Category: Blogs

On the Wallaby

By Rob Pederick, ACSA member and grey nomad

Now the tent poles are rotting, the campfires are dead,
And the possums may gambol in trees overhead;
I am humping my bluey far out on the land,
And the prints of my bluchers sink deep in the sand:
I am out on the wallaby humping my drum,
And I came by the tracks where the sundowners come.

From ‘On the Wallaby’ by Henry Lawson.

G’day there, my name is Rob Pederick, but these days most people call me ‘Dusty’. I am a member of ACSA and an amateur entomologist. Most of my working life was spent on farms working with animals and I even had a go at zoo-keeping for a while. When I was a young bloke, many, many years ago, I spent a lot of time knocking around the bush and I have had a crack at most farm and bush jobs, although I am the world’s worst shearer. I am retired these days and like to refer to myself as a ‘Retired Gentleman’. For a few years now I’ve been travelling around the country with my old Hilux ute, towing my even older caravan and being a sort of ‘Grey Nomad’. I sometimes have my old yellow dog with me, but his arthritis is getting to him a bit these days, so I have to leave him at home. In these articles I will try to tell you some stories about those travels, some funny and some a bit sad.

When I am out and about, I like to find ‘free camps’ which are well away from civilisation. But doing this sometimes causes a few problems, like communications. All my gear is through one provider; I won’t mention any names here, but it has to do with a ‘little puddle’. And another thing is that I seem to spend a lot of my time, just living. Cutting firewood, cooking and all those other household chores that one has to deal with. I also spend a fair bit of time trying to identify all the species of fish in the local rivers (and find out which ones are edible), but I practise ‘responsible fishing’ because I don’t often catch many. Because I have been away so much lately, I haven’t become involved in many ACSA projects but, when I have some time (and communications) I like to do some digitising for DigiVol, and I am always on the lookout for interesting wildlife, which I try to photograph and send off as sightings to the Atlas of Living Australia. All that is more than enough to keep an old bloke pretty busy, but anyway, on with the yarns.

Now, on one occasion I was at a place called Cobbold Gorge, out in the middle of Queensland somewhere. A really nice spot on a big cattle station, with a great camp ground, a restaurant and bar, and even a swimming pool. It just so happened that this was the night of the ‘State of Origin’ thugby match and the restaurant had put on a ‘pie and chips’ night and everyone was crowded around the big TV in the dining room. At one point I decided to go outside for a breath of fresh air and to give the nicotine levels a bit of a boost; I’m not really that interested in thugby anyway.

I wandered out the front door and there, on the road, just outside the verandah was the biggest Brahman bull in Queensland. As I passed him I said ‘G’day mate’, very politely as you do when you are face to face with a big bull. I stood watching him while I had my smoke and I could almost see the thoughts going around in his tiny brain. ‘If he can go in there, so can I. I wonder if they have any chips left. I wonder what the score is, I hope Queensland wins’. By the time I went to go back inside, he had his front feet up on the verandah, so I said to him ‘I wouldn’t go in there if I were you mate, they mightn’t like it’.

But he ignored me and followed me inside. Well, he got as far as the bar, which was only a very narrow space and he couldn’t turn around in there. There was an awful lot of panic in the place, and a couple of the stockmen came and tried to get him out. But, have you ever tried to make a big bull walk backwards, even if he wanted to? It’s a bit like herding cats really. After a lot of pushing and shoving, and a fair bit of poking and prodding, they managed to get him outside and to take him away and lock him up so that he couldn’t return. I noticed on my way back to the van that he had broken out again and was calmly mowing, and fertilising, the lawns beside the swimming pool.

On another occasion I had been camped at Cobbold for a few days recuperation when I discovered that I was almost out of my medications. I had decided to move on anyway, and as I had to pass through Georgetown on my way, I thought I would pick them up there. I got to Georgetown and drove around, looking in vain for a pharmacy. I pulled up outside the general store, hoping to find something there. Outside the store I met up with the local constabulary, and I asked them where the pharmacy was. ‘There isn’t one,’ said cop one. ‘Where is the nearest then?’ I asked. ‘Normanton that way, or Ravenshoe that way,’ replied cop two. ‘But you can get them to bring them back on the bus,’ said cop one. This was on a Tuesday morning, and then cop two said, “the next bus isn’t till Fridee….but.’ It seems that everything in that part of the world happens on ‘Fridee.’ If you go into a store on a Monday and ask for a loaf of bread, they will tell you that they have sold out and the next truck doesn’t come till ‘Fridee….but.’

So, while I was having a coffee and smoke to calm my nerves a bit, I came up with plan 97B….but. Now, I had been planning to backtrack a bit here and head for the gemfields out the back of Mt Surprise to do a bit of fossicking for some topaz. So plan 97B was to head out to O’Brien’s Camp, set up and then head for Ravenshoe first thing the next morning. The road out to O’Brien’s was a bit rough here and there and there were cattle everywhere. You can tell a track is ‘a bit rough’ when there are termite mounds growing in the middle of the road, some of which are so big the cattle use them for scratching posts. But I made it to the camp without breaking anything.

