For a dynamic 3-days in around the capital (April 7-9), citizen science was in the spotlight. Seven different workshops totalling around 80 participants took place in the Wellington’s parks, wildlife sanctuaries (on shore and off-shore), in and around Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand. Nearly 100 participants attended the Symposium (Te Papa, April 9) for a full day of presentations by 21 speakers covering themes such as managing data quality, social and ecological project outcomes, harnessing technology and techniques. Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Science opened the day, and asked for recommendations on how citizen science should be grown in New Zealand. This question was revisited throughout the day – there was plenty of time for discussion and networking.
#CitSciNZ2018 Symposium: program highlights
Yes, this is a pretty lengthy post… so here are the subheadings
- From national to international
- CitSci in NZ is different!
- Cutting to the chase with the keynote
- Enlightening (en)lightening talks: an overview
- Networking, networking and more networking
- Long talks and panel sessions: an overview
- Roundtables: Re-focussing discussion
- Where to from here? Recommendations from #CitSciNZ2018
From national to international
The symposium program (see here) featured both national and international speakers (for more info on speakers, see here). The aim was to provide a snapshot of current projects underway in New Zealand, but also look at broader citizen science developments on the international stage. The growth of citizen science associations in the US, Europe and Australia over the last 6y shows the need for a more strategic and cohesive approach to growing the movement to achieve strong science, social, educational and policy outcomes. Speakers Jessie Oliver (Australian Citizen Science Assn, live-streamed from Brisbane), Susanne Hecker (European Citizen Science Assn., Germany) and Lea Shanley (Big South Data Hub, USA, pre-recorded) outlined the ways in which each country has brought together overarching citizen science strategies (see ACSA strategy and ESCA strategy) ‘hubs’ (e.g., the citizen science toolbox) and developed policy initiatives (e.g., The Green Paper on Citizen Science for Europe: Towards a society of empowered citizens and enhanced research citizen science). Sarah Morgan (COMET, Auckland) and Josh Richardson (Venture Taranaki) provided insights into the first 3 y of New Zealand’s Participatory Science Platform. To date, more than 4500 people have engaged in science and technology in over 69 projects that span 15 disciplines. They also mentioned a possible expansion of the program into other regions (currently only Taranaki, Sth Auckland and Otago).
CitSci in NZ is different!
Both Susanne Hecker (ECSA) and Julia Freeman (Earlham College, Indiana, USA) remarked on the dominance of grassroots approaches compared to their own countries. This may reflect a difference in funding opportunities – little is available in NZ for developing large-scale, long-term monitoring programs lead by institutions/agencies (Garden Bird Survey and Kereru Count along with Identify Animals are exceptions). However, NZ also has unique and well researched biosecurity issues – we live on a very remote landmass, and controlling exotic invaders has been a focus of grassroots action for decades.
Earlier in the day, Alastair Cole (NZ Landcare Trust) gave an overview of the project ‘Citizen science meets environmental restoration (2015-2018)’ which the symposium and workshops form the final component. Monica Peters (people+science) provided a broad-brush overview of citizen sicence in New Zealand, including key areas to address in order to ‘grow’ the movement in this country.
Cutting to the chase with the keynote
Andrea Wiggins (University of Nebraska) delved straight into data quality – an oft-cited barrier for not adopting citizen science more widely. She began by defining data quality as context dependent i.e. fit for its intended purpose before highlighting the large role uncertainties and assumptions play. In crowdsourced projects, there are more opportunities for error, so trust is vital. Concerns about participant competency can be addressed through skills assessments, though Andrea mentioned this can be a barrier to entry, and embedded assessments are uncommon. Known biases in citizen science are similar to professional science (e.g., non-random time/place and confusing look-alike species), but also different with more individual differences between volunteers. She then outlined design principles, looking at tasks (e.g., sensing and processing), trade-offs between scale, complexity and quality and tactics to manage data quality. She summarised by presenting the following questions:
|Peer Review: Evaluating Quality|
|1. Does the project use iterative design?|
|2. How easy or hard are the tasks?|
|3. How systematic are the task procedures & data entry?|
|4. What equipment are volunteers using?|
|5. Does the project record relevant metadata?|
|6. Is collection effort standardized or accounted for in data analysis?|
|7. Does the project assess data quality by appropriate comparison with professionals?|
|8. Are the data appropriate for the project’s management objectives or research questions?|
|9. Are good data management practices used?|
Andrea has co-authored numerous papers on citizen science and data quality – see ‘Further reading’ for links
Enlightening (en)lightening talks: an overview
This session featured 6 x 6 min talks, followed by a question or two. Siobhan Leachman couldn’t attend, but luckily an existing video also features maintaining volunteer motivation in online (crowdsourced) projects. Her top tips to project designers are 1. Be generous with sharing the content volunteers helped create. Allowing volunteers to reuse content may create new information, and 2. Trust and support volunteers. By providing e.g., networking and learning opportunities, there is mutual benefit for volunteers and project designers/managers and good content is produced.
