Category: Blogs

“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.

#CitSci2017 Reflections: Exploring Citizen Science, Technology, & Acoustics Globally

Jessie Oliver is a member of ACSA and sits on the ACSA management committee. She is also a PhD student at the Queensland University of Technology, in Brisbane Australia. She attended the Citizen Science Association Conference in May of 2017 with the assistance of a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant.

Reflections by Jessie Oliver (@JessieLOliver via twitter):

In early 2017, I had the good fortune of meeting Alasdair Davies when he ventured to Brisbane Australia, where we both participated in a workshop about technology use for conservation. My role at the workshop was to share my knowledge of how scientists and members of the public, or citizen scientists, were working collaboratively to make innovative discoveries that have benefitted conservation efforts. While there, I shared information regarding local, national, and global efforts aiming to increase capacity, uptake, and outcomes of citizen science, technology use, and conservation actions. I absolutely had my heart set on attending the Citizen Science Association Conference in 2017 that was set to take place in Saint Paul Minnesota, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to given the substantial funding required to get to the U.S. from Australia.

Why did I want to go so far away? I wanted to run an accepted symposium that would explore how citizen science varies in different regions of the world. I hoped to discuss with a panel of citizen science leaders, how scientific practices, cultural, societal, and political factors are shaping the spread, uptake, and diversification of citizen science in four key regions of the world. I also hoped to attend so that I could meet people with expertise in Human Computer Interaction (HCI) technology design strategies, environmental acoustics, and citizen science. Doing so also had the potential to further my own research, investigating how to design engaging citizen science technology to review environmental acoustic recordings, which I also wanted to present as a poster.

You can imagine my surprise when, several weeks later, I received an email informing me that I had been chosen by Alasdair to be awarded a Shuttleworth Foundation Flash Grant! Being afforded such an amazing opportunity, I quickly got to work organising a fireside-chat style symposium with the following panellists:

This symposium highlighted key differences between citizen science regionally and what factors drive this variation. Language is certainly a key factor for how project information and resources are disseminated across Europe, having to contend with far more languages than Australia, China, and the United States. While all these regions are relatively similar in geographic size, the distribution and overall populations are vastly different. Australia, for instance, has vast expanses with relatively few people, and a population of only about 24 million primarily concentrated in five cities. At the time of the conference, the U.S., Europe, and Australia all had formed young citizen science associations working to facilitate networking between citizen scientists, scientists, and other stakeholders. China, by contrast, had several projects across the nation, but had yet to establish a network to actively bring stakeholders of different projects together, although this is now underway. Environmental and biodiversity-focused sciences were shown to dominate citizen science relative to other sciences for all regions featured.

WeDigBio is an example of how increases in technological infrastructure now allow people from a variety of regions to also contribute to global projects both in person and online. Access to these technologies, however, varied by region.  In the latter half of the symposium, ample time was allocated for audience questions and discussion, and this proved incredibly useful, allowing for inclusion of perspectives from regions such as Japan, Iran, Iraq, New Zealand and South America. This exchange of information led to a greater appreciation for the need to carefully identify and understand what factors are likely to influence the regional development of citizen science.

There was an amazing amount of networking and learning to be had as well. In terms of my own technology design research, I was absolutely thrilled to meet and discuss my research with people such as Jenny Preece, who research citizen science and HCI technology design! These discussions later inspired me to organise a workshop at the #OzCHI2017 Conference in Brisbane, which brought citizen scientists and scientists together with designers to explore technology development needs for saving species like glossy black cockatoos, koalas, wombats, and shorebirds! I was also delighted to find that my #CitSci2017 poster exploring how to design engaging technologies for citizen scientists to review acoustic data, was also well received by former colleagues from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I met many of the citizen science leaders I had corresponded with remotely while working for the TV series The Crowd & The Crowd. My attendance and work with the show also prompted an invite to a conference meeting  regarding a Global Mosquito Alert Consortium, and I subsequently joined the global working group.