I pulled up outside the gate and strolled over to the office. There didn’t seem to be anybody around but there were a few dusty old utes, all with their bonnets up. Next thing, there was the loud sound of compressed air and then a head appeared out from under one of the trucks. The head belonged to a little ‘older’ lady; she was dressed in shorts and T-shirt and boots that were nearly as big as she was, and she was covered from head to toe in dust. She was all of four feet, thirteen and a half inches tall. She explained that she had been cleaning all the air filters on the trucks.

I paid for a couple of nights and set up camp beside a rather strange looking tree which had fruit all over it. I thought it was strange because the birds hadn’t touched any of the fruit. I discovered that it was called a ‘quinine tree’ and the fruit was edible, but it was so astringent and bitter that even the birds wouldn’t eat it. I was up early the next morning and headed off on my 400km round trip to Ravenshoe, just to pick up a few pills. I was back by lunchtime and stopped for a quiet Carlton spa-water at the local hostelry, and that was another experience in itself. And I didn’t find any topaz; most of the area is taken up by mining licences, but the thoughtful council have set aside an area for fossickers and prospectors, but that had been so well dug up over the years that you could have planted a crop of wheat in it.

Now if you happen to be out and about in this beautiful big country of ours, at a community event or maybe even an ACSA conference, and you happen to see an old bloke called Dusty, make sure you come and say g’day. We can share a few yarns, and perhaps we can chat about what more we grey nomads can do out there on the road, to help advance citizen science in Australia.

Dusty.

 

My Year in Bhutan

By Danielle Northey, ACSA member and volunteer

Danielle Northey with a Rheum nobile, a peculiar species of rhubarb which grows above 4000m

As I snuggled with my daughter in the warm autumn sun streaming through the window of our home nestled in the Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, I commented that the peach tree was beginning to lose its leaves. I said winter was on its way and that I was waiting for the Yellow-billed blue magpies to return to our garden. As if by cue, a Yellow-billed blue magpie streaked past our window. These majestic magpies are nothing like Australian magpies. They have elongated tails which make them glide through the air. Their tails are stripy and their bills are yellow, as you might expect, but I would not call them blue. The first magpie of the season reminded me that we had come a full cycle: our year on the Australian Volunteer Program in Bhutan was nearly over. It also reminded me that my connection with nature has fundamentally changed, thanks to citizen science.

You may have heard about Bhutan because its leaders measure progress by Gross National Happiness instead of GDP? Contrary to a common misnomer, the Bhutanese do not claim to be the happiest people in the world but they do consider and acknowledge that progress means more than economic development. Instead, environmental conservation, sustainable socio-economic development, preservation and promotion of culture and good governance are their chosen indicators of progress. If only our politicians would do the same!

The blue poppy, Bhutan’s national flower, was upgraded to a new species in 2014

Bhutan is also known to be situated within a global biodiversity hotspot. Bhutan is a small Himalayan Kingdom measuring only 150km by 300km across, as the crow flies. However, with elevations ranging from 150m on the Indian border to more than 7000m near Tibet, and relatively untouched due to its mountainous topography, it is teaming with biodiversity. Yet taxonomic work is in its early stages. Only 10,000 species have been described in Bhutan to date, just a fraction of what is yet to be discovered and documented. An average of three new species to science are discovered each year, without too much effort. Citizen science has a huge role to play to help build Bhutan’s taxonomic records.

My volunteer role at the Royal Government of Bhutan’s National Biodiversity Centre was to enhance and promote the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal. The BBP is Bhutan’s equivalent to the Atlas of Living Australia, an online central repository of official information about Bhutan’s biodiversity. Scientists and citizen scientists alike can upload information about biodiversity in Bhutan which is then freely available for sharing, download and analysis. One of the great benefits of the portal is that citizens can upload their photographs of plants and animals and have them identified by other users and confirmed by an expert.

Being new to the world of citizen science, my former colleague, citizen science guru and mentor, Erin Roger, at the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, shared three pieces of advice which helped me with my new role:

  • Sell the project, not “citizen science” as people don’t necessarily know what it is.
  • BioBlitzes increase participation in citizen science.
  • Apps, such as QuestGame, are extremely effective at generating biodiversity information.
International Biodiversity Day celebration in Bhutan

As part of my volunteer work, I organised a celebration of International Biodiversity Day in Thimphu. Part of this involved organising a BioBlitz for 200 students from nine high schools in Thimphu. During the BioBlitz, which occurred in an urban park, up to 18 species of plants were documented in a single two by two metre plot. Eight different species of birds were spotted during one 40-minute bird survey, including the rare Black-tailed crake. This species is so seldomly spotted that we did not have a digital image in the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal! Students were encouraged to upload their observations to the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal as part of the BioBlitz.

I also organised online BioBlitzes, encouraging users to upload observations from a particular biodiversity group with prizes for top contributors. For example, we partnered with World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and ran an aquatic biodiversity BioBlitz. The BioBlitz generated an impressive 1124 observations compared with 131 observations during the same period in the previous year.

