#CitSciNZ: Building a National Citizen Science Association for Aotearoa New Zealand

The Fitzroy Board Riders Club in New Plymouth provided an excellent venue for the meeting

A group of nearly 20 citizen science practitioners, researchers, educators, coordinators, developers, movers and shakers gathered on Aug 10 in New Plymouth to formalise the Citizen Science Association of Aotearoa New Zealand (CSAANZ, #CitSciNZ for short). A celebratory launch is planned for the near future. This blog forms part of an emerging kaupapa for the fledgling association: sharing information through transparent processes.

Participants travelled from as far as Dunedin and Whangarei, contributing their expertise to shape the preliminary direction and structure of the new Association. Establishing a Citizen Science Association in this country connects NZ to a vibrant, global movement. In a few short years, Citizen Science Associations, Fora, Partnerships and Networks have spread across Europe, USA, Australia, Asia and Africa supporting the field e.g., through planning, education, policy and research.

Establishing a solid foundation

The inaugural CSAANZ meeting built on the many citizen science workshops that have taken place over the last c.4 years around the country (starting with a pilot workshop in 2015, a Coastal and Marine workshop in 2016, and a series of #CitSciNZ Working Group meetings 2016 – 2018). Over this time there was very little change in the themes/topics that emerged either as issues or opportunities. A solid foundation has now been established upon which to collectively move forward. Consensus on topics also highlights that CSAANZ meeting participants (although mostly attending independently of their respective organisations), adequately represented the main sectors/groups currently involved in citizen science in NZ. These include government agencies, consultancies, NGOs, universities, community Trusts and funders. Additionally, CSAANZ general objectives (outlined below) reinforce the findings of the Round Table session at last year’s National Citizen Science Symposium #CitSciNZ2018 and the resulting 5 Actions to Progress Citizen Science in NZ.

The objectives of the newly formed Citizen Science Assn. of Aotearoa New Zealand

World cafes: Exploring CSAANZ structure and role

Following a round of introductions and a brief discussion on the draft CSAANZ constitution by meeting coordinator Shane Orchard (CSAANZ co-chair, University of Canterbury & MAIN Trust), participants joined in for two lively world café sessions. In all, six key topics were debated, elaborated and documented as participants moved around the tables. With some content overlapping, topics are reframed here as: Defining Citizen Science; Managing and sustaining the CSAANZ; Membership; Communications, and Data collection and sharing.

Teasing apart membership: Who should be member? What do members gain from being in CSAANZ? How will members be managed?

Defining Citizen Science

As with previous meetings, almost all participants’ work focussed on the environment. Given the broad scope of citizen science internationally e.g., into human health and disaster management, a definition needs to be developed that reflects the NZ context and culture while broadly aligning to international definitions. This task was begun via the Think Tank with a draft White Paper being produced that the CSAANZ committee can now build on.

A comment was made that mātauranga Māori is sometimes incorporated into science but this could equally could be reversed: science can be brought into Matauranga Māori, i.e. into what has already been observed over centuries by tangata whenua.

Managing and sustaining the CSAANZ

As with all small associations, trusts and societies, efficiency is central. Every participant in the room wore multiple hats, so it’s unrealistic to expect the Association to achieve its national objectives on a purely voluntary level. Ensuring the association is resilient and functions well requires resourcing and a funded coordinator. A core committee will prioritise ‘big topics’ and additional contributions will be made by working groups to ensure opportunities for practitioners to get involved. Goals will need to be SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timebound. At the same time, leaders will need to be identified for key roles within the sector as a whole so that not all falls to CSAANZ to shoulder! Part of the funding discussion centred on developing a social enterprise model to support the CSAANZ to lessen the reliance on contestable sources.

Snapshot of the inaugural CSAANZ meeting: a day of discussion and networking

Membership

The current membership is small and there is a clear desire to expand. At present there are no fees, but maturation of the Association may result in a scale from free to fee.

Communication

Effective communication within the association (i.e. between committees, working groups and members) and outwards toward the public raised a wealth of ideas. An important role of the association will be to broker relationships.

  • The development of a website will form a central point of contact both for the Association and for the field of citizen science
  • The existing Facebook page may eventually be replaced with a Facebook Group to encourage more connection
  • The website will also provide a central place for connection to social media. Twitter, blogs and YouTube will  play a key role. As with all small/new associations, members/committee will need to develop strategies to maximise Association visibility with time-poor contributors!
  • Savvy use of material will invariably see content recycled and recontextualised. Sally Carson (Marine Meter Square) highlighted that reports to funders contain useful project information but are rarely read by wider audiences

Given a crashcourse in new tech: a mini computer that students are using to measure occupancy in penguin nesting boxes!

Data collection and sharing

Three key themes emerged in this topic:

  • Protocols and standards: guidelines, the need for effective data visualisation, data formatting ownership, data sharing agreements, Māori and traditional knowledge, privacy concerns along with Creative Commons licensing
  • Training for gathering data and disseminating data at both professional and community levels; how to set up and deliver a project.
  • Engaging the public more closely with the data collection and management (while also acknowledging differing levels of interest)

Next steps

The 9-member committee will meet online to determine the next steps. Three working groups have been formed to tackle a website, sourcing funding and specifications for a coordinator.

If you would like further information, contact citsci.nz@gmail.com

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