Many of the connections and lessons learned from the conference have continued to positively impact my citizen science work in Australia and abroad. This conference was incredibly well run with very interesting, empowering, and informative ways to convey information beyond the standard talk formats. My experiences there directly fed into my work on our organising committee for the last Australian Citizen Science Conference (#CitSciOz18) as well. While in the U.S. I often shared experiences regarding the development and happenings of ACSA, which later led to speaking invitations to share this knowledge at events. Most recently, for example, I spoke remotely from Brisbane at #CitSciNZ2018 Symposium, which was led by Monica Peters in New Zealand.

Relationships I have forged as a result my receiving the Shuttleworth Flash Grant continue to be fruitful. Next, I am planning to travel to Geneva in early June to attend the European Citizen Science Conference (#ECSA2018) and participate in several meetings and workshops before and after the conference as well. One of those meetings is at the UN office in Geneva to discuss the UN Sustainable Development Goals, the potential for citizen science to contribute to these goals globally, and the role that the nascent Citizen Science Global Partnership will play. It’s wonderful to reflect a year later and realize that Shuttleworth Foundation helped to catapult all aspects of my citizen science work to new heights, and I am beyond grateful for this opportunity!

#CitSciOz18 – An Australian Story

By Michelle Neil

It’s hard to believe that it has been nearly two months since the 2nd Australian Citizen Science Association Conference, #CitSciOz18 in Adelaide, South Australia. For six days I was constantly on the go – averaging around 3-4 hours of sleep per night.

#CitSciOz18 featured international keynote speakers Dr. Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling, along with Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr. Alan Finkel and Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science 2017 co-recipient Dr. Emilie Ens.  The aim of the conference was to showcase best practice in citizen science and share project outcomes from across Australia and the world. Every continent of the world, except Antarctica was represented too. North America, South America, Asia, Europe and Africa were all there as well as our mates from “across the ditch”, New Zealand. 

Opened by Australia’s Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel spoke about how a German migrant planted citizen science in Australian and why it worked. This was followed by plenaries, short talks, long talks, a podcast with The Wholesome Show, a public talk with Dr Caren Cooper and Amy Robinson Sterling (and little old me), radio interviews, live streaming talks to the ACSA Facebook page and twitter, watching Crowd and the Cloud episode, networking, poster session, chairing a session myself on the Friday afternoon, early morning (4am!) bat catching and tagging near Adelaide Zoo, plus post-conference tours to see Echidna CSI, #greatkoalacount, Wild Orchid Watch (#WOW), ReefWatchSA, breakfasts with new friends and old, lunches, dinners, great food, awesome people, lots of laughs and, of course, relaxing at the local wineries! 

In fact there were there were over 120 talks, posters and workshops falling within the conference themes of  #EngagingCitizens (20), #EmpowerWithData (19), #ShowcasingOutcomes (16), #Partnerships (15), #FieldProjects (14), #SocialResearch (8), #Education (6) and #Communication (4).  The conference was also mentioned more than 2000 times over the three conference days on Twitter as well as Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn.  

 Where did it start? 

The planning process for #CitSciOz18 started well over a year ago. One of the first things the Conference Committee decided on was to try and make the conference as sustainable as possible. Plastic pens were out. Backpacks were out. People have their own backpacks and pens after all. Conference “swag”* as it is usually called was out. We even vetoed keep cups – who doesn’t have a few of them lying around? 

Instead it was decided to do a bamboo pen and paper for the conference and, as an added bonus, a t-shirt for all our members. The t-shirts, designed by Ellie Downing and Amy Slocombe with input from the Conference Committee, were a huge hit.  Featuring the tools of citizen science these shirts will soon be available on the ACSA website for anyone to buy. Perhaps at our next conference we might make badges or patches delegates can sew on to the t-shirt? Let us know if we missed anything and perhaps that could be the first badge! 


The official Australian Citizen Science Association shirt – it’s all about the tools of citizen science! Have we missed any? Photo: Michelle Neil

What’s Next? 

