CitSciOz21: reflections & summaries

By Luise Manning

Luise was the recipient of one of ACSA’s complimentary conference regsiterations, available to those people who did not have organisational support to attend CitSciOz21

Due to the Covid 19 Pandemic, the 3rd ACSA Conference, which was planned to be held on the Gold Coast last year, went from a face-to-face conference to an on-line event. The induction videos on how to use the platform were useful to test your equipment before attending the conference. This was my first ACSA conference and I was quite impressed by the ease of registering and the easy-to-understand home page containing the timetable of events for each day. It was very professionally done and provided a wide variety of topics and content. 

The benefits of the on-line conference meant that even if two of my chosen talks were held at the same time, I could view one live and watch the other later as all the talks were recorded.  This has not been the case in the past and one had to choose between two talks.

The presenters had some great slides and graphics which helped make their presentation interesting. I’m not sure if anyone had a favourite presentation but I did find Oliver Knox’s presentation to be very interesting to watch as a full video presentation of how the Challenging our Citizens to Soil Your Undies for Science. Even if the networking opportunities or the ability to ask questions was hampered by being an on-line event, the benefits of being able to watch a presentation in your own time was definitely a bonus.

In such a short time I have learnt about many different projects occurring around Australia.  I am now keen to try out some of these new projects, to learn more skills and knowledge about the world around us.  

Below are my reflections on of some of the presentations I attended.

Wednesday 27th October

Frog ID: Communication Approaches for Maximising Impact – Nadia Rosland

Frog ID has come a long way since it first launched the app in 2017. Initially partners of the project and the National Museum helped promote Frog ID but blogs by researchers were of great value in communicating the outcomes.  Frog ID Week began in November 2018 to get measurable, assignable and time related data.  With the help of the Australian Museum. partners, and donor support a call to action plan was created using a prize as a leverage tool to reach out to schools and attract new participants.  A strong marketing campaign was produced which was promoted on radio networks. This resulted in 32 820 records.  This year the team at Frog ID is hoping that their  annual Frog ID Week which starts on 12th November to 21st November, exceeds their expectations with excited participants (froggers) keen to jump into action to record as many frogs calls as possible.

Maintaining Independence while Navigating the Path of Funding for Citizen Science Programs – David Kopelke, Gladstone Regional Air Quality Group

Success first starts with identifying the need. The group engaged with the local industry and the community to communicate the credibility of information.  They got creative in their design by including different memberships which increased not just individual members but also industry.  They had no voting rights, but this funded a paid secretariat position.   The group were able to access invaluable and reliable data which was uploaded to the public with links to people and government. The quality of the information and education materials reflected sound facts and data.  Citizen Science monitoring and the education process had no unconscious bias due to the funding of an impartial secretariat.

How Can we Best Support the Use of Citizen Science in Education: Lessons from Citizen Science project Leaders – Ciara Kenneally

It’s the age old saying you “learn by doing”. As most teachers know,  a hands-on approach increases your learning outcomes.    First establish your goals and any challenges which might come your way. The project had 17 focus groups all analysing different themes. They tackled the learning by looking at the skills, meaningful experiences to be achieved, hands-on approaches, awareness of the world and bio-diversity.  The aim of the project was to get future scientists involved and to meet scientists.  There were several challenges the project leaders faced; the curriculum had to align with the project. The time it required from teachers and enlisting project leaders who were unfamiliar with the education system or unfamiliar with the citizen science project. Despite all their best planning, some conflicting goals emerged about the online project as schools and teachers required safety on-line for participants.

So the moral of this story is do your homework first.  Meet with your stakeholders and work out what are some of the problems, regulations or requirements that could derail your project before you start and establish a plan on how you will mitigate and address the issues.

Citizen Science at TERN: Broad-scale Long-term monitoring in Partnership with Community – Kate Irvine, University of Adelaide

As with any project community collaboration is the key with Citizen Science. It’s an ideological requirement to fill in gaps of knowledge and get large amounts of data.  This started with the Native Orchid Society’s desire to store and share information about orchids. The developed the Wild Orchid App with the aim of collecting data and storing it. The challenge was in getting the information, of species locations the type of photos required and to increase the uptake of the app around Australia not just in high populated areas.  They needed to ID the orchids and enlisted two PhD students, and an ecologist who led the data.  This was shared on iNaturalist platform.  2704 observations identified 323 species by 287 participants and the project had 782 members.  The observers also collect information about  habitat, land use and surrounding community threats, ecology, orchid population dynamics and taxonomy.