I also worked with QuestaGame coordinating a team from the Royal University of Bhutan to enter the University BioQuest, competing against universities all around the world to submit observations and correctly identify species. I thought this small country with a population of less than one million would be trailing all others for sure, but RUB came second, taking the QuestaGame developers and I by surprise. See the results here. It would seem that the Bhutanese love nature – and their smart phones. Discussions are underway to feed QuestaGame’s data to the Bhutan Biodiversity Portal.

Students participating in a BioBlitz

I have learnt to love citizen science as it is a way to connect people with nature, especially those living in cities who are disconnected from the rhythms of the natural environment. It is a wonderful tool to educate the public about our beautiful biodiversity and the need to protect it. But it is so much more than that. It is a way to generate biodiversity information en masse so that scientists can spend their time doing what they are really good at. For example, Matthew Hall who won the “Spotteron Competition” at #CitSciOz18 for the development of the Brush Turkey app said “Within three days of the launch date the number of reports on the app already outstripped the number of Brush-turkeys I had personally tagged in the whole first year of my PhD”. Queensland Museum arachnid expert Dr Robert Whyte, when referring to a QuestaGame competition said citizen scientists did the grunt work by identifying common spiders, giving experts more time to investigate unusual specimens popping up on the database.

Backtrack prior to our arrival in Bhutan and I would not have even known the species of birds which come through our Sydney backyard, let alone that they have seasonal distribution patterns. I am ashamed to say that I assumed most of the birds were Indian minors, an introduced species, but on closer inspection I am surprised by the diversity. My husband wants to remove a palm tree that has become too huge for our tiny backyard but a couple of months ago I observed a breeding pair of Australasian figbirds feeding on the tiny plump red fruit, so the tree has to stay. I used to call a bird a bird but now I realise each species is so unique and special in its own way. Citizen science has turned me into a bit of a twitcher. And I have returned from Bhutan more passionate than ever before about the multiple benefits of citizen science.

#CitSci2019, Raleigh, NC USA!

By Michelle Neil (ACSA Secretary and social media moderator)

We come together at this conference to learn and work together for positive, productive outcomes.”

Every year ACSA sends a member of the Management Committee to a sister citizen science association conference somewhere in the world. This year I was the lucky one, so earlier this month I set off to attend the Citizen Science Association’s #CitSci2019 Conference in Raleigh, North Carolina USA.

Flying into Raleigh NC. Population 464,000. Pic: Michelle Neil

After more than 30 hours of travel I flew into Raleigh at 4am on Tuesday the 12th of March, grabbed an UBER and headed to the hotel.

The first day of the conference dawned cold and fine. I headed across the road to the Raleigh Convention Centre to help with the expected 800+ registrations!

I was very impressed by CSA’s organization of this event. At #CitSciOz18 we had 3 concurrent sessions running at any one time. However at #CitSci2019, CSA had up to 7 sessions running concurrently! This made me very busy trying to figure out which sessions I had already pre-booked and which ones I had already nominated to go to. I would have loved to go on the excursions but I wasn’t sure what I would miss out on that day.  Thank goodness for the conference app!

Raleigh Convention Centre. Pic: Michelle Neil

The theme for the conference was “Growing Our Family Tree”.  There were 4 main sub-themes intertwined throughout the conference. The themes were Equity (not equality), Education, Environmental Justice and Applied Ecology.  These themes were very well represented by the keynote speakers each morning and the Environmental Justice Panel on the Friday night.

This is what 800+ delegates looks like! Pic: Michelle Neil

Equity

Of the 4 keynote speakers I was particularly impressed with Dr Max Liboiron from Memorial University and Director of CLEAR, the Civic Laboratory for Environmental Action Research, which is an explicitly feminist and anticolonial laboratory that studies marine microplastics in Newfoundland, Canada.

Dr Liboiron spoke about the difference between equity and equality, the power relations within citizen science, humbleness and paying her citizen scientists. I thoroughly recommend you read her speech as she has transcribed it here.

She neatly summed it up in the end with the words “Let’s use citizen science as an opportunity to be more equitable, more humble, more diverse.”

I was so impressed with Dr Libiron’s speech I even tweeted to #CitSciOz18 keynote speaker Dr Emilie Ens (We Study Country, Macquaire Uni) and e-introduced these two amazing citizen science researchers. I found their methods of citizen science very interesting and thought that they should at least be aware of one another.

Education

Education, particularly STEM, is a subject very dear to my heart so it was fantastic to hear Marine Biologist-turned-science teacher Rachael Polmanteer and three of her students from River Bend Middle School in Raleigh talk about how citizen science had been incorporated into their classroom and how much they now like to go to science class and what they want to do in science in the future.

Rachael, in conjunction with citizen science practitioners, is literally writing the book on how to incorporate citizen science into classrooms with their local curriculum.  This means that students (and teachers) can do more hands-on science with citizen science plus further the field of scientific knowledge. I would love to see more of this work in the open access journal “Citizen Science: Theory and Practice”. Perhaps there should be a student edition?