Last week I received all of the conference talks via email – audio and video in one continuous stream from 4 different lecture spaces at the University of South Australia. It is probably the largest download my computer has ever had to do. My next job as the volunteer social media moderator for ACSA is to edit all of the 100+ hours of speeches into their individual talks and upload them on to the new ACSA YouTube channel for everyone to enjoy.  

In early May the Conference Committee will meet to go over the conference feedback, discuss what we could do better next time and also start the decision process for #CitSciOz20. We hope to make the next conference bigger and better. Want to tell us how we can do better or even what we did well? Drop us a line. Interested in going to #CitSciOz20? Sign up for the newsletter. We promise we don’t spam! 

If you would like to read more about #CitSciOz18 grab a cuppa and put your feet up to read my colleague Jessie Oliver’s fantastic blog here. I recommend it for a truly great read!  You can also look at the #CitSciOz18 Twitter Moments too! 

As one of our delegates, Phyll Bartram from Kangaroo Island Victor Harbour Dolphin Watch said:  

“Sounds like…Looks like…. Feels like….CitSciOz18! What a buzz!!!!!! 💛” 


*swag has another meaning in Australia as some of our overseas guests found out. In Australia it means bedroll or sleeping bag or to travel with one’s personal belongings in a bundle. I have since found out it was originally an economic term which stood for Silver, Wine, Art and Gold.  I learn something new every day with #CitizenScience! 

Michelle Neil is the Australian Citizen Science Association’s volunteer social media moderator. Having worked in analytical chemistry for over a decade Michelle finds herself in an interesting place – a scientist as well as a citizen scientist, with a passion for science communication. @michelle_neil  

The management committee for the ACSA

Discover & Relive #CitSciOz18 Magic

An epic adventure through the wild world of citizen science kicked off on Adelaide’s City West campus of the University of South Australia on 7 February 2018 with the start of Australia’s second national citizen science conference. The conference brought together citizen science practitioners, participants, thought leaders and decision-makers, with the aim of showcasing best practice in citizen science and sharing project outcomes from across Australia and around the world. You can find out all the information about the presentations and workshops of #CitSciOz18 here and the Book of Abstracts can be viewed here.

#CitSciOz18 at a Glance

  • There were over 125 talks, posters and workshops falling within the conference themes of #SocialResearch (8 presentations), #EngagingCitizens (20 presentations), #Education (6 presentations), #Communication (4 presentations), #EmpowerWithData (19 presentations), #FieldProjects (14 presentations), #ShowcasingOutcomes (16 presentations) and #Partnerships (15 presentations). The conference was buzzing with discussions around the interplay between social outcomes, building an understanding of current initiatives, and harnessing technology to increase participation, improve data management as well as maximizing scientific and societal outcomes.
  • Workshops also explored topics such as artificial intelligence, participant experiences, policy, social impact, bioblitzes, gamification, and data management.
  • Our 250 delegates included representatives from the U.S. Citizen Science Association, European Citizen Science Association, Citizen Science Asia and all the State offices of Inspiring Australia — just to name a few.
  • Delegates came from every state and territory of Australia, including the Australian Capital Territory (19), New South Wales (48), Northern Territory (1), Queensland (37), South Australia (77), Tasmania (2), Victoria (39) and Western Australia (13). We also had a number of delegates from overseas such as Austria (1), Germany (1), Hong Kong (1), Ireland (1), Israel (1), Netherlands (2), New Zealand (2), Scotland (1), South Africa (1) and the United States of America (4). Attendees also contributed via pre-recorded videos from the United Kingdom and Kenya.
  • We were very pleased to be able to award 14 scholarships to students, community members and indigenous participants to the value of $9,000!

#CitSciOz18 Key Outcomes

From #CitSciOz18 Policy Sessions to a Meeting in the Capital!

