The Citizen Science Association of Aotearoa NZ (CSAANZ) was formalised in August 2019 and holds monthly online meetings for Co-chairs and Committee members. Establishing and sustaining a new association is challenging, so this month we reached out to colleagues from across the Tasman to benefit from their experience. At CSAANZ, we don’t want to reinvent the wheel. This blog summarised the 3-hour(!) online conversation between Jessie Oliver and Michelle Neil (from the Australian Citizen Science Association – ACSA) and CSAANZ Co-chairs and Committee members about the long and bumpy road to building a citizen science association.
The Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA) was established 6 years ago. Both Jessie and Michelle have been leaders in growing ACSA since its inception. After more than 4 years on the Management Committee, Jessie transitioned (some 18 months ago) into a new role as ACSA International Liaison. Michelle has tirelessly grown ACSA social media presence since the group was first established. A year and a half ago, she joined the ACSA Management Committee as Secretary. Michelle continues to moderate most ACSA social media (including Facebook and LinkedIn). Irrespective of hours and effort, all of their work supporting ACSA has been voluntary.
Contextualising citizen science: Understanding historical settings
Early in the conversation about setting up a citizen science association, the point was raised about understanding the cultural and historic settings for citizen science. In Europe, for example, “citizen science” was first used as a term to describe science for the public to enhance environmental stewardship and advocacy. This contrasts markedly to its (simultaneous) first use in the U.S. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, “citizen science” referred to members of the public contributing observations of birds for scientific research (see Bonney, 1996). Despite these early differences in how the term was used, there is broad alignment in the activities that the respective practitioner communities – the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) and the U.S. counterpart, the Citizen Science Association (CSA) undertake. Both provide resources to the wider community to increase capacity for citizen science, producing for example, publications (see the journal Citizen Science: Theory and Practice), platforms (see EU Citizen Science) and work in areas such as policy.
Starting the Australian Citizen Science Association
Three years of funding from Inspiring Australia (a government body that fosters engagement in science) helped build a foundation for ACSA. The Association currently employs two part-time staff to coordinate the website and take care of membership. There are currently over 250 fee-paying members most of whom are practitioners along with more than 20 (fee-paying) organisational members. Leaders from ACSA, ECSA, and CSA have also drafted and follow a Memorandum of Understanding.
Nearly 30 times larger than NZ, and with over three times the population, ACSA currently hosts four regional chapters who help implement the Strategic Goals, and priorities and actions of the association at a regional scale. ACSA and its chapters do not run projects and instead promote diverse projects through social media. Ideally, chapters provide regional citizen science stakeholders opportunities to exchange ideas, knowledge, and other resources locally. Chapter members also create and take part in local activities that help create awareness of and participation in citizen science, local events, and ACSA more broadly. Chapter chairs are considered to be non-voting members of ACSA’s national management committee and feed information back into their chapters while giving a State-based perspective to the management committee.
A critical lesson learned and reiterated throughout the conversation was the importance of getting the right people on board, management committee diversity and providing space for individual expertise to grow. Michelle underscored the need to publicly acknowledge and thank contributors (including those within ACSA) to avoid losing people with valuable knowledge, time and experience. Having a management structure with participants whose interests, skills and experiences are wide-ranging will help shape the “vibe” of the association. Likewise, allowing ideas to be championed with the adaptability of plans can be important to harness arising opportunities and enthusiasm for membership. Clear objectives via a Strategic Plan (revised 3-yearly) and a constitution outlining governance and conduct (e.g. voting), have been invaluable for keeping the Association moving forward with consistently.
When the launch of a national association was explored in Australia, Strategic Plans of both CSA and ECSA were drawn from. The volunteers in Australia worked tirelessly in diverse ways to create “a community that supports, develops, and informs citizen science” (ACSA vision statement), including developing a 3-year Strategic Plan. The deceptively simple ACSA Plan took many months (and many meetings) to come to fruition. At only 2 A4 sides long, it is a pithy summary. The Plan is a vital resource – it underpins bids for funding by demonstrating that ACSA has a clear purpose and defined pathways for achieving the stated outcomes. To enhance organisational transparency, the Strategic Plan is readily accessible on the ACSA website (Annual General Meetings are also livestreamed so that anyone can join in).
Leaders of the three sister association leaders quickly began working cooperatively to exchange ideas and resources while all worked to establish themselves – both ECSA and the CSA are also relatively new associations. An open-access paper by Storksdieck et al. (2016) describes the respective history and cooperation details.
Capacity and sustainability
Internationally, funding to support structures that foster, progress, research and coordinate citizen science is hard to find. A higher level of government support exists in Europe and combined with EU funding streams (e.g., Horizon 2020) enables large-scale and longer-term projects to take place. Overall, citizen science associations (as with most other science-focussed associations), generally suffer from a lack of capacity to achieve their ambitious goals set to increase the scale and impact of the community and science. The key question for smaller associations like ACSA and CSAANZ is how to draw in other streams of funding – Jessie and Michelle encouraged us to think broadly from early on!
Another area highlighted in the 3-hour long (!) conversation was terminology – citizen science is often used synonymously with science engagement. While engagement contributes to the success of the former, the ‘science’ component of citizen science underscores the need for science outcomes. There have been many attempts to define citizen science and synthesis synonymous/analogous terms used by people around the world – with the passing of the Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Act in the U.S., clear definitions of both were critical. In Europe, however, the focus has been on establishing principles and characteristics in lieu of strict definitions. ACSA opted for a basic definition (as per the website) “Citizen science involves public participation and collaboration in scientific research with the aim to increase scientific knowledge”. ACSA adapted the ECSA’s 10 principles of citizen science (with permission) for an Australian audience as a way to promote a common understanding of what citizen science is… and isn’t (see also Eitzel et al., 2017).
The initial time set aside for the trans-Tasman conversation was 45-60 minutes. However, the actuality of establishing and sustaining an association (let alone the multi-dimensionality of citizen science as a topic!) led to a very lively conversation – only part of which is captured in this post. A certainty is that CSAANZ will continue to benefit from already established citizen science associations – irrespective of cultural and historic differences.
Bonney. R. 1996. Citizen Science: A Lab Tradition. Living Bird. 15(4): 7-15
Eitzel MV, Cappadonna JL, Santos-Lang C, Duerr RE, Virapongse A, et al. 2017. Citizen science terminology matters: exploring key terms. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice. 2(1). Available at: https://theoryandpractice.citizenscienceassociation.org/articles/10.5334/cstp.96/
Irwin, A. 1995. Citizen Science: A Study of People, Expertise and Sustainable Development. Routledge, London.
Storksdieck, M., Shirk, J.L., Cappadonna, J.L., Domroese, M., Göbel, C., Haklay, M., Miller-Rushing, A.J., Roetman, P., Sbrocchi, C. and Vohland, K., 2016. Associations for citizen science: regional knowledge, global collaboration. Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 1(2). Available at https://theoryandpractice.citizenscienceassociation.org/articles/10.5334/cstp.55
Queensland Citizen Science Strategy (Jessie Oliver was a key contributor) https://www.chiefscientist.qld.gov.au/strategy-priorities/queensland-citizen-science-strategy