I was very impressed with both Rachael’s and her students’ talks.  It’s not easy standing up in front of so many people to talk!I gave them each a little clip on koala as a keepsake, I think they were a hit, don’t you?

Environmental JusticeSource: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice (29.03.19)

Did you know that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA have developed an “Air Sensor Toolbox”?  The EPA site “provides information for citizen scientists and others on how to select and use low-cost, portable air sensor technology and understand results from monitoring activities. The information can help the public learn more about air quality in their communities.” Enviromental Justice (EJ) is really just starting out here in AUstralia but in the USA it is in full swing and has been for many years. The EJ panel brought together citizen scientists and practitioners in a compelling arguement for equity.

https://www.epa.gov/air-sensor-toolbox

I attended one of the Air Quality Workshops presented by the EPA USA where we talked about what sort of air monitoring we would need in different situations and also about which commercially available sensors were the best fit for each situation. Then we got to go out and put the sensors to the test! My personal favourite was the AirBeam air pollution monitor which wifi’d to an Android tablet. I did find out that it wasnt available on iphone or ipads as yet.

Trying out the AirBeam air pollution monitor. Pic: Michelle Neil

Environmental Justice (EJ) is really just starting out here in Australia but in the USA it is in full swing and has been for many years. The EJ panel brought together citizen scientists and practitioners in a compelling arguement for equity.

The panel was live streamed and I recommend you watch the entire program on the CSA YouTube site here. It will be very interesting to see how Australia develops in citizen science in this sector. Should we be proactive and have an Environmental Justice working group? Food for thought…

 

Applied Ecology

Have you ever wondered if sour dough bread is the same in USA as it is in Australia? Or what are the microbes in your belly button?  Rob Dunn from North Carolina State University spoke about the smaller things in life – ants and microbes and what they can tell us about our environment and how it is shaping us!

Rob’s team of citizen science practitioners run all sorts of cool projects. In fact you can ask to do the Sour Dough Project here in Australia through the SciStarter website. In fact there is even a project to make beer from the yeast wild bees pick up!

Tragedy…

On the Friday night we had all heard the news about the terrible Christchurch Mosque Shooting. It was a tough day for our Kiwi friends in our ACSA contingent and also those of us who have family and friends “across the ditch” in New Zealand. The Environmental Justice panel Chair Dr Sacoby Wilson asked everyone to pay their respects and stand for a moment of silence for the victims of gun violence.

 

Everyone stood before bowing their heads for the moment of silence to pay their respects to the victims in NZ of gun violence. Pic: Michelle Neil

Podcast with SciStarter

One of my highlights was chatting with and recording a podcast with SciStarter’s Caroline Knickerson and finally getting to meet the founder of SciStarter, Darlene Cavalier with whom I have been tweeting and interacting back and forth on Facebook with for ages.  I even got to sit in on a few workshops with Darlene and the SciStarter crew including the all-important Citizen Science Day working group. Citizen Science Day falls on the 13th of April this year.

Caroline and I after taping the podcast. I loved the badges! She loved the koala!

Finally got a moment to say hello to the amazing Darlene and pose for a #CitSciSelfie!

Citizen Science Day

So how do you run Citizen Science Day if you’re the moderator of the Australian Citizen Science Association’s social media platforms?

The answer is to encourage everyone to go to the Citizen Science Day website and sign up to do the Stall Catchers Megathon to help scientists find a cure for Alzheimers!

https://scistarter.org/citizen-science-day

If you are running a Bioblitz or any other citizen science day event please let us know via email so that we may help you promote it on our ACSA channels.

The CitSciDay organisers covered most of the globe! Pic: Michelle Neil

City Nature Challenge

While at CitSci2019 I also wanted to find out more about the City Nature Challenge that is run every year in the last weekend of April using the iNaturalist app. I was too late to sign up this year as an organiser but I have put my name down for next year to get some people together and Bioblitz my hometown in SE Qld.

Team to beat: Boston, USA!

Boston USA organisers. Pic: Michelle Neil
One of my absolute favourite symposia was led by our own International Liasion Officer, Jessie Oliver as a fireside-style chat. With a truly stellar line up Jessie and her team talked tech design with around 30 audience participants. This was great because this style got everyone involved. In fact I was quite hard pressed to keep up with the minutes! You can check out the blog I co-wrote with Muki Haklay here. Collaborative note taking! Yay!

Jessie and I were also invited to attend a working group for the emerging Iberamericano (South American) Citizen Science Association and share our memories and ‘dos and donuts’ of setting up a citizen science association from scratch. I was amazed at just how much we had done, when Jessie and I started putting it all down on paper. Redricap (as it is known) has the added problem of language barrier. Portuguese, Spanish and English are the three main languages of South America. I suggested that Twitter and Facebook, with their translation abilities, would be ideal platforms to start on. I am looking forward to seeing how this develops!

On the final day of the conference I got up in front of everyone and asked 7 important words “Who would like to go to Australia?”