The conference included a fantastic two-part session highlighting citizen science policy development and impacts on society, which was championed by Libby Hepburn and had over 120 delegates in attendance. The session kicked off with inspiring pre-recorded videos from Professor Alexandre Caldas, with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and Martin Brocklehurst, an independent environmental consultant in the United Kingdom and founding member of the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), providing inspiring visions for citizen science to combat worldwide issues through global citizen science partnerships. The recent United Nations Science-Policy-Business Forum, which Erin Roger, our fearless ACSA chair attended and blogged about, and initiatives such as the Citizen Science Global Partnership (“Citizen Science Global”) and Global Mosquito Alert Consortium were highlighted. Martin also shared the  commitment adopted by the Global Citizen Science Delegation to have 1 billion people participating in citizen science globally by 2020. Follow this via #1BillionCitSci2020 on Twitter! We all certainly have our work cut out for us, but let’s all do our part!

Dr. Lea Shanley spoke to her learnings as a founder and co-chair of the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Community of Practice for the United States, as well as her experiences during her fellowship developing open science and innovation research strategies with NASA. Dr. Amy Kaminski spoke about working in open science and innovation with NASA both as a program executive for Prizes and Challenges, and in the past, as a senior policy adviser for the Office of the Chief Scientist.

Jo White, Director Science Strategy, Science Division, New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, discussed how the state agency has harnessed the power of citizen science and developed an OEH Citizen Science Strategy, which is delivering on key science priorities.

On Monday the 12th of February a forum in Canberra was held to share highlights from the conference with those who couldn’t attend in person. Lea Shanley and Amy Kaminski joined these sessions in the capital city to share their experiences on bridging citizen science and policy in the United States.

ACSA Regional Chapters announced at #CitSciOz18:

Friday the 9th of February 2018 will go down in ACSA history as the launch of the first three regional chapters of ACSA! We welcome and congratulate ACSA Western Australia, ACSA South Australia, and ACSA Victoria!

Presenting at the Citizen Science Association conference
Representatives from ACSA WA were the first to stand up and introduce their regional chapter!
Group gathered for a social occasions at the Citizen Science Association Conference
ACSA Victoria sat down before the big reveal to talk “chapter and verse” about their new roles.

ACSA Chapters will play integral roles in fulfilling the vision to build an Australian community of practice that supports, informs, and develops citizen science. We hope that Chapters in Queensland, Northern Territory, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory will be joining the ranks soon.

The ACSA Data & Metadata Working Group, which will be chaired by Peter Brenton from the Atlas of Living Australia, was also introduced. It was also announced that Dr. Geoff Garrett, former Chief Scientist of Queensland, has agreed to be an ACSA Adviser. We couldn’t be more thrilled with him taking this role, as he has been advocating for citizen science from behind the scenes since the inception of the Association.

The ACSA Management Committee also took the opportunity to outline our priorities for the upcoming year. These include: evaluating the conference and our strategic plan, outlining the benefits of regional chapters, and refining our working group process, just to name a few.

Erin Roger, second from left, presenting ACSAs achievements and future goals, along with the rest of the ACSA Management Committee Michelle Neil, Ellie Downing, Amy Slocombe, Kylie Andrews, Paul Flemons, Jenn Loder, Alexis Tindall and Jessie Oliver.


#CitSciOz18 Invited Plenary Speakers

Dr. Alan Finkel giving the Opening Address

Dr. Alan Finkel Australian Chief Scientist, gave opening address with his thoughts on three key foundational elements of great citizen science projects:

  1. they must be based on robust science,
  2. projects must open doors to the world of science for the broader community, and
  3. they must make the world a better place.

An overview of Dr. Finkel’s speech was published via Conversation.

Dr. Emilie Ens spoke of the brilliant citizen science outcomes from the Ngukurr Wi Stadi bla Kantri (We Study the Country) Research Team, which are working to protect the environment and actively maintain endangered cultural knowledge.

Dr. Emilie Ens

This project is conducted in affiliation with Macquarie University, Yugul Mangi Rangers, and Ngukurr School, and was the recipient of the 2017 Department of Industry, Innovation and Science Eureka Prize for Innovation in Citizen Science.

Perhaps I was the only sook in the crowd, but learning of this project’s profound community outcomes and Dr Ens passion for the people she works with choked me up!

Dr. Caren Cooper, author of the book Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery, from North Carolina State University, U.S. gave a great talk providing a historical perspective on citizen science and demonstrating how the science from citizen science projects can feed into social activism and create broad-scale change.