The second TERN project involved Perri Urban Group and the Qld University of Technology and Birdlife Australia on a two-hectare property on the outskirts of Brisbane in April. The team collaborated to start a pilot project with Ausplots overlaid online on paper in the field.  The data sheets were stored on Ebird and TERN.  800 plots were used to develop the custom-made app and involved, co-design and co-creation with the community who had a vested interest in seeing success. 

This project was well resourced in terms of community and scientific need, with well established data goals. The ability to have time to develop technical keys and use new technology to customise an app to the groups needs.

Clearly technology can help collect valuable scientific data and scientists can set perimeter on data collection goals but without inviting the support of citizen scientists you won’t get the success.

Choose your own Adventure: the DigiVol Volunteer Experience – Adam Woods Australian National Museum, Sydney

The museum had a slight problem, lots of records that weren’t digitised for ease of access. A little problem that takes a lot of time and money to get records transcribed.  They found their answer in a crowd sourcing platform and asked people to support the digitisation of museum records all over Australia by transcribing the paper records into digital format.  There were 3 projects they looked at Newcastle Earthquake, Dunnart Survey on Kangaroo Island & transcribing of plant labels (Epiphytes). The interest by the volunteers was the driving success of the program for several reasons. 

  1. diversity of experiences
  2. specimen labels
  3. a variety of subject matter
  4. and different mechanism of recording data; camera traps.

Depth of experience of volunteers they had just begun to scratch the surface and it allowed the volunteers to apply existing knowledge of fauna and diver deeper into the history of the collections.

Their was a commitment by the Australian Museum to train volunteers in Imaging techniques and information to validate and ensure quality control was maintained bu they had to put some trust in the volunteers.  Their insight into how the data was used and managed. This required communication and the ability to work with volunteers to be inclusive about the work that was undertaken, share the results with the broader community and the educational experiences gained but also to acknowledge the volunteers’ efforts.

The National Museum already possessed the tools, they created newsletters, webinars, on-line forums, surveys, and feedback.  They ensured the success is linked with users and institutions and they receive ongoing feedback from volunteers.  Through this volunteer centred approach, the museum has created opportunities for other volunteers to use their skills and knowledge.

Keynote Address – Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Scientist, Doctor, Engineer, Author and Science Communicator

Have you ever been on a speed date with science?  You can delve as far back as you like into generations of science and you can rest assured that cockroaches and frogs will still be apart of them. No matter what state or country you live in the world , the access to free education makes your world liveable. Karl suggests that “You matter E = MC2”.   

Centuries later scientists have discovered lots of events in space. With new technology scientists have discovered 62 black holes and three solar masses but more importantly they have solved how to measure gravitational waves and black holes. LIGO measures gravitational waves caused by the collision of large masses, such as black holes. Einstein’s theory predicted the existence of gravitational waves but the technology to measure the distance between 2 points less than a billionth of a metre has only been developed in the last six years. The ability for LIGO to sense the undulations in spacetime is perhaps one of the most significant discovery of our time.

And for those of you who have been wondering the benefits of caffeine versus chocolate, Doctor Karl has dispelled the myths, caffeine is good for you because it increases your life expectancy by reducing  your chances of heart and liver disease and  prostate cancer in males. It also has a positive effect on people with type two diabetes and it improves glucose metabolism, which increases your energy level.  Plus, the immunostimulants and anti-inflammatory properties keep your body in top working order but don’t go overboard 4 cups per day is enough. In other words, a coffee a day keeps the doctor away. 

Thursday 28th October

Key Note Address – Corey Tuck, Deadly Science

Listening to Corey Tuck speak NSW Young Australian of the Year and nominee for 2020 Young Australian of the year you think is there anything this talented person can’t do? A Rugby Union player, Indigenous CSIRO STEM Champion and Eureka Prize Winer for STEM Inclusion for 2021,  will leave you feeling exhausted. Corey is a proud Kamilaroi man and dedication and enthusiasm to ensure that children in remote areas have books to inspire indigenous children that “You Can Read”. Corey values literacy and knows that once you have the skills to read you can do anything.  Corey has raised $240 000 and purchased over 20 000 science book packs which have been donated to schools but now he’s on his next mission to help children not only reach for the stars but to see them.  He has funded over 500 telescopes in remote schools to ensure the children can explore their universe.

