On July 17, an informal meeting was set up in the nation’s capital, Wellington, to progress citizen science in New Zealand. The starting point was a series of recommendations brought together from the #CitSciNZ2018 symposium. Although generated from 5 concurrent Roundtable sessions (themes: data quality, strategic planning, evaluation, citizen science project design and delivery, and meeting end user needs), similar recommendations had already been raised over a series of workshops facilitated around NZ from 2015 – 2018.
It’s always fascinating doing a round of introductions – how the sum of experience between half a dozen people can be so multifaceted and rich. Six participants (sorry, no group selfie) put up their hands to share their expertise and collectively plan what steps should be taken for shaping and strengthening the field of citizen science. The group: Sheryl Miller (Greater Wellington), Ben Knight (Guardians of the Kāpiti Marine Reserve), Markus Luczak-Roesch (Victoria University), Nicole Miller (Friends of the Taputeranga Marine Reserve), Juliet Milne (NIWA) and myself, are all involved in citizen science though in different ways.
Between us we design and manage volunteers; research participant behaviour, volunteer motivation and the ecosystems projects take place in as well as develop monitoring programs and ecological restoration projects. The work, however, is not all ‘outwards’ institutions, agencies and organisations also need to understand citizen science, so advocacy ‘inwards’ is also a focus.
The purpose of this working group/ think tank/ discussion forum is moving the field of citizen science ahead in New Zealand. However, the term ‘citizen science’ is used differently according to institutional context: at Greater Wellington Regional Council ‘volunteers’ are those who collect data for the agency, while ‘citizen science’ refers to data collected by volunteers primarily for their own community group (e.g., carrying out environmental restoration). To avoid stalling on details (or semantics) we decided not to create a formal definition.
In NZ, most citizen science monitoring and surveying takes place in the environmental domain – Predator Free NZ initiatives are gathering momentum; community environmental groups are expected to contribute more to the conservation effort in NZ and natural disasters lend themselves to community reporting/ crowdsourced citizen science initiatives. While many projects/ programs are underway in the terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, including air quality monitoring (given the availability of cheap, community friendly tools) adds a health and wellbeing dimension.
Where to from here?
Of the 5 Actions sent to the Minister of Science, Hon Dr. Megan Woods in May this year we will focus on enhancing the understanding of citizen science practice, application and future potential. We will begin by drafting a White Paper, to be forwarded to decision makers in central government. Achieving the wider set of recommendations will take time – and funding.
Following the success of #CitSciNZ2018, we briefly discussed running another citizen science symposium – this time with an emphasis on conservation and technology. The rationale? Technology is continually advancing, and the right tool can facilitate data collection and expand knowledge. The aim would be to showcase (and simultaneously demystify) current developments/ improvements to existing technology. Symposium participants would also have opportunities to network and trial tools and monitoring techniques through hands-on workshops.
In the interim, meetings with key stakeholders in central and local government, the Department of Conservation, NGO, academic and conservation communities will continue to better understand:
- Citizen science initiatives (e.g., projects/programs; mechanisms for support such as agency-led plans* and funding sources)
- Where opportunities for strengthening and expanding citizen science theory and practice may lie
The longer-term objective
Recommendation #4 centres on best practice and enhancing the credibility of citizen science given ongoing concerns about data quality. Developing best practice guides along with training on how to set up citizen science programmes and projects are further areas to be explored.
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We have established a citizen science programme to enable communities to participate in monitoring and implementation programmes with Greater Wellington to improve water quality
We are implementing a Matauranga Māori / Kaitiaki monitoring framework. This will support the implementation of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater and Te Mana o Te Wai and the delivery of the proposed Natural Resources Plan methods around cultural monitoring. We have been trialling a new Kaitiaki monitoring framework with one of our mana whenua partners and plan to expand this programme over the next 10 years.