April was a very busy month for citizen science in New Zealand. The #CitSciNZ2018 Symposium and Workshops took place in and around the capital city providing a wide range of opportunities for professional and volunteer/community attendees alike: engaging with experts to learn monitoring and species identification skills; growing both personal and professional networks gaining insight into the breadth of projects, tools and outcomes of enviro-centric citizen science activities. As well as gaining new insights into the current state of citizen science in NZ (and overseas), this was also a time to think more broadly about citizen science here: as an evolving discipline, growing social movement and research approach.
The current Minister of Science, Hon Dr Megan Woods opened the Symposium on April 9 and expressed interest in receiving recommendations for furthering citizen science in NZ. This call for recommendations was later woven into the five concurrent Roundtable sessions that wrapped up the day. Topics (Data quality; Project design and delivery; Meeting end user needs; Evaluation; Building a citizen science strategy) were teased apart, debated and recommendations developed. These were summarised as Five Actions after review from Symposium participants and then delivered to the Minister. While we (myself and the NZ Landcare Trust) wait for a response from the Minister’s Office, here are the Five Actions.
ACTION 1. Develop a Citizen Science Working Group
ACTION 2. Build a Citizen Science Strategy
ACTION 3. Create a Citizen Science ‘Information Hub’
ACTION 4. Support Best Practice and Enhance Credibility
ACTION 5. Grow New Funding Opportunities
- Develop a Citizen Science Working Group
While Australia, the US and Europe have forged ahead to develop formal Associations, a more manageable approach for NZ is developing a Citizen Science Working Group.
Symposium participants (spanning academia, science providers, community groups and govt. agencies) have already put up their hands to be part of the Working Group. The overarching purpose would be to bring cohesion to existing efforts and enable a targeted approach to strategically expand citizen science in New Zealand. An independent chair would facilitate four meetings over the course of one year – in Wellington.
- Build a Citizen Science Strategy
Strategic documents already developed by Citizen Science Associations in the US, Europe and Australia provide a useful scaffold upon which to build a Citizen Science Strategy for New Zealand government, agencies and organisations.
- Define citizen science for the NZ context
- Design a Citizen Science Strategy that connects with, and extends existing initiatives (e.g., Curious Minds Strategy, Predator Free 2050 and Strategy for Education for Sustainability), and integrates with government policies and programmes (e.g., Open Data and Open Govt) and national priorities (e.g., water quality)
- Identify agencies best placed to support citizen science and work with identified agencies to build citizen science into their strategy, operations and budgets
- Create a Citizen Science ‘Information Hub’
Developing a central source of citizen science information will help avoid duplication and inefficiency.
- Develop a website to provide a central source of citizen science information to mitigate duplication and avoid inefficiency. Include project pages to connect volunteers, project coordinators and local/regional/national projects, available tools and resources
- Support Best Practice and Enhance Credibility
Attitudes from the science community vary – some scientists work proactively with communities on science projects while other remain uncertain of the validity, efficacy and usefulness of citizen science as a research method
- Develop tools to support citizen science program design, delivery and data quality
- Provide training for scientists and resource managers for in how to set up and manage citizen science projects
- Develop a nationally accepted toolbox of standardised, compatible environmental monitoring protocols for community use
- Investigate avenues for establishing Citizen Science Ambassadors, Coordinators and Field staff
- Seek opportunities for enhancing training opportunities for citizen science volunteers
- Research effective systems for recording, storing, analysing and disseminating/reporting on data
- Investigate links with existing databases e.g., NatureWatch NZ and Land and Water Aotearoa (LAWA)
- Grow New Funding Opportunities
Sourcing sufficient funding for project coordination along with equipment is a key challenge for many citizen science initiatives
- Identify funding sources for citizen science projects and initiatives
- Seek longer-term (3-5y) funding opportunities
- Investigate opportunities for standardising funding reporting requirements and monitoring methods used
- Advise and support community groups to prepare citizen science funding applications
- Work to avoid duplication of projects types proposed for funding