The children are no longer starry eyed after Corey started his own portal “Science for Kids” where each week children in different communities zoom in and get to ask questions to spark their interest in STEM.  This activity is providing opportunities to engage them with science experiments so they can improve their practical skills, vocabulary, literacy levels and appreciate science. Corey has broadened this program by awarding children for attending school and is acting as a mentor. The letters he has received from children are a testament to his passion to change lives.

Corey is now supporting the children in a Finding Bilby science activity and  supporting indigenous rangers with microscopes. He is busy translating STEM resources into indigenous languages to help make science more inclusive and have culturally appropriate emotion cards. His Captain Starlight campaign is encompassing the Deadly Steps to improve fitness, as well as address privilege, health, clean water and food.

Corey’s new book the First Scientists which is suitable for children aged 7 to 12 years explores the deadly feats that indigenous people engaged in from bush medicine, their understanding of the uses and effects.  The book introduces the reader to all the amazing scientists both past and present, with their knowledge of astronomy, forensic science, chemistry, engineering, ecology  and land management.

Swapping suits for Gumboots:  executives lead a #BlueCarbonArmy of citizen Scientists – DR. Maria Palacios Deakin University

There has been major investment in Green Carbon and Green Energy, but did you know that that our coastal wetlands trap carbon 40% faster than our terrestrial forests.  Coastal wetlands;  mangroves, sea grass and saltmarsh beds are an important eco-system because they provide habitat, are a wildlife nursery, act as a pollution filter and a storm buffer zone during wild weather. Our coastal wetlands act as a carbon sink burying 80% of carbon and storing it.  Making Blue Carbon a fantastic resource to offset carbon and fight climate change.  

Together with Earth Watch, HSBC Bank & the Deakin University formed a partnership to address the multi-faceted program to investigate the importance of investing in Blue Carbon.  The key to this project was getting executives from various sectors from insurance companies, transport and other carbon emitting industries to swap their suits for gumboots to attend workshops which included undertaking four hour hands-on field work to collect data. The with the aim of advancing their understanding and knowledge of Blue Carbon. The two year multi-sector partnership involving over 300 executives, NGO’s university achieved results.

Feedback from the participants established that the executives enjoyed the fieldwork and found it a rewarding experience in helping scientists. More importantly it found that 95% of participants had increased their awareness of Blue Carbon 78% had increased knowledge and technology .  Whilst only 16% had increased their awareness about environmental issues a further 22% had led to a behaviour change but a key finding was the experience had led to 55% of executives adopting a  practices and decisions to help their industry have an immediate effect to reduce adverse effects on local eco-systems, such as reducing plastic consumption, use of Green Energy, purchasing local produce and introducing sustainable practices into their business models. 

Unpacking the Opportunities and Barriers to Co-created Citizen Science – Tess Hayes

This project built on the 2018 study by Jade Gunnell which identified several common themes involved in citizen science projects, time, scientific needs, ethics, resources, project beneficiaries, scale, partnerships, and objectives.  Instead, it aimed at unpacking the challenges faced in designing  a co-created citizen science project.  Most projects collect data for scientists, but this project explored issues around the community need to get input and involvement in all parts of the project.  It placed a greater value on community, local knowledge societal impact and was led by the community interest.  There were opportunities for collective problem solving, and the usual challenges, funding resources, partnerships, the criteria to be addressed, time frames, funding restrictions such as neutrality.  It commenced as an organic bottom-up funding approach.

The main challenges facing a co-created partnership was:

  • a higher valued was paced on scientific data versus citizen data
  • lack of value given to knowledge, experience and skills of participants.
  • The need to demonstrate benefits to community and science

To be more effective the scientists need to relinquish some of power over the project to address the community concerns and empower the people in skills and new knowledge but also understand the dimensions of the problem.  Scientific knowledge isn’t going to fix today’s problems overnight, but we need willing, understanding participants that can listen and learn, to gain confidence in their skills and be flexible in attaining goals.  Citizens want answers to the problem,  but there is a mix of political agendas, lay and scientific knowledge so citizen scientists are providing the  ground truthing to increase reliability of knowledge. 

