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“Citizen Science engagement and the great electronic age!”

The wide spread use of smart phone applications in Citizen Science projects stood out for Seamus Doherty at #CitSciOz18.

  • Seamus Doherty, Biomedical Honour’s student, the University of South Australia

I was one of the many fortunate people to attend this year’s Australian Citizen Science Association conference.

Up until just last year, I had never really heard of the concept of citizen science, never mind the great association that would eventually help fund my attendance to Australia’s official citizen science event in my very own city! It’s funny though. You see in the past, I was part of many citizen science projects without even knowing it. It had always been a passion of mine to help researchers in different fields (namely environmental, biology and cosmology science to name just a few of my favourite fields) to sort through and interpret mass amounts of data via online organisations, such as Zooniverse, just for the sheer joy it gave me to be helping real researchers make new and exciting discoveries. And here I am today, developing a citizen science mosquito surveillance programme of my own in an effort to help control arboviruses in South Australia as part of my honour’s thesis.

Attending what was one of my first ever conference events, I had a really great time pacing my way through and absorbing all sorts of information from all sorts of people. Roaming through the various workshops and talks focusing on citizen science projects being run all over the world, it was amazing meeting new people in a variety of different fields and discussing their subjective thoughts and perspectives on different ideas and projects. But with my time at the event, I noted that there were several talks that jumped out at me as not only brilliant in their thinking, but also on how I could personally alter my own project using their experiences.

A great example was given by Andrew Tokmakoff, who discussed the use of gamification for his smartphone application Wild Orchid Watch to make gathering data more fun and engaging for participants. Adding level and ranking systems, and the ability to unlock more content the more a participant contributed could allow people to be more engaged, competing with friends and allowing them to have fun whilst gathering data. Another great example of using gamification was Andrew Robinson’s talk on his QuestGame smartphone application that incorporated a similar design. I found this to be an extremely smart way to engage and sustain participants over a long period of time and is a design feature that I would like to incorporate into my project if I also decide to develop an application.

This theme of using smartphone applications for citizen science projects was echoed throughout the event by many speakers including a lecture by Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Allen Finkel’s who emphasised a list of continuous engagement strategies that could be used through these applications. Some of my personal favourites were real-time validation on observation/data submission and notification of updates to contributed observations. I personally thought these were great ways to keep participants engaged and improve the longevity of a project overtime. Using an application is just such a simple way to get more people to engage in these projects so effortlessly using their smartphone.

In summary, the Australian Citizen Science Association conference of 2018 was an absolute blast and provided many great ideas from all walks of citizen science projects. What really stood out to me was the wide-spread use of smartphone applications part of these projects and how useful they can be for sustained engagement, education and ease of access for participants. I think it really emphasises how much we should be incorporating and embracing the electronic age more to help with the engagement of these citizen science projects. I hope to use many of these ideas and work on the successes of these projects in the future.

“The ACSA conference was rewarding and inspiring”

James Gullison reflects on the important messages from CitSciOz18 – and how great it was to be in Adelaide!

  • James Gullison from DuneWatch, Gold Coast

I was given the opportunity to attend and present at the 2018 Australian Citizen Science Association conference in Adelaide – an opportunity that I could not pass up on for two reasons:

The first was the chance to meet up with a group of people from all around Australia and different parts of the world to share ideas, experiences, knowledge, inspiration, a few good laughs and learn from one another. It was an opportunity to experience other people’s projects and where their passions lie.

The second reason was quite simple to me. I had never been to Adelaide and wanted to experience its indigenous culture, colonial history, art precincts, good food and wine, its amazing natural beauty and the weather.

I had an opportunity to explore some of the wonders of the Art Gallery of South Australia. Adelaide as a city is a real stand out for me with so much on offer and the heat!! Getting around was easy and I decided to head to Semaphore one evening as a mini field trip. I wanted to have an insight into how Adelaide suburbs initiate coastal management but also see the different coastal dune vegetation. I was not disappointed with what I saw, expanding dunes, busy beaches and the sunset is one I will not forget any time soon.

Taking in a sunset from the pier at Semaphore to finish off an energetic day at the conference

The first day of the conference was a great way to kick things off for the week, mainly because it meant I would have my presentation finished on day one. I will admit that public speaking is something that I still get nervous with.  Considering my job role is community engagement, you would think that I would be used to it by now. Unfortunately, I still have the butterflies prior to talking and I’m not generally relaxed until halfway through.