And the whole room leapt to their feet!

So I extended the invitation to come along to our ACSA #CitSciOz20 conference in SE Qld next year.

I wonder how many will come along?

I also announced the creation of a new conference which a few of us had been discussing last year in April – the first ever Citizen Science Twitter Conference to be held later this year.  @CitSciTC  is currently seeking moderators so if you are interested please contact the twitter account.

In closing, I would like to thank ACSA and CSA for supporting me to go to #CitSci2019. It was a fantastic experience working with amazing people. The work we have done in various symposia and workshops continues to this day as I am now contributing to Jessie’s HCI Group, Dr Andrea Wiggin’s Risk and Responsibility Group and the Iberoamericana (South American Citizen Science Association) formation working groups document.
Now to try and catch up on my sleep!
The stayers going out for dinner on the last night…. we didn’t want the week to end!

Organising a Citizen Science Road Map for Sustainable Development

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (#SDGs) until recently have not been something most of us have been aware of in relation to citizen science – but there’s increasing focus on these goals as they set the aspirations of sustainability; environmentally, economically and socially. The 17 global goals are designed to set a sustainable development agenda to transform our world by 2030. Local, state, and federal government personnel are now incorporating the SDGs into domestic policy, planning and reporting, so there is a real need for co-ordination, but also to define a role for citizen science to be embedded and integrated into this process.

Several groups are exploring how members of the general public and non-traditional data can contribute to achieving these incredibly ambitious aims, with a number of targets prescribed under each goal with associated indicators to measure success over time.  The non-traditional data includes not only citizen science data but also crowdsourced data like open street map and from partnerships such as citsci global and WeObserve. These groups are looking at the value of this non-traditional data for SDG reporting, and investigating methods and metrics for indicators where non-traditional data could best fit.The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) held a workshop in Laxenburg, Austria, just outside Vienna, over 3 days (3-5 October 2018) to brainstorm and flesh out ideas on how to demonstrate how citizen science and other non-traditional ways of collecting data could advance the SDGs. It seemed as though the IIASA meeting was a reunion of old friends and colleagues, but for me, this was a completely new experience. Attending provided me the opportunity to get clarity and knowledge not only from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and reporting agencies such as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), but also from highly experienced and passionate advocates of citizen science.

IIASA workshop attendees (photo credit: @JessieLOliver)

Some attendees gave 5-minutes speed talks to give an overview of their work, and Australia was well represented. Jessie Oliver gave a national perspective on alignment of SDGs and #CitSci, Libby Hepburn presented as Chair of the ECSA Policy SDG Task and Finish group on how the group can advance SDGs with citizen science globally, and I gave an overview on CSIRO’s current work on citizen science and SDG’s as well as the proposed mechanism for using citizen science data in reporting on SDGs.

Jessie, Libby and Janet presenting (photo credits: @mhaklay and @JessieLOliver)

Many governments have tasked their statistical organisations to analyse how their country will meet the goals and targets, but to also develop a reporting structure for respective SDG targets and associated indicators. Many of the statistical groups are unaware of non-traditional data sources, and certainly citizen science organisations are having to think how their data can be integrated into the SDG reporting. For example, the European consortium, WeObserve, of which IIASA is one of the 7 partners, seeks to address this issue by tackling three key challenges that Citizens Observatories (COs) face: awareness, acceptability, and sustainability. WeObserve organisers have launched their first three communities of practice related to citizen observatories and the forth community of practice will relate to SDGs and Citizen Observatories, which is set to be launched in November 2018. These community of practices will be very useful for ACSA to support implementation, demonstrate the added value, and promote uptake of non-traditional data particularly in relation to SDGs.

The IIASA workshop really consolidated ideas coming from people involved non-traditional data collection, such as through citizen science projects or advocacy, and/or with invaluable experience with SDGs. The exchanged experiences and new ideas will now be used to develop a roadmap to inform our regions and better advocate for non-traditional data, such as from citizen science, to be incorporated into the SDG evaluation process!

The outcomes of the IIASA workshop were presented at the high-level global Eye on Earth Symposium in Dubai from October 22 – 24th. Webinar links to these sessions are here:

Martin Brocklehurst in Australia: Citizen Science advocacy and insights at a global level

By Libby Hepburn

Martin Brocklehurst’s instructions to me were to fill his visit with as many important and influential people as possible, who might help develop citizen science in Australia – so I did. The result has been an amazing journey with global and local insights into a multitude of citizen science initiatives and a hugely positive and energised response from people across the country. It’s a great time for citizen science!

Martin Brocklehurst is one of the Founders of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Chair of the ECSA Policy working group, instigator of the Global Mosquito Alert Consortium (GMAC) and has played a key part in the formation of the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP).

His illustrious career has included high level government appointments in the Environment Agency (England & Wales) and with major oil companies (BP & Chevron). He is also a sought-after speaker and consultant internationally on the Circular Economy and was adviser to the UK House of Commons Environment Audit Committee enquiry “Growing the Circular Economy – Ending the throwaway society” July 2014[1].

