZ). The 10yr Curious Minds Strategy (a joint Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment and Ministry for Education initiative) provides a valuable foundation for participatory science projects as well as  critical funding.

Identifying barriers

To progress citizen science at a more strategic level in the US, Dr. Shanley and her team first identified, and then systematically addressed the following barriers:

  • Silos
  • Trust (Credibility, Data Quality)
  • Administrative (Paperwork Reduction Act, Anti-deficiency Act)
  • Legal and Ethical considerations
  • Security (Cybersecurity, Safety)
  • Sustainability (Volunteer motivations, incentives)
  • Data Sharing and Cyber Infrastructure (Sustainably manage sharing citizen science data, metadata, and related media).
  • Project Evaluation and Impact
  • Value of citizen science (social and economic)

Moving forward

Many of the above themes also emerged as key barriers during NZLT Citizen Science Working Group meetings. In the US, Dr. Shanley and colleagues established monthly meetings to connect Govt. with researchers, practitioners, industry, and volunteers. A federal listserv enabled a direct exchange of expertise, resources, information. Staff that could champion citizen science within their own agencies/organisations were also identified. To showcase successes, a series of succinct case studies New Visions in Citizen Science, were published.

Further critical steps included both written and public endorsements for citizen science by key decision-makers (Govt. officials, chief scientists and executives). To underscore the broad relevance of citizen science citizen science, projects were aligned with Open Government, Open Data, and Open Science Govt. initiatives.

Arrival, Wellington

Arriving in Wellington

The US Federal Citizen Science Toolkit

An online comprehensive toolkit was developed and includes basic steps for planning, designing and implementing citizen science projects; case studies of existing agency projects, and a resource library.

Defining policy and boosting funding

Dr. Shanley and colleagues worked with Obama White House to shape the memo Addressing Societal and Scientific Challenges through Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing. The memo outlines three core principles that agencies should apply (data quality and fitness for purpose, openness and transparency, and meaningful public participation). These ensure the appropriate use, greatest value and impact of citizen science and crowdsourcing. Actions resulting from the memo included establishing Agency Citizen Science Coordinators and developing a catalog of Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Projects.

At the same time, competitive funding streams were opened for citizen science initiatives. Incorporation into policy has occurred through multiple channels, with citizen science and crowdsourcing identified as open innovation tools for the first time in the new Strategy for American Innovation. The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 clarifies whether Govt. agencies can use crowdsourcing techniques, while citizen science has become a National Science Fund core priority area.

Karori Sanctuary

Inside the predator-proof fence at Karori Sanctuary

Overview of NZ agency initiatives/concerns

We are in a good position in NZ to build on experiences and actions taken around citizen science in other countries. The 90 minute meeting wrapped up with reflections from attendees as follows:

Brent Beaven, Dept. of Conservation: DOC are building on a history of pest monitoring by groups but want to provide information on groups’ impact so that they can see what they have achieved as well as the bigger picture. By the end of the 2018, a strategy for PF2050 will be in place that provides groups with clearer direction to support their efforts. Advances in technology opens new opportunities: there is more scope for using data from different formats from diverse sources, while on-ground sensors will be able to live map pest densities. Following other open data initiatives (e.g., LAWA), c. 40yr of environmental data soon to be made more available to the public. A toolkit is currently being developed that will include forming a community group, pest trapping and control.

Terry Fenn and Chris Arcus, Ministry of Education: There are critical links between citizen science and the school curriculum. The current priority, however, for MinEd is the contribution to engagement i.e. meaningful learning experiences in real-world projects. There is potential for the Toimata Foundation/Enviroschools to have greater input into designing the science curriculum for schools. Schools’ previous involvement in the international Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program has been discontinued due to insufficient 2-way information flow from program managers. Dr. Shanley highlighted new engagement approaches, and with Victoria Metcalfe (Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor) as the new country coordinator for GLOBE, schools will have new opportunities to become part of the program once more.

Charlotte Wood, Ministry for the Environment: Key concerns include data quality and data consistency along with QA/QC processes. While producing fit for purpose data, citizen science could also compliment data produced by Crown Research Institutes.

Myfanwy Emeny, Wellington City Council: There is both a time lag and tension between finding local solutions for local data needs and waiting e.g., for national level protocols to be developed. In addition, sources of funding often drive local solutions.

Where to from here?

First up is #CitSciNZ2018. This symposium (April 9) has been designed both to wrap up a 3yr MfE funded project on better understanding the scope of current citizen science initiatives in NZ, and to begin mapping out a pathway for taking citizen science forward. Dr. Shanley’s talk will be included in the Symposium in a pre-recorded format. The talk as presented at the meeting is here: 18023-WellingtonNZ-Shanley-PUBLIC


I would like to acknowledge the US National Science Foundation and Big South Data Hub for supporting Dr. Lea Shanley to come to NZ and share her expertise with us. I would also like to thank Myfanwy Emeny (Wellington City Council) for organising the venue, and meeting participants for their time and input.



One response to “#CitSci – Connecting local, regional, national and international initiatives… and mapping out pathways forward

  1. Pingback: Sneak peek #CitSciNZ2018 – Citizen Science Symposium & Workshops April 7-9, Wellington | monicalogues·

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