Blog Post

9 things to be grateful for about Citizen Science

Volunteers monitoring water quality at Rios Saludables de Osa - Costa Rica
Rios Saludables de Osa – Costa Rica

Monthly Letter from Greg Newman (the CSA board chair) to all CSA members
Fort Collins, Colorado
Greetings to all comprising the heart and soul of the Citizen Science Association – new and ongoing members alike! Thank you for joining us and for your efforts past, present, and future to advance the growing field of citizen science. Citizen science would not be what it is shaping up to be if it were not for the hard work of each and every one of you. Keep up the great work!
It has been nine months since our inaugural conference and first board meeting for the Citizen Science Association and we have made great strides since these formative events. As your board chair, I hope to share thoughts and ideas and give you an opportunity to get to know me a little better through a series of blog posts. My initial thoughts focus on being grateful. Above all, I’m grateful for the help everyone has provided to start crafting an Association we all can be proud of and that is of real value to our field. I am also grateful for several key tenets of citizen science that I hope we can all build upon as we continue to co-create the Citizen Science Association together:

  • Inclusivity

Citizen science has a way of striving to include everyone. By virtue of its’ broad definition, citizen science simply put is public participation in scientific research; it does not specify who can participate nor in which ways. By leaving participation open to all, citizen science is literally “Reinventing Discovery” as per Michael Nielsen’s book under this same title. By trying to embrace all contributions, citizen science opens itself up to greater possibilities and broader viewpoints that collectively offer more promise to advance science. Yet, being inclusive does not automatically equate to improved quality nor equality. As stakeholders, we must all strive for the highest degree of both of these aspects in citizen science.

  • Transparency

The growing field of citizen science is uniquely positioned to be transparent about its goals, objectives, methods, protocols, training sessions, participants, approaches, and biases. As a field, it is no secret that we are held to a higher standard and that concerns always arise regarding the quality of our work and the data we generate. Given such scrutiny, we have an opportunity to arm ourselves with detailed metadata – data about our data – to ensure that those wishing to examine and critique our work and data can do so easily. The responsibility is on us to provide the metadata needed for others to fully appraise our data for subsequent reuse. By doing so, we set the standard for scientific transparency and become a leader for other scientific disciplines.

  • Breadth

Citizen Science covers just about every scientific topic imaginable. I am grateful for this breadth of topics– it keeps the work we do interesting and relevant to the needs of diverse societies, cultures, and social-ecological systems. It is this breadth of topics and ways citizen science can be approached that fascinates me most.

  • Depth

Citizen science is not only broad topically, but also deep in approach (both design and implementation), participants, applications, cultures, and level of detail. In local co-created projects, participants may study a single, focused topic in great detail. Take for example, Sharmen Apt Russell’s work studying Tiger beetles in New Mexico. The detail of the work accomplished by this individual citizen scientist working together with partner scientists is astounding and takes great time, passion, depth, and attention to detail.

  • Scope

Different citizen science projects emphasize different overarching goals and objectives. For example, some projects aim to change policy; some to educate participants; some to enact conservation actions; and still others to answer scientific questions not explicitly tied to management or policy. Each pursuit is ambitious and meritorious and, when done carefully and purposively, yield many impacts and outcomes directly linked to each of these diverse goals and objectives.

  • Scale

The scale of citizen science projects vary from the hyper-local to global and beyond. Projects can last for only a single hour and can also live on for decades. I am grateful that the field has not limited itself to any particular spatial or temporal scale.

  • Relevance

People sometimes start citizen science projects in response to societal issues. Local co-created projects often identify locally relevant needs and create projects to address them. Large scale national projects often focus on larger-scale societal issues such as climate change, energy use, or biodiversity. I am grateful that, by and large, citizen science sets out to tackle our most important and pressing issues related to our own livelihoods and quality of life.

  • Creativity

There are countless examples of creativity at work in citizen science. For example, the Urban Ecology Center conducts snake research to help determine the population size, demographics, and habitat preferences of the threatened Butler’s gartersnake. In this project, citizen scientists survey snakes using plywood boards to capture, measure, mark, and release the snakes. The project is also trying to determine where the snakes over-winter using implanted radio diodes. I am grateful that projects such as this embrace creativity – it would not surprise me, for example, to see this project reach out to the “Do-It-Yourself” community to ask these volunteers to engineer a more lightweight version of the very diodes they use to track their snakes!

  • Passion

Most of all, I am grateful for the passion I see every day in those involved in citizen science. Although I attend countless conferences of professional societies and associations, my attendance at citizen science conferences always impresses me with the energizing atmosphere and the passion each of you bring to the subject. I leave every talk, poster, panel discussion, and keynote address more inspired than when I arrived. And these passionate discussions are not limited to isolated conferences; every day each of us is chatting up friends, volunteers, professional scientists, stakeholders, and family members at coffee shops, meet-ups, and regional meetings about the possibilities of new discoveries and learning opportunities for young and old made possible through citizen science.
Thank you (አመሰግናለሁ (amäsäggänallähw), Hohóu, Grazie, Danke schön, Muchas gracias, ありがとう (arigatō), Miigwech, Asante, Tack) for bringing the field of citizen science to life for me through the passions you bring to this endeavor. After nine initial months of getting acquainted with you – your projects, knowledge, cultures, challenges, and successes – and your 12 member board of directors of which I chair, I realize that I too am a volunteer and I too am grateful for so much of what citizen science is and has to offer the world.

2 thoughts on “9 things to be grateful for about Citizen Science

  • Larry Williams

    Hi, Greg,
    Thanx for update and thots. But I’m still searching for business structure of CSA–and if a letter file is kept you’ll note this is not the first time I’ve sought such info. So, again, what does now (and what is planned to) generate funds to keep CSA going. I’m guessing that some sort of income will be generated by CSA’s mgmt of data–sort of a mega/meta data clearing house. This will require rather sophisticated billing–has CSA sourced off-campus services like eg SAP or Oracle?
    Larry Williams

    • Greg Newman

      Hi Larry,
      Thanks for your comment! The CSA is exploring a variety of ways to keep our organization going and well funded. Currently, we are submitting proposals to fund our work and are also working hard to devise adequate membership fee structures / fundraising campaigns (think crowdfunding) / institutional membership fees / donations to support our work. These things take time and must be well thought out. We have created a fundraising and membership task force to begin to devise sustainable funding support so as to not preclude participation from people with diverse economic statuses and backgrounds while at the same time being designed to provide solid and sustainable support for the work we all aspire to do in support of citizen science. In addition, we hope to generate income from conference registration fees and associated costs. As for our “management of data – sort of a mega/meta clearing house,” we are working with partner organizations who also manage such data to devise open sharing protocols where appropriate of such data through the work of our new metadata working group. However, these discussions are early in maturity and we have not yet devised any sophisticated billing systems such as SAP or Oracle. We hope this helps answer your question to some degree. Thanks again for asking.
      Best Wishes, Greg

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