Martin’s three-week itinerary from Brisbane to Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney included public seminars and meetings with those already working with citizen science and those who can find value through citizen science in Australian policy making.

He offered presentations targeted to his different audiences, describing the uptake of citizen science as a normal element of government agency strategy in both the USA and Europe. He described the latest challenge from the United Nations that citizen science has a very significant role to play in helping to achieve the Agenda 2030 through the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The citizen science community is young yet and finding its own way in the world through our Associations – with Europe, the USA, and Australia leading.  But citizen science communities in other areas of the world are now emerging and the Citizen Science Global Partnership has been formed to act as an interface with global institutions.

Martin spoke of the amazing advances of technology that are allowing us to think of citizen science projects on huge scales across nations and across the world. Good projects begun in one country suddenly being taken up in others without any promotion except through social media and word of mouth – unexpected results of open science and open technologies. He also talked about air quality citizen science in Antwerp (Curieuze Neuzen Vlaanderen) [2] where 10K passive diffusion tubes were made for participants to purchase and use in the survey, where 20K+ people wanted to take part and where pop concert events were used to share the results to communities.

The UK OPAL[3] Citizen Science for Everyone project, originally led by Dr Linda Davies is one of Martin’s inspirations, and it remains a beacon of good practice and large-scale engagement and impact today 10 years on.

So many great stories Martin shared of the amazing power and potential of citizen science across the 17 SDGs.  Yet a common theme emerged of agencies still seeing difficulties in using citizen science derived data in reporting progress towards the SDGs. For them it’s not “business as usual” and although the UN and organisations like the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) are recognising that non-traditional data sources are essential if the SDGs are to be achieved, at present there is a credibility gap that needs to be addressed by citizen science. Citizen Science methods still remain to be incorporated into the recognised methods to gather data for reporting against the SDGs.  Opportunities exist to support Tier 3 Indicators where “no internationally established methodology or standards are yet available for the indicator, but methodology/standards are being (or will be) developed or tested”.[4]

During our tour, we met experts from universities, the Mosquito Conference in Brisbane, Queensland University of Technology, CSIRO, Monash Sustainable Dev.Inst., Melbourne Water, Vic. Waterwatch, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability Vic., Geoscience Australia and the Australian Museum.  And all admitted there are issues around data acceptability, whether real or imagined, but were all working to explore ways to work with community on meaningful research, whether around health, environment, water or pollution, and ensure data quality.

We were very pleased to see that in Australia there are a number of organisations who are at the leading edge of best practice in their work and reporting, and who are all convinced of the power of citizen science to deliver data and strategic objectives.

One of the keystone principles of citizen science is open data and usually open methodologies and Martin illuminated the possibilities of large-scale, global projects where data can be collected at a high level of granularity, yet also aggregated, analysed and presented in ways that will be acceptable to national government agencies and global organisations such as the UN and WMO.

The SDGs are rapidly becoming a common overarching framework for sane development strategies worldwide and are being adopted by many organisations at all sorts of scales. Martin’s visit was brought to a wide audience through the good offices of the United Nations Association Australia (UNAA) and the Royal Society, who hosted the majority of the public events in Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. They are convinced of citizen science’s value and importance, particularly towards the SDGs which are their main focus. The mixed audiences at these events – which included members from both the Queensland ACSA Chapter and the Victorian ACSA Chapter – were very receptive to what were evidently new ideas and examples and possibilities, and the post seminar discussions were lively and constructive. The UNAA sees a partnership with ACSA as being a mutually beneficial relationship for the future and have already suggested we might present to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Group through their auspices.

We were also fortunate to have discussions with the Australian Government Office of the Chief Scientist and senior officials in the Australian Government Department of Industry, Innovation & Science, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist.  Further positive meetings with the Australian Academy of Science, Inspiring Australia and the National Science and Technology Centre indicated that more people are recognising there is a bright future for citizen science in Australia.

Suggestions have been made that ACSA should consider developing a decadal plan to accelerate citizen science in Australia, it is in a good position to support Australia’s “soft diplomacy” and that the timing is right for a government department’s community of practice to explore the role of citizen science in supporting the development and implementation of Government Policy in Australia. This reflected the feeling at a meeting organised by Stephanie von Gavel at CSIRO, where a number of different government agency representatives were able to discuss a range of issues around citizen science, policy and how Australia reports against the SDG indicators.

The largest public event was organised by Stephanie at CSIRO where over 50 people attended and more joined the seminar by video link. The presentation is now available here[5].

Our estimate is that Martin has met with or presented to over 250 people from more organisations than we can count, at both State and National level, at 21 meetings over the three weeks of his visit.

This has been a unique opportunity to press the case for development of an institutional framework for citizen science within the policy development and implementation responsibilities of the Federal and State Governments of Australia.

