Category: Blogs

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.

“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.

#ECSA2018: Gaining European Citizen Science Association inspiration!

Having never been to Europe myself, it was intriguing to see just how large those alps are, and I was immediately struck by the politeness of the people, as well as the interesting mix of historical and modern cityscape aspects.  Below are just a few reflections from my experiences attending the #ECSA2018 Conference and other pre- and post- workshops in Geneva, Switzerland, as well as a quick jaunt to England, in early June. 

Progressing Global and Large-Scale Initiatives

Exploring the UN Sustainable Development Goals & Citizen Science Global Partnership

Attendees of the meeting to discuss the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and citizen science at the UN Environment office in Geneva.

The day before #ECSA2018 officially started, people from some far flung corners of the world including Switzerland, Austria, Spain, Germany, England, China, the United States and Australia gathered at the UN Environment office in Geneva. Martin Brocklehurst, Chair of ECSA’s Policy Working Group, asked us to explore what is needed to develop an institutional framework and gather support for scaling-up how citizen scientists can contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Libby Hepburn then kicked off the workshop proper by sharing with us with an overview of how Australian governments and citizen science projects currently align with the SDGs, and how this could be expanded. Following this, Martin provided us with an analogous state-of-play for Europe and potential for the future. After these excellent overviews, Martin and Anne Bowser, from the U.S.-based Wilson Center, led multiple breakout sessions exploring framework needs and the role of the Citizen Science Global Partnership (CSGP) in advocating for and supporting citizen science and SDG alignment.

The 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Anne Bowser then delved into what the Citizen Science Global Partnership may look like in the future through a number of events. She facilitated a conference dialog session, for example, exploring the 1) position and role, 2) community value, 3) personal value, and 4) networking potential of the CSGP in the context of the citizen science community and more broadly.

The Citizen Science Global Partnership dialog session during #ECSA2018. Photo credit: Monica Peters.

Community input from this session then formed the basis of a post conference workshop supported by the European initiative Citizen Science COST ACTION, further examining the goals of the Partnership, governance structure, and relationship to the business community. Outcomes will help to inform how the CSGP continues to take shape over the next two years.

Attendees of the COST ACTION Citizen Science Global Partnership workshop.

The work hasn’t stopped since Geneva! A number of people are continuing to push these global efforts forward into the future. Libby, Caren Cooper & Rosy Mondardini, for example,  have initiated a SDG and Citizen Science Task and Finish Group as part of ECSA’s larger Policy Working Group.  If you are interested in following progress or getting actively involved in exploring how citizen science can be a key contributing part of the SDGs you can register HERE. Martin and Anne are also very actively continuing their respective work gathering support and advocating for alignment of citizen science, the SDGs, and the CSGP. Martin is, for example, is encouraging citizen science advocates to represent these efforts at global events, including the UN World Data Forum & Eye-on-Earth Symposium in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Funding is not currently available to support travel, but if you are interest or already attending and interested in SDGs, do let us know and we will put you in contact with initiative leaders.  

Considering Citizen Science Data and Metadata

Who doesn’t love to talk about society, data, and metadata? Well, clearly a lot of citizen science folks in Geneva were game! As part of the conference, Jaume Piera, from the Institute of Marine Sciences, ran a dialog session on Simplifying citizen science methods for data. Our very own Peter Brenton, from the Atlas of Living Australia and CSIRO (AU), led a great workshop on Advancing citizen-science observational-data standards, where we explored a standardization of data for a number of participant case studies. Information gathered from this will feed into Australian and international efforts, such as the ACSA and CSA Data and Metadata Working Group, of which Peter and I are members. After the conference, Luigi Ceccaroni, from Earthwatch Europe and also a Director of ECSA, led a Citizen Science COST ACTION Working Group workshop to Improve data standardization and interoperability. During this workshop, Luigi progressed longstanding, ongoing discussions, and facilitated us collaboratively contributing to a document intended to provide “a recommendation on how to represent data and metadata in citizen science”. If you are interested in such things, be sure to check out this COST Action Working Group and Geneva Declaration on Citizen Science Data and Metadata Standards document!

Attendees of the COST ACTION Data Standardization and Interoperability workshop. Photo credit: Luigi Ceccaroni.

If you have an inquiry or want to get involved in any of these large-scale efforts around the SDGs, the CSGP, and Data & Metadata, just send us a message, and we will put you in contact with the respective project leader.