Long Term Nesting Datasets Leads to Policy Co-created Citizen Science  – Kate Hofmeister

The Turtle Care Sunshine Coast program was established by local residents.  During the years from 2000 -2005, they had 200 participants providing 800 hours of observations directly related to fox predation and nesting information.  This followed on from Dr. Julie O’Connor’s research that reinforced the No Food Here project.   In ten years they had increased turtle hatchings by 27% and decreased nest destruction  decreased 3% (need to check fact)The project had links with Dr Col Limpus’ data using telemetry research and attaching trackers on loggerhead turtles  to monitor their migration.  This collaboration enriched the experience when scientists and volunteers engaged and came together to share results.

In 2016 they conducted a 10-year review of the program’s capacity and investigated the benchmarks, the impacts of light pollution on turtle nest sights.  This led to a development standard for housing to lessen the light impact on beaches used by nesting turtles. Dr Kelly Schaeffer found the strengths of high-quality training with council support helped to inform policy and increased community belonging and understanding of the change in policy. One weakness that was identified was in relation to recognition and community communication.  A pre-requisite to inform and engage the community in the long-term goals of habitat protection along with the Marine Turtle Conservation 10 year Plan. This would address the challenges and ensure the longevity of the Turtle Care program to stabilise marine habitats.  Upon review of the plan, it has  led to the employment of experienced permanent staff.  The policy change came about from the workshops and community action was rewarded by improved nesting conditions for turtles.

Two Worlds Colliding: Unexpcted co-creation and experiential learnings between citizens and science – Fam Chako RMIT University Port Phillip Eco-centre

It’s become a ritual, whenever you enter the water, you smother your skin in sunscreen to protect yourself from harmful UV rays and prevent painful sunburn, but have you ever wondered does sunscreen harm the reef?

The goal to measure if sunscreen ingredients; Zinc & Titanium and non-particles oxybenzone have a sufficient effect on the marine environment and temperate of water in Port Phillip Bay.  Although the area around St Kilda does not have a reef, the phytoplankton could detail effects of mana lion cell-lines and the data could result in community change. 

There were a number of challenges facing the three-year project. The first was getting enough volunteers to become involved. For most of us a working day is eight hours but for RMIT, the water sample records needed to be taken every 4 hours over a 24-hour period.  This problem had to be addressed, especially if volunteers were required to wade eight metres into the water at 2am at night.

Secondly, the project must consider safety issues, such as having volunteers on the beach alone.  The high-risk factor involved meant the project would not even get off the ground unless changes occurred.  

The project compromised by scaling down the hours of sampling. Samples were taken between 6 am to 10pm, at 4-hour intervals at 3 locations on St. Kilda Beach.  The goals of the volunteers versus scientist goals were taken into consideration.  Students would gain real environment experiences and interested people would know if sunscreen was harmful to the wildlife and health of the bay.

Even though it took 6 months to calibrate a machine to test the samples, the time wasn’t wasted.  Scientists had an opportunity to adapt and re-design the project and stakeholders were involved at the start of the engagement process.  There was a wide range of experience and expertise in the planning of the project. The co-creation allowed the project to manage expectations of researchers and volunteers, many having different reasons for becoming involved.  The team needed to recognise and identify the different reasons that were driving the stakeholder’s involvement.  Forums provided all participants with feedback and clarity around the study so that the big picture was not lost.  

Although everyone wanted to know the results and find out if sunscreen was harmful to the bay, another challenge that scientists had to consider was the implications of the results. Particularly if a  negative result was obtained;  that sunscreen does have an impact and what could the ramifications on the community entail.   

So, before you set off on any journey of discovery think about the level of co-creation and how you will address the various challenges that are on a collision course with your project.

Opportunities and Challenges for Upscaling the Mozzie Monitors Program – Larissa Braz Sousa, 3rd year PhD Student at University of South Australia.

Did you know that the common mosquito in Australia is the Ade Noastoscriptus culex quinquefasciatus and the other most common is the Toxorichynchites speciosus Aevigelax? 