Martin was able to show case the route map used in the US[6]  – through the Executive Office of the President and the Crowd Sourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2016[7] .  He also gave examples from the European Union where the work of the Knowledge Exchange Network established across the various Departments of the EU resulted in the adoption of recommendations contained in a paper “Citizen Science in EU Policies – Policy Brief 15th March 2018.  Subsequent briefing papers are already impacting the allocation of EU  Research Funds[8] and the way EU Policies are being implemented by National Governments.  The European Heads of the Environment Agencies now have an active working group on Citizen Science that is exploring how to put in place an EU wide Citizen Science Project to tackle air pollution in European Cities.  This group and the Heads of Environmental Protection Authorities Australia and New Zealand (HEPA) clearly have common interests in how citizen science can support their work.

The challenge now is to build on the interest and energy that exists and find Australian mechanisms to embed citizen science as a routine part of Government Policy development and implementation across Australia.

Thank you to the following supporters for help making Martin’s visit possible: 

Libby Hepburn
Chair – Atlas of Life in the Coastal Wilderness, ACSA Founding Member and Chair – global SDG and Citizen Science Maximisation group
September 25th 2018

 

[1] https://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/growing-a-circular-economy/

[2] https://curieuzeneuzen.be/in-english/

[3] http://www.imperial.ac.uk/opal

[4] https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/files/Tier%20Classification%20of%20SDG%20Indicators_11%20May%202018_web.pdf

[5] https://webcast.csiro.au/#/videos/ad5ba42c-8a0e-4e41-a860-a1691e59a148

[6] https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/holdren_citizen_science_memo_092915_0.pdf

[7] https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/6414/text

[8] http://www.sisnetwork.eu/media/sisnet/Policy_brief_Citizen_Science_SiSnet.pdf

Building the BrushTurkey app

Matthew Hall won the “Spotteron Competition” at #CitSciOz18, and his Brushturkey app is now live

  • Matthew Hall, PhD Candidate, Integrative Ecology Lab, The University of Sydney

I’d like to start this post by saying how incredibly grateful I am to the Australian Citizen Science Association for this opportunity to engage with the citizen science community, as well as to Spotteron for the fantastic work they did in building this app. Working with Spotteron to design and roll out the BrushTurkey app has been a unique and rewarding experience for me. Throughout the process I have been impressed by Spotteron’s expertise and the potential for citizen science to contribute to the broader scientific understanding of my study species and Australian wildlife in general.

Matthew and a tagged brush-turkey

When I started my PhD, researching the spread of Brush-turkeys into the Sydney suburbs, I certainly did not expect that citizen science would play such a large role in my project. Amidst a flurry of grant application writing the ACSA Spotteron competition caught my eye. I decided, almost on a whim, that I would apply. I thought about how citizen science could best suit my project. What could I do if I had eyes all over Australia ready to gather data for me? I realised that researching Brush-turkeys in suburbia was a perfect fit for a citizen science project. Brush-turkeys have been causing a stir in Sydney and Brisbane precisely because they interact so closely with people. They’re digging in their gardens, building mounds in local parks, and roosting in and around peoples’ homes. What a fantastic opportunity to understand how wildlife adapts to city life by having citizen scientists around to observe every Brush-turkey movement and behaviour as it happens! What a great way to bring people and nature together by giving people a chance to learn about a native species right at their doorstep! So, I sent in my application, hoped for the best and got on with my research.

I was stunned to find out my project idea had won the competition. Excited by the opportunity it wasn’t long before I was in contact with Philipp from Spotteron. One Skype call later and the wheels were in motion. Working with Spotteron to design the app was an interesting experience for me. As an ecology PhD student, I knew how to catch Brush-turkeys and design experiments to learn about their behaviour. I knew next to nothing about how to engage with the broader community at large. Philipp’s expertise was invaluable here. Spotteron have experience in designing apps that people want to use, and balance detail with ease of function.

I would throw out ideas about what kind of data to collect, or what aspects of Brush-turkey behaviour would be interesting to report, and Philipp would have a suggestion for how it should fit in the app – was it a text box or a button, a single option or a multi-select field? I sometimes found myself the middle man between my supervisors from partner institutions (The University of Sydney, The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney, and The Taronga Conservation Society), who all had ideas and questions about the app, and Spotteron. But the end product satisfied all our needs and exceed our expectations.

It has been really inspiring and exciting to see the response to the app. Within three days of the launch date the number of reports on the app already outstripped the number of Brush-turkeys I had personally tagged in the whole first year of my PhD. It really goes to show the potential of citizen science and including the general pubic in the process of data gathering. I can’t wait to see what we can learn about how this unique Australian species adapts to a changed world with this app. I’d encourage anyone who is interested to download the BrushTurkey app and start uploading sightings today.

Matthew and his collaborators from Taronga Zoo and the Royal Botanic Gardens

Links + Info:

Smartphone Apps:
Android: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.spotteron.brushturkeys
IOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/brushturkeys-spotteron/id1434760216

* Interactive Map (Web-App)
Link: https://www.spotteron.com/brushturkeys

You can also read the Spotteron Blog Post about the app here.

 

“Are we citizen scientists ‘firing in synchrony’?”

Scholarship winner Alan Stenhouse found the diverse range of local and international presentations at #CitSciOz18 interesting, enriching and inspiring. 