Additional Highlights From #ECSA2018

This conference provided many opportunities to network and meet people in diverse ways. I thought it was a creative idea to give people water bottles of different colours and then have folks meet up based on the colours! The Public Citizen Science Festival was a hoot, where a few of us Oceania folks, including myself, Peter, and Monica Peters, got together and themed the letters we screen printed on our bags!

Folks who travelled from Australia (myself and Peter Brenton) and New Zealand (Monica Peters) having way to much fun with puns when deciding letters to screen print on our #ECSA2018 bags!

While I didn’t think to snap any pictures that particular night, I had an absolute blast catching up with loads of people, including none other than the lovely Nina James, coming from University of South Australia to present her work Strangers, stewards and newcomers in CS. I felt fortunate to be able to attend another dinner that started out small and quickly grew to an awesome group of folks from all over the world thrilled by citizen science!

Citizen science enthusiast from around the world gathering for a bite to eat in Geneva. Photo credit: Lea Shanley.

The talks, workshops, sessions, posters, and meetings throughout the conference were absolutely top notch. I was particularly struck by the very thought provoking keynote address that Bruno Strasser from University of Geneva, Geneva, gave that certainly challenged my understanding of what citizen science is and how people participate in it.

Video credit: Mendel Wong

Shannon Dosemagen also gave a brilliant keynote sharing her journey that led to her working with communities to advocate for their environments through Public Labs.

Video credit: Mendel Wong

Then Sven Schade, from the European Commission, led a fascinating COST Action workshop exploring Citizen Science Strategies in Europe as well, where we heard from policy expert Paul Waller discuss opportunities and issues for citizen science as an input to policy development. Claudia Göbel discussed how tasks of this working group are divided to explore different aspects of policy integration, what they have achieved to date, and what is envisioned for the future.

Claudia presenting during the COST ACTION workshop exploring Citizen Science Strategies in Europe.

It was also quite informative to attend the ECSA General Assembly, which is analogous to our ACSA Annual General Meetings. Here I learned not only about the structure of ECSA, but about their voting process, working groups and activities, outcomes of the year, and much more. The meeting didn’t start until evening and went into the wee hours of the night, but as you can see below, this crowd didn’t lack enthusiasm!

ECSA General Assembly attendees who stayed to the very end! Photo credit: ECSA (Cropped by Jessie Oliver)

As the conference wrapped up, I started to prepare for my continued #CitSci adventure. Just before I left Geneva, however, Jonathan Brier invited me to join him on a tour of European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, which admittedly I knew next to nothing about beyond some loose citizen science connections. Wow, my mind was completely blown learning about particle accelerators! 

Learning the impressive and fascinating history of CERN and checking out decommissioned particle accelerator equipment with Jonathan.

I then blasted off to London, where I did a whirlwind trip, learning more and exchanging ideas about ACSA and ECSA with folks including Margaret Gold and Lucy Robinson. 

Catching up with Lucy at the Natural History Museum in London, before presenting and seeing some mind-blowing museum treasures.

It was also a thrill to present my citizen science technology design research to Lucy Robinson, John Tweddle, and the other members of the Natural History Museum citizen science crew.  One of my last citizen science stops was the University College London, where I presented my PhD work to the members of the UCL Interaction Centre, who are all doing really interesting technology design research.

Excitedly presenting my PhD research on how to design engaging technology for citizen science and conservation.

Then it was time to start my epic journey back to Brisbane! I can’t begin to express my gratitude enough for being able to attend so many wonderful events, and for all of the new and old friends alike that made this trip an absolutely worthwhile endeavour. It’s impossible to mention everyone who generously shared their time, knowledge, and passions for citizen science, but thank you to each and every one of you. Special thanks to Margaret for all of the support you provided on my London trip! I look to forward to sharing all that I have learned from this trip with members of our wonderful citizen science community here at home!

Want more info about the conference? Check out the #ECSA2018 Conference website, the conference program. Conference attendees also often tweeted using the hashtag #ECSA2018, which you can search for via twitter.  Michelle Neil, our own ACSA social media moderator, followed tweets from Brisbane, and created tweet summaries for each day of the conference as well, which you can also check out: Conference Opening | Day 2 Highlights | Day 3 Highlights | Final Day Highlights.