In all honesty, I did not know what to expect, as this was the first time I had attended a conference like this. I prepared what I could for my presentation and hoped that the question time would be kind. This talk went well without any issues, although I found a speed talk goes rather quickly when you are trying to condense so much information into a reduced period.

Shaking off the nerves to give this presentation in such a short period

I felt privileged to be able to present in a room full of people who share similar passions and are part of something bigger. Citizen science has been gaining momentum over the past few years and this conference showcased a variety of projects from all over the country and other parts of the world.  We all share one common trait; we believe we are making a difference in the projects we are involved in.

One of the highlights for me at this conference was listening to the talk given by the keynote speaker, Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel, about how the birth of citizen science started in this country from the humble beginnings of German botanist Ferdinand Mueller.  There was also a great message within this talk, which highlighted the importance of the work that we are all doing within our prospective project.

  • Is it good citizen science that is consistent with the exacting standards of current science experimental processes?
  • Is it a door to the world of science for the community and open for anyone to be involved?
  • What makes it worth doing?

I was happy to go through our DuneWatch project and look at these three statements to see if we are on the right path. Looking at the approach of our project and how it has been well received on the Gold Coast I’m happy to say that we tick those boxes. And this approach can also be used for other projects that were showcased at the conference. Everyone who presented their projects need to be proud of their achievements to date. We truly are at the start a big push for citizen science in this country. What some of us do not realise is that we are the leaders for this citizen science movement within our communities.

The most rewarding aspect of this conference was coming home inspired by what I had seen and learnt over the course of a few days. I felt reinvigorated and recharged and it has been a starting platform for what is shaping as a great 2018.

“Citizen Science in Australia is inspiring!”

After CitSciOz18, Yaela Golumbic hopes to raise the profile of citizen science in Israel.

  • Yaela Golumbic, Israel

 I will start this post, by expressing my sincere appreciation to the ACSA team and conference organizers. I know how difficult it can sometimes be, and yet, everything seemed to be so carefully planned with a calm, peaceful and respectful atmosphere.

My impressions from the conference are entwined with my impression of Australia at large. Being in Australia for the first time was a wonderful and somewhat exotic experience. The beautiful scenes, the beaches, the mountains, the exotic animals (which for Australians may not even be considered exotic), all contributed to my overall excitement of citizen science in Australia. During my visit, I got the overall feeling that people in Australia care about the environment and the natural life around them. It seems that this love of nature is somewhat embedded in the Australian culture. Citizen science sits with this culture in a perfect way, like a glove to a hand, and that is beautiful to see.

Coming from such a small country like Israel, the size of Australia is overwhelming. Israel, which is just four hundred kilometers long and one hundred and fifteen kilometers wide, can be driven north to south in just eight hours. For such a small country, we have a lot going on. Unfortunately, we still do not have a large citizen science community. Seeing all the citizen science work that is being done in Australia was therefore quite inspiring.

The ACSA conference brought together 250 from across Australia and the world, for three days to talk only about citizen science. All people who love science, who love the environment, who made this a purpose for their lives. People working in conservation, in policy, in academia, all working together for a greater good. I was especially inspired, seeing the Chief Scientist of Australia Dr. Alan Finkel, talking about the importance of citizen science. The entrance of citizen science to the public discussion, in such high official ranks, suggests that citizen science is becoming prolific and widespread in Australia. The connection between government and citizen science projects, seeing the many citizen science projects funded by government, to me, seems exceptional.

Back home, I lead a small but national citizen science project, for monitoring air quality in the local environment. This has been somewhat difficult at times, since many scientists believe citizens cannot really contribute to science, and officials in the Environmental Protection Agency believe they are the sole experts in environmental knowledge and decision making. I feel the government in Israel, in general, does not involve the citizen enough in decision making, and does not see the value in including non-experts in the process.

Citizen science in the long run, may be able to change that. Seeing Dr. Finkel talking about the importance of citizen science gave me hope and challenged me to get the chief scientist in Israel to talk about citizen science. To create a collaboration between citizen scientists and government officials. Looking into this future, I cannot wait to see what the next years of citizen science will look like.