  • Alan Stenhouse, PhD candidate, Centre for Applied Conservation Science, University of Adelaide

From February 7-9 2018, I attended the Australian Citizen Science Conference that was held in my current home town of Adelaide, Australia. Thanks to the Australian Citizen Science Association’s (ACSA) generosity I managed to win a scholarship that covered my registration fee – much appreciated!

We started the conference with some workshops – I attended “New Visions in Citizen Science and Public Policy in Australia”. Some of the highlights of this for me were Libby Hepburn telling us of the United Nation’s goal to get one billion Citizen Scientists in the world by 2020! Then Jo White, from the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, provided good guidance on what to aim for when thinking about changing policies using Citizen Science (CitSci). Lea Shanley from the US South Big Data Hub provided some examples from the US, such as how they got the government to explicitly support CitSci and created a federal CitSci toolkit.

Amy Kaminski from NASA described CitSci as a tool for scientific research and societal benefit at NASA and gave examples like AuroraSaurus – which needs people in the Southern Hemisphere to take part! Amy also mentioned some relevant points for me such as: lack of expertise to review CitSci projects in review panels; data quality concerns; the science community’s lack of experience with CitSci. Of particular note was her advice to use the terms “augment + enhance” scientific research to allay fears of the “replacement” of scientists. A great idea! She also mentioned that the next Earth Observation budget will include a CitSci component.

Next up was the official conference opening with a fascinating welcome to country from Kaurna Elder Uncle Lewis O’Brien who reminded us of the breadth, depth and importance of indigenous knowledge. This was followed by a keynote from Alan Finkel, Australia’s Chief Scientist. He told us about Ferdinand von Mueller who came to South Australia in 1847 and started perhaps the first Australia-wide CitSci project from the 1850s onwards. He was a botanist and convinced interested citizens (primarily women) around Australia to collect plants, store them appropriately and then send them to him.

My talk was scheduled as the last of the first day in the #EmpowerWithData stream and I think it went ok – at least I had some good feedback and comments on Twitter. Afterwards all the speakers in our stream stood up the front and had a good discussion with the audience for 30 minutes which was very worthwhile.

Some other highlights for me from all the presentations were:

  • Andrew Robinson from QuestaGame introducing BioCoin – as a virtual currency for use in QuestaGame and other environmental projects. It will be fascinating to see how that develops over time.

  • Hearing what Emilie Ens and her team have been doing up in the Ngukurr NT area was very informative. She outlined starting off 10 years ago with fencing off Billabongs (“the local supermarket” and culturally significant). Then added cross-cultural biodiversity surveys in 2012, and brought in new technology to record data. Empowering young people through conservation – make it fun, get them involved with mobile technology and other fun stuff – and thereby raising the level of education . Finally, supporting intergenerational knowledge transfer and maintaining endangered languages and cultures. Awesome work and still with a lot of opportunities remaining!
  • Seeing Amy Sterling presenting EyeWire – a CitSci gamified application for mapping neurons in the brain. Previously taking a neuroscientist approximately 1000 hours to map one neuron, with some AI involved a Citizen Scientist can now map one neuron in 50 hours (though maybe I’m oversimplifying this?). Looks like a great application with a vibrant community (demonstrated live and chatted with other participants back in the US) – there are about 250 thousand players in approximately 150 countries!

There were, of course, loads of great projects from around Australia, but best of all was meeting and talking to the people involved in all these projects both at the conference and afterwards (did I mention the social events?). It was interesting, enriching, and inspiring! Many thanks to all the participants and especially the organizing committee. I’m looking forward to the next conference!

 

“The conference was definitely a springboard for me”

Masters student Hayley Bridgwood found knowledge, inspiration and useful case studies at CitSciOz18

  • Hayley Bridgwood from University College Dublin, Ireland

Well what a fabulous few days at the CitSciOz 2018 Conference!

As an MSc (Environmental Sustainability) candidate through University College Dublin I have been pursuing various areas of academic interest including ecology and genetics as they relate to conservation – all with the view to ultimately work with landholders and support them in sustainable agricultural practices. The conference has given me a much greater appreciation of the value of aggregated data and the roles that landholders might play in being part of the first line of research.

I came to the Conference with a very novice understanding of citizen science and online crowdsourcing.  And I left with a very full head and loads of useful case studies and fascinating stories of science in action – from small-scale community projects to large scale, evidently very-well funded and technologically advanced ventures. A particular highlight for me was the study of acoustic patterns of local birds, which can be analysed and taught to captive bred individuals to facilitate their reintroduction. Fascinating!

Since returning home, I have already shared a good number of case studies with the Masters candidates I work alongside at The University of Melbourne, and actively sought out examples of citizen science projects they might introduce and engage with in their own classrooms.

The conference was definitely a springboard for me to further pursue my passion for science communication and education. It was absolutely inspiring to be able to engage in so many interesting and high-quality conversations with the conference speakers and delegates. Thank you to all contributors for making it such a memorable event.