Geneva graced with me with one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen just as I was preparing to leave!

“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.

“The key to engaging ‘our future’ – the millennials!”

Tina Phillips travelled from New York to attend CitSciOz18 and gleaned some top tips on how to engage the younger generation.

  • Tina Phillips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology

After attending the Australian Citizen Science Association meeting, I can affirm that citizen science is alive and well in Australia! I really enjoyed visiting this beautiful country, and the backdrop of the amazing diversity of citizen science presented at the conference made it even more rewarding. I learnt a lot about Australia’s history; extraordinary biodiversity; and its warm and friendly people. I found the city of Adelaide to be more bustling than I expected and the surrounding countryside to be serene, but also exciting because of the prospect of spotting Australia’s famous marsupials.

Although the majority of projects I heard about during the conference were relatively young, there was good representation across every discipline – from botany to ornithology to astronomy to water quality and public health. Across most projects was an emphasis on minimizing barriers, maximizing data quality, and leveraging easy-to-use technology such as smartphones, wearable sensors, and (well-known) social media apps. The growth in the number of projects over the last few years has been exponential, and much of the ecological data are housed in the Atlas of Living Australia, which supports the field-based data repository needs of the citizen science community. In time, and with enough data, this repository will become invaluable for cataloging Australia’s biodiversity.

With session titles like #Engagingcitizens, #EmpowerWithData, #SocialResearch, #Communication, and #ShowcasingOutcomes, I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of social science research being conducted in Australia.  I found it difficult to choose among sessions!  I managed to jump around – hearing about emerging research on immediate versus sustained engagement; ways to enhance social relationships within projects; education and engagement outcomes; motivation; social justice; and the importance of intrapersonal communication even in the digital age.

A particularly lively session moderated by Philip Roetman highlighted four different projects, each co-presented by a project leader and a citizen scientist. This session left me wondering why don’t we include more citizens in our conferences, and why are “cat people” so funny?

Rustem Upton–a freelance environmental educator–described the five dimensions of ongoing participation, including: contribution; interest; program organization/efficacy; contribution to a local area; and personal and social benefit. Several of these dimensions overlap with results from my own dissertation research that I refer to as “Dimensions of Engagement” (social, affective, cognitive, motivational, and behavioral). So halfway across the world, in different institutions, the cumulative nature of science often leads to parallel results.

Finally, I’d like to recap an especially enthusiastic and informative session led by Margot Law and Ellie Downing, who presented first-hand knowledge of how to engage the elusive millennial in citizen science! With an unemployment rate of 13%, millennials are looking to engage in projects that not only align with their values regarding basic human rights, the environment, and climate change, but also offer tangible skills and experiences that prepare them for the competitive job market. Given that many millennials are self-employed (#creativegeneration), they have excellent problem-solving, data analysis, reference, and communication skills, making them ideal citizen scientists. They are extremely tech savvy and highly networked and can be key figures in social media efforts. Perhaps the most important reason to engage with millennials is that they represent the transition between current and future leaders. They are our future leaders, so getting their support for citizen science now may have lasting influence in the coming years when they serve as leaders and decision makers.

So how do projects attract and retain millennials? According to Margot and Ellie, it’s important to share your passion but also make clear the project’s long-term goals. Also, the social aspect of engagement is very important to millennials, so think outside the box when it comes to project structure. For example, consider “meet-ups” instead of memberships, or host your meeting in a pub with the backdrop of beer and chips.  Or look to partner with different groups such as sports or outdoor clubs. Emphasize fun and accessibility, but maintain a safe, inclusive, and welcoming environment. Give positive feedback often and regularly and try to provide certification for citizen science participation (apparently, millennials love recognition, memes, and certificates!). Most importantly, don’t make assumptions about millennials based on unfounded stereotypes, instead, respect and listen to them. Their energy, new perspectives, and fresh ideas may lead to new ways of thinking. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what drives growth and innovation?

In closing, I would like to thank all of the ACSA organizers for their generosity in time and resources, their energy and enthusiasm, and for putting together a welcoming and highly informative program. I learnt a lot, and immensely enjoyed the casual gatherings to meet and engage with new colleagues.  I left Australia with continued commitment and new inspiration for elevating and promoting the value of citizen science.

“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.

“Big insights for small community groups at CitSciOz18”

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

  • Gordon Claridge, President Lockyer Community Action Inc.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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