Victor Anton discussed his Victoria University PhD project ‘Identify Animals’, set up on the Zooniverse crowdsourcing platform. To date 1,745 volunteers have classified 132,300 images taken via camera traps to estimate the abundance and distribution of introduced predators in urban areas. Tech also featured in Steve Pawson’s video, where he demonstrated a new app for logging pest animal and weed occurrences. The recent Biosecurity 2025 Discussion document (MPI, 2016) acknowledges citizen science as an opportunity to enhance nation-wide surveillance efforts. Parker Jones highlighted how GIS has been used by community groups to better understand their conservation projects – from mapping bait take occurrence, the locations of weeds, penguin nesting sites to rare species e.g., Hector’s Dolphins.
Richard Storey (NIWA) outlined new approaches for enabling the public play a greater role in freshwater management: providing improved monitoring, training and support (including funding), developing mobile data entry along with a new central database and a QA & certification system to ensure robust data. Liz Gibson (Mountains to Sea Wellington) talked about ‘Whitebait Connection’ a program designed to connect people to their local waterways through assessing ecological health. She emphasized that fish resonate with people – the plight of our native species ‘makes people care’.
Networking, networking and more networking
Many conferences undervalue the importance of networking and open discussion. This event had a strong emphasis on creating time to share project information as well as to build/strengthen professional relationships through informal dialog as well as structured sessions (i.e. Roundtables). An afternoon EXPO of projects, tools and parties involved in citizen science allowed more in-depth discussion as did two lively panel sessions following the longer talks.
Long talks session #1
Sally Carson (NZ Marine Studies Centre, University of Otago) developed, and leads Marine Meter Squared, a nation-wide citizen science project designed to help communities and schools collect data on the biodiversity and distribution of seashore species. She began by looking at determinants of success (e.g., participant demographics, #’s registered, #’s contributing data; new discoveries made; learning through ID guide and website use; social/media uptake; reports/publications produced). She also probed drivers for engagement and outcomes through 4 local case studies to measure the impact of mm2. Her key messages included integrating mm2 (and science learning in general) into existing activities and interests to maintain momentum; awakening the community to the power of baseline data collection and using this to support communities in decision-making e.g., via submission writing.
Ngaire Tyson is the dynamic lead for Kiwi Coast. This Northland initiative to protect kiwi through sustained predator control brings together >110 entities working along a corridor nearly 300km long of private and public land. Ngaire is adamant that the only way for the corridor to be successful is to the support and enable groups to engage in the project. Rather than Kiwi Coast serving as an umbrella, it helps build a platform between collaborators (community-led conservation projects, supporting government agencies, organisations, iwi, companies and landowners) for action on the ground to occur. Regular monitoring shows kiwi are increasing (contrary to nation-wide trends showing 2% decline per annum) and increases in other native bird/indicator species (kaka, bellbird, pateke).
Myfanwy Emeny (Wellington City Council) teased apart citizen science project design. Three key players are typically involved: scientists, citizens and coordinators/’enablers’. She used the analogy of a 3-legged stool where each has a defined role with clear needs i.e. scientists receive useable data that answers their research question(s); citizens know they have genuinely contributed to scientific research, and enablers have instigated behaviour change, raised their organisation’s profile and informed policy.
Panel session #1 takeaways
Building and sustaining relationships and partnerships: Sally – everybody has something to offer. Ngaire – it’s a team effort and all must be onboard. Myfanwy – understand what motivates the stakeholders and be open and honest about what the project wants to achieve.
Getting ‘hard to reach’ participants on board: Sally – working with schools means getting parents to come along who otherwise would not and integrate programs into existing projects. Ngaire – identify community champions i.e. ‘work with the willing’. Myfanwy – looking outside the environmental conservation community and building relationships with existing independent organisations i.e. not another govt agency.
Getting groups together: Ngaire – build a platform of support that inverts the power pyramid with landowners and communities at the top linked by common ground. Tell good news stories all of the time, make it easy, make it successful, make it fun.
Getting buy in: Grace Leung (WRC) remarked that the hardest people to win over were organisation scientists! Myfanwy – talk to senior managers to put citizen science into policy as pressure is needed ‘from the top’ to make this happen. Ngaire – Dept of Conservation used to pay coordinators but now don’t have the budget. She asks, ‘what do you need and how can I help make that happen?’ for creating win-wins and highlighting the value of communities. Sally – Engaging with post-grad students is great way to engage with the academics.
