“Big insights for small community groups at CitSciOz18”

Gordon Claridge was concerned he might be the only person at the 2018 Adelaide conference from a small community group – his fears were soon allayed!

  • Gordon Claridge, President Lockyer Community Action Inc.

Lockyer Community Action is a small group and a recent entrant to the field of Citizen Science – in fact we had never thought of ourselves in citizen science terms – we just got stuck into doing koala surveys as part of our battle against a motocross development.  Then so many members liked the feeling of doing something meaningful for koala conservation that we kept on, and on, and on. I guess we never looked up from what we were doing to see the wider implications.  No wonder we were surprised and delighted when our abstract was accepted for a “long talk” presentation at CitSciOz18.

There was a bit of a reality check though, when we realised that the total costs of travel, accommodation, registration, etc. would be over $1,000 (money that our group just didn’t have).  However ACSA quickly came to our rescue and awarded us a $1,000 scholarship to allow me to attend. Thanks.

Prior to the conference I was a bit unsure what to expect.  I’d been to a number of conferences over the years as a consultant or NGO representative where it felt like the focus of most attendees seemed to be principally to network with other academic researchers. Would there be others at CitSciOz18 from small community groups?  Would the topics really be relevant to what our group is trying to achieve?  Would anyone be interested in our programs and experiences?

That uncertainty began to be dispelled from the moment I arrived at the conference location on the first morning.  People were keen to connect and to share interests, and before long we were exchanging comments like “Have you talked to so and so?  They seem to be doing something you’d be interested in.” If there isn’t a term for “mutual networking facilitation” there should be now (MNF?) – it was rampant at CitSciOz18.

By the second day it was clear that most people found the lunch break too short – there were just so many people to connect with and so little time.

My concerns about whether there would be presentations on community group projects from which we could learn and with whom we might share information were soon shown to be unfounded.   Not only were there somewhat similar organisations to ours, but also there were some activities being facilitated by or fostered within government agencies that were, in reality, grass roots action.

But, perhaps equally important for the long-term development of Lockyer Community Action’s programs, were presentations on the last day that dealt with the methodology and sociology of citizen science.  These presentations on Friday raised a whole raft of important considerations, “lessons learned” and food for thought, and left me hungry for more of the same. I can’t wait to see these on the ACSA YouTube Channel.  And, by the way, I’ve taken on board the advice that labelling an activity citizen science can be off-putting for people who are daunted by science.

A range of presentations on data collection and storage also broadened my thinking about this aspect of citizen science.  Lockyer Community Action has, from the outset, had the view that information only becomes truly useful when it is publicly accessible.  All of our “confirmed presence” koala records are submitted to the Queensland Government’s WildNet database.  Some records (from our ‘Other Wildlife’ Program) are also put into Bowerbird, from where they migrate to the Atlas of Living Australia once ID is confirmed.  Now I know there are other options.

Peter Brenton (Atlas of Living Australia) made the point well when he said that data needs to have a life beyond the project and putting it into accessible databases for aggregation and use in larger studies generates ongoing usefulness, including through contributions to conservation – something that applies equally to both citizen science data and to data stored in research institutions.  Peter’s presentations really opened my eyes to the value-adding potential of databases, as well as to the wide range of contributions that ALA is making to facilitating and value-adding to citizen science projects.

For me, an unexpected insight that emerged only after sitting through a range of presentations on citizen science projects of different types was how much an individual’s view of what citizen science is can be influenced by the type of project they have been exposed to.  This was particularly noticeable where the involvement had been with large contributory projects run by large institutions.  The impressions given were often that the citizen science had been “done” by the bureaucrats and that lessons learned from such projects applied to all models of citizen science.  A somewhat similar situation emerged in group discussions on database management – people saw the data management process largely from the point of view of their role in relation to the database – whether as data managers, contributors or users – and managers sometimes seemed to have difficulty in taking on board other views.  There are definite lessons there for anyone leading a citizen science program – beware of having only the view from your own role or your own type of project; make efforts to put yourself in the shoes of all those different categories of people involved in the program, and of those you are seeking to influence with your outcomes.

I could go on and on, but you get the drift.  It was a fantastic conference, and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to attend CitSciOz18 and for all the insights gained there.

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