What makes a good citizen science project–for you?

By July 28th, 2010 at 8:03 am | Comments (5)

asp logoCan I pick your brain for a minute?

Next week I’m going to be part of a panel discussion on the topic of citizen science. It’s part of a joint conference of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific and the Geological Society of America titled “Earth and Space Science: Making Connections in Education and Public Outreach.” To fuel that discussion I’d like to get your opinion on what makes a citizen science project successful for you, the participant.

If you’ve taken part in a project—or even if you’re just considering it—please share your thoughts by adding a comment here at the bottom of this post. I plan to refer to selected comments during the panel discussion. As an added nudge, I’ll award a free t-shirt to the authors of the three comments I deem to be most helpful and illuminating.

Many of the folks attending this conference are the scientists who actually dream up and design citizen science projects—so here’s your chance to influence their thinking and help shape new activities that you can take part in.

Please let me know what factors determine whether a project was (or would be) an effective and successful experience for you. In addition to your general thoughts, I’d like to know in particular:

  • How important is it that you increase your own scientific knowledge as part of the project?
  • How important is it that you contribute to scientific knowledge?
  • Is it important to you that you do more than collect data (for instance, help analyze the data, help design the project, help disseminate the findings)?

Looking forward to your feedback.

By the way, if you’re in Boulder next week (that’s where the conference is) and want to chat about citizen science, just let me know. It would be great to connect.

5 Responses to 'What makes a good citizen science project–for you?'

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  1. Great post, Michael. My favorite aspect of being a citizen forester with Casey Trees is the opportunity to see how the work we're doing directly involves and impacts the local community. Measuring stuff and collecting data is fun, but it's even better when you get to do it alongside community members who will directly benefit from the work.

    John Ohab

    29 Jul 10 at 9:19 am

  2. What's most important to me is actually choice – that I get to choose when, how often, and ideally where to participate, and hopefully choose among options to participate. Anything that is worth doing more than once will likely lead to a learning outcome, so increasing my own scientific knowledge isn't really a primary goal – it's expected. At least for me, a project shouldn't force learning down my throat, but should ideally provide opportunities for me to engage in as much or as little as I want, e.g. allowing me to choose whether or not to see the Latin names for species that I'm observing. I'm a researcher myself, so contributing to formal scientific knowledge production is very important to me, and I'm not going to spend my time on a project that does not provide feedback to participants and is not producing papers or reports of any kind.

    But since we're on the topic… In my opinion, there is certainly ample room for engaging the public in more aspects of scientific research than just data collection, but talking about it that way is an oversimplification. “Just” data collection can be a substantial experience in itself. For example, take bird data – if you haven't ever tried it, it's easy to say that submitting birding checklists is trivial involvement, but it's a much richer and more complex activity than it appears. If the project serves as a framework that assists individuals in developing and investigating their own hypotheses, while simultaneously contributing data or analysis that furthers the larger scientific goals, then everyone wins. There are clearly some substantial hurdles to achieving this kind of outcome, although a lot of data collection projects do provide a suitable framework for it.

    Another part of involvement that the focus on science overlooks is the social aspects of participation. Helping others to learn is well known to be one of the best ways to learn, even if this isn't a recognized part of the scientific research process. Providing social support and building community are valuable contributions, so giving participants a way to do this could be one of the more effective ways that projects can improve outcomes for everyone.

    Finally, when it comes to choosing projects for participation, there are other important decision criteria besides knowledge production and learning. I have a strong ideological preference in favor of projects that are creating public data sets and research resources. When the public is contributing, both in effort and often in taxpayer research funding, then under most conditions I consider it reprehensible for researchers to hoard the fruits of public investment. If I give you my time, which is unquestionably the most precious resource I have, I want to see that it's being used for the greater good.

    Andrea

    29 Jul 10 at 8:58 am

  3. Seeing the final results, and knowing that I had a hand in them!

    Margoleath

    30 Jul 10 at 2:50 pm

  4. Hi Michael,
    I am a doctorate student in education studying informal education, learning accessibility in museums, and program development for special populations. I currently am developing a program that focuses on connecting institutionalized populations like our elderly who may have physical or cognitive limitations with learning experiences in science and nature. At a Visitor Studies Conference this past week I met with some representatives from the Cornell Ornithology Lab who were presenting on Citizen Science and it struck me that what was missing from many programs currently offered to seniors and special needs groups is that element of meaning and satisfaction of still being able to contribute to society and to make a difference. I believe Citizen Science has the power to do this but yet there are only a few that would be suitable to implement. I have found at least five projects that I felt my population might be able to do with some adaptation and does not require extensive walking and scouting outdoors. Most of the ones on my list involve data collection, tagging, or cataloging along with internet access. Unfortunately the pictures to be coded often appear small and am trying to figure out how I can copy some of the images so they can be enlarged and then analyzed. Computer knowledge is also limited so I will be creating simple data sheets for the residents to enter their data then have a volunteer input into the computer.
    Is the scientific process important to special learners? Yes I think it is. They are no different than the rest of us. They will want to know why they are doing what may be a rather repetitive, and tedious task. They will want to know who is it for, what difference will it make In the field of scientific research, and why their effort is making a difference.
    I would like to see more projects that can be offered as kits like I have seen with several of the bird projects like Urban Birds, and that can be done from a wheelchair in any institution. . . Good luck with the panel discussion. . .

    Melody Basham
    Melody.Basham@asu.edu

    MelBasham

    2 Aug 10 at 4:46 am

  5. Hi Michael,
    I am a doctorate student in education studying informal education, learning accessibility in museums, and program development for special populations. I currently am developing a program that focuses on connecting institutionalized populations like our elderly who may have physical or cognitive limitations with learning experiences in science and nature. At a Visitor Studies Conference this past week I met with some representatives from the Cornell Ornithology Lab who were presenting on Citizen Science and it struck me that what was missing from many programs currently offered to seniors and special needs groups is that element of meaning and satisfaction of still being able to contribute to society and to make a difference. I believe Citizen Science has the power to do this but yet there are only a few that would be suitable to implement. I have found at least five projects that I felt my population might be able to do with some adaptation and does not require extensive walking and scouting outdoors. Most of the ones on my list involve data collection, tagging, or cataloging along with internet access. Unfortunately the pictures to be coded often appear small and am trying to figure out how I can copy some of the images so they can be enlarged and then analyzed. Computer knowledge is also limited so I will be creating simple data sheets for the residents to enter their data then have a volunteer input into the computer.
    Is the scientific process important to special learners? Yes I think it is. They are no different than the rest of us. They will want to know why they are doing what may be a rather repetitive, and tedious task. They will want to know who is it for, what difference will it make In the field of scientific research, and why their effort is making a difference.
    I would like to see more projects that can be offered as kits like I have seen with several of the bird projects like Urban Birds, and that can be done from a wheelchair in any institution. . . Good luck with the panel discussion. . .

    Melody Basham
    Melody.Basham@asu.edu

    MelBasham

    1 Aug 10 at 11:46 pm

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