Technology: Sally – a new app for mm2 was developed but teenagers users (target market) had no room on their phones to use it! Ngaire – Kiwi Coast uses Trap.NZ for consistency and to have a central database along with simple, acoustic monitors. Myfanwy – prior to using technology, determining the research question and what you’re trying to achieve are crucial.
Long talks session #2
Emily Roberts (Taranaki Regional Council) showcased Project Hotspot. This coastal initiative in Taranaki was designed to capture local knowledge on 4 threatened species (orca, reef heron, little blue penguin, NZ fur seal) to enhance species and habitat protection measures. She described how the project evolved as new questions were raised and then novel studies carried out to find answers. The range of project participants expanded accordingly, resulting in a very dynamic, inquiry-based study drawing in schools, clubs, ecological modellers and others. She also outlined the Dotterel Defenders program which resulted in a good breeding year for this diminutive species.
Tim Park (Wellington City Council) and Leon Perrie (Te Papa) delivered a presentation on using the online database NatureWatch NZ. They showed the power of crowdsourced observations repeated over time – tools such as eBird have resulted in new knowledge about species distributions, the effects of climate change and migration patterns. Both led a mini BioBlitz at the museum on the Sunday and they shared their findings: 429 observations and 184 species from an area that takes no more than 20 mins to circumnavigate. They also highlighted the management applications of crowdsourced platforms e.g., new locations of weed species.
Dianne Christensen (Koruanui School) looked at citizen science in a primary school setting. As recipient of a six-month science leadership study (Royal Society NZ) where she developed a strong network of environmental science experts. She described both the process of inquiry-based learning used at the school and the diversity of citizen science projects her students participate in (e.g., predator trapping and monitoring, BioBlitz events, Marine Meter Squared coastal monitoring). She summarised her keys to success as curriculum integration, connecting with community and working with scientists.
Panel session #2 takeaways
Harnessing technology: Tim – to avoid accessibility issues, Zealandia have their own iPads they use with school groups. Dianne – rely on adults who go on field trips to provide phones; has engaged with NatureWatch. Tim – there can be issues with social media being a communication tool 13 y old can legally use.
Connecting with scientists: Dianne – need to break ice ensure that you’re not going to waste scientists’ time by highlighting ‘we are here to help’. Emily – in Taranaki Regional Council scientists are keen to get involved, but citizen science/engagement are yet KPIs so managers can be hard to convince. Project Hotspot relied on a range of science expertise for project hotspot with much shoulder-tapping of friends and experts
Connecting 15-19y olds to conservation: Dianne – work with local marae to build a science learning pathway from primary to secondary.
Roundtables: Re-focussing discussion
Roundtable sessions were designed for participants to re-focus and explore subjects in more detail, led by symposium presenters: Designing and delivering citizen science projects (Emily Roberts); Managing and maintaining data quality (Andrea Wiggins); Meeting end user needs (Myfanwy Emeny); Evaluating project success (Sally Carson), and Growing citizen science strategically (Susanne Hecker). This 50 min buzzed with discussion. Captured by scribes, the notes are currently being written up and my form new blogs. It is also an opportunity to sound out who may want to be part of a working group to shape citizen science in NZ as well as harness recommendations for the Minister. Click on the links below to read summaries from each table.
Where to from here? Recommendations from #CitSciNZ2018
Minister Woods in her opening address described how citizen science is gaining momentum in NZ and revealed that she was open to receiving recommendations for how to further citizen science in this country. The call for recommendations was brought into roundtable discussions later in the day so that all participants could have input. A draft set of recommendations is currently being prepared that will go out to all symposium participants for their feedback prior to forwarding to the Minister.
For more Symposium and workshop images, see the Citizen Science New Zealand Facebook page
Law, E., Gajos, K., Wiggins, A., Gray, M., & Williams, A. (2017). Crowdsourcing as a Tool for Research: Implications of Uncertainty. In Proceedings of the 20th ACM International conference on Computer-supported cooperative work and social computing. DOI: 10.1145/2998181.2998197. ACM.
Kosmala, M., Wiggins, A., Swanson, A., & Simmons, B. (2016). Assessing Data Quality in Citizen Science. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, 14(10):551–560.
Parrish, J.K., Burgess, H., Weltzin, J.F., Fortson, L., & Wiggins, A. (under review) Exposing the Science in Citizen Science: Fitness to Purpose and Intentional Design. Integrative Comparative Biology.