The catalyst to launch the program was as a result of Dengue Fever returning to Central Queensland and at the same time the World Health Organisation reported an increase in cases. the Mozzie Monitoring program needed to recruit volunteers to assist researchers improve public health.  This was a critical issue that proved popular with people. By 2018 they recruited 200 people, whose main role was to trap and take photos of mosquitoes. In the first year, citizen scientists trapped four times the professional scientists and got similar species which provided valuable data. 

Two trials were undertaken from South Australia to Western Australia.  Training was conducted before and after surveys were undertaken.   Interviews with participants found their identification of species and knowledge about mozzies had improved; they could identify male and females, identify changes and how to treat mozzies.  The iNaturalist programs was  used to upload the photos and 2 2266 observations, 65 species together with 181 identifiers and 572 observers. Participants could see the contributions and distribution areas of mosquito species.

The information led to a Mozzie Month Map being created from data collected over  the six week period from February to March. 100 Citizen scientists collected 1025 mozzies  and took 148 photos from mainland Australia except for Victoria. The low cost and the ability to collect data from remote locations was also ecologically and medically important. The first trial recorded no invasive species but the participants also captured incidental information on other invertebrates; ants, wasp, midges and spiders.

Not everyone submitted photos. Unfortunately, 40% of the photos were not good quality to be research grade to make a conclusive identification.  However, by the second trial participants improved their photography skills and the  geographical area had expanded.  Proving that a low cost, easily accessible technology which could reach remote locations.  The program provided advantages in developing skills and knowledge to help local government and researchers tackle the health risks associated with disease carrying mosquitoes.   The above advantages would also help increase partnerships and the aim is to go from local to National interventions. 

This Citizen scientist project created opportunities:

  • for members of the public to engage with scientists,
  • to  overcome logistical and spatial barriers,
  • to connect with different stakeholders
  • to assist scientists to observe and collect data
  • which helps contribute to our community
  •  to gain local, national or global attention
  • that enhance knowledge and skills
  • and enables you to have fun.

It’s not too late to register for 2022 Mozzie Month and get a trap by going to mozziemonitors.com or contact: mozziemonitors@unisa.edu.au

Keynote address – Costa Georgiadis

Costa Georgiadis is the well-known host of ABC’s Gardening Australia, but this landscape artist and environmental educator was keen to have a yarn about all things science to understand the science and how to tell the story of science to others.  Getting people, children to engage in citizen science and how to project the information that was learnt and gained to the public.  Natural science tells the truth but how do we interpret the information.  Excitement is what Costa recommends, and we need to get excited and share the facts.  Science Week is a great time to get on board and provide opportunities to celebrate and understand the science and its many layers of knowledge.   Getting out and making observations matter.  Every time you engage with someone on the science topic  you need to add another layer onto the knowledge gained.

It starts with local custodians sharing locally  to bring communities together.  Costa suggests “We should be talking about Naturehoods not Neighbourhoods”.  We need Citizen Scientists, to connect our naturehood to find out what’s in our yards and analyse the biodiversity. It can start with a small, limited group but we should be connecting the message to other groups.  We need the citizens of our naturehood to amplify the findings. and interconnect with scientists.  Gardening Australia acts as an amplifier of messages and what’s happening in the natural world.  If you have a different perception of science change it!  Have the passion to share it.   Costa asks everyone to think about what you can do to massage the message and get it out there.   It’s a bit like planting the seeds of knowledge and letting that seed grow until it’s a flourishing jungle and each new branch reaches out to touch someone’s mind to grow their knowledge  and ideas.

So why not convert your neighbourhood to a naturehood and start planting some citizen science seeds today?

Friday 29 October

Citizen Science of Team Turtle CQ paves human pathway -, Rebecca French

This is a real-life story about a passionate group of volunteers who had been collecting data about the nesting turtles. Volunteers knew that if there was a gap in the data of turtle nesting that it meant something. The story began in 2015 where volunteers had been using Biocollect app linking their data with the data from Mon Repos.  They began monitoring the impact of threats of predation, marine debris, and 4 Wheel Drive vehicles.  They established focus groups to make surveys of species of turtles that visited and observing vehicles driving on the beach during breeding times. They found that it was not the locals who were driving along the beach but people who were unaware that the beach was used by turtles but there was some non-compliance of drivers in relation to speed.  The volunteers began conversations with the Dept of Environment  to discuss the problems and try to work out solutions as there was quite a lot of angst that the hatchlings could be harmed by 4WD vehicle traffic and  the speed of the vehicles.

Unfortunately, a wedge was driven in between the groups the turtle volunteers and the recreational beach users 4WD vehicles by the local media who claimed the beach might be closed to 4 WD users.

It began with a reassurance that the volunteers who monitored the turtles nesting would listened too. The volunteers were given opportunities to enhance their skills such as training in marine strandings. They became Team Hatchlings and started a consumer based Social Marketing Approach.  Still used observations, data collection and focus group workshops.  This resulted in speed signs with cameras being installed by local government and the regular changing of signs to explain when turtles were hatching.  People began interacting and promoting the message of driving safely on the beach to protect turtles and other wildlife.

The learnings demonstrated that if you want to decrease threats and improve the viability of the hatchlings one had to make connections with volunteers  to prevent them from becoming disheartened with their volunteer efforts.  Giving a voice to community and other stakeholders was important as it enabled groups share problems and to use each other’s knowledge to implement solutions. Using stewardship education and linking older and younger volunteers to engage with other communities who used the beach space, Coast Care, bird watchers and the Surf Riders Association had the best outcome as they could extend their reach.  The groups began monitoring social media closely managing the need to have consistent messages about when the beach could be used and reinforce positive messages and protocols for volunteers.

The moral of this story is there is always two sides and no one approach will suit all stakeholders but if you work together, you will achieve positive results and provide long lasting benefits.

Challenging our Citizens to Soil Your Undies for Science, Knox, K.  Meaney & K. Abbott.

It’s a funny title with an interesting connotation but it’s not what you’re thinking.

Soil Your Undies was an eight-week project whereby dirty undies could unearth information about the soil health.  Participants were asked to dig a pair of white cotton underpants which were the same brand, size and material into the ground for the same length of time.   After eight weeks, participants would dig up their treasured undies and take a photo.  The holier the underwear – the healthier the soil. The underwear was sent back to the University of New England for further analysis so the Scientists could use the data to look at how to improve soil health.  In 2018 they sent out 30 pairs which resulted in 15 pairs being returned. Although it provided some information on soil, water moisture soil, organic matter, and soil biology. It wasn’t enough to provide conclusive data.  

It seems bragging rights to who had the healthiest soils was what farmers were interested in at the Royal Easter Show in 2020. The staff began an evaluation on how to engage participants to soil their undies for science during  Covid19 pandemic. The timing  had to be considered, if they wanted to involve schools as a ten-week school term was required for the eight week soil experiment. Kits were sent from the University of New England to schools, which resulted in an uptake of 150 schools involved in the project. Starting on World Cotton Day October 7, 2020, the experiment was completed by December 5. By using the internet to promote their project in 2021, during National Science Week they increased the uptake to 300 schools.

This project was not just about engaging the students to soil their undies, but it also challenged classes to dig a bit deeper into social science. Every two weeks they had different activities to analyse soil; the mineral composition, measure the pH of soils or conduct a worm hunt.  By 2021 they included the Food Better by Design theme and the importance of soil in production of food yield.

This project exceeded the expectations and impact that the organisers had first intended but did they get  “lucky” or was it due to an organised approach?  If you want to get more impact you can’t rely on luck so you will need to tell your story and tell it often.  The recording of the results in an engaging way got the media involved. The ABC television and radio led to news interviews. Then “Buzz Media” took effect, with over 23 million people watching their story.

The recipe to create an impact could be used by other new grass roots projects.

  • Tell people your results
  • Use social media to share – Soil your Undies was an instant success
  • Soil was active interest in Biology
  • Posting images to the Cotton Industry helped increase promotion
  • Conduct a competition amongst participants to ensure active engagement
  • Prepaid envelopes ensured the results were returned & gave the project value that the data was important
  • Digitise the pants to show how degraded they became
  •  Weight was a good measure in deciding who had the healthiest soil.
  • The involvement of a prize also required feedback about the project.

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