Amy Sterling, Executive Director of Eyewire, a project hosted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), U.S. showed us live how you can play a game to map the brain, while demonstrating how crafty platform designs, gamification, community building, and providing tools for citizen scientists will not only engage them to participate, but also to help develop new features to the platform! Live chatting players caused the conference attendees to roar with laughter a few times!

#CitSciOz18 Additional Awesomeness

Public Lecture:

The conference affiliated public lecture was also a roaring success with over 300 people attending! Dr Leanna Read South Australia’s Chief Scientist opened the event, which was sponsored by the Government of South Australia, where Caren Cooper and Amy Sterling gave headline talks. Our very own ACSA volunteer social media moderator Michelle Neil also joined the Q&A panel! We were lucky to have ABC journalist Jessica Harmsen be the master of ceremonies (MC) for this event. You can catch a listen online via the Hawke Centre.

Jessica Harmsen running the panel with Michelle Neil, Amy Sterling and Caren Cooper

Citizen Science TV Series Screening:

Episode 3 of the 4-part series of The Crowd and the Cloud was shown at the conference, but if you missed it, or would like to view it or one of the other episodes, the are all freely available online. If you would like high quality videos for public screenings, let us know.

Promotional screen grab for the crowd and cloud
Screenshot of The Crowd & The Cloud’s homepage

Getting our citizen science on outside & unwinding!

We rounded off the conference with two days jam packed with field trips which allowed delegates to tour Adelaide and surrounds, and learn about South Australian based citizen science projects. The inclusiveness, awesomeness, and fun of our citizen science community was also highlighted for me on a personal level many times! For example, folks were all too happy to help to get me exploring those rocky reefs without anything other than my feet getting wet!

Gathering for a tour of the Mount Lofty summit
The Mount Lofty Tour Crew from #CitSciOz18 has arrived! Look out world!
Scanning a QR code on a nature trial
Andrew Tokmakoff in action showing us one way smart phones can be used for citizen science in the field.
Gathering for the Citizen Science Association Conference
Some #CitSciOz18 winery tour bonding!
Gathering at the seaside for a survey
No trip to South Australia coastline would have been complete without doing some ReefCheckSA citizen science!
Standing on rock sea shore
Two legendary fellas H.J. van der Woerd and Kade Mills graciously ecorting Jessie Oliver across the rocks like a gazelle!

#CitSciOz18 Makes the Big Time in Media!

We are very grateful to have had quite a bit of media coverage during and following the conference! If you know of more, be sure to send us message! Here are the ones we know of:

How a German migrant planted citizen science in Australia – and why it worked”. The Conversation, by Dr. Alan Finkel based on a speech Dr Finkel delivered to the Citizen Science Association Conference 2018 in Adelaide on 7 February 2018.

The App Sending Gamers Out into Nature“. The Wire with Andrew Robinson, CEO of QuestaGame. Aired 21 February 2018.

Interviewing for a podcast

What Is Citizen Science?”  The Wire with Caren Cooper, Associate Professor at North Carolina State University and North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Aired 14 February 2018.

Interviewing for a podcast

Citizen Science in South Africa” The Wire with Suvarna Parbhoo, South African National Biodiversity Institute. Aired 28 February 2018

Interviewing for a podcast

Using People Power to Study Microbats“. The Wire with Sylvia Clarke, Projects Officer, Natural Resources agency for SA Murray Darling Basin. Aired 22 February 2018

Interviewing for a podcast

How collaborative science is teaching us more about Arnhem Land”, The Wire with Dr Emilie Ens about the Ngukurr Wi Stadi bla Kantri (We Study the Country) Research Team’s biodiversity citizen science. Aired 15 February 2018.

Interviewing for a podcast

Gaming is helping researchers map the human brain”, ABC Radio National (ABC RN) Breakfast with Amy Sterling about the citizen science project EyeWire. Aired 9 February 2018.

LIVE SHOW! Licking toads for science at CitSciOz18”, The Wholesome Show live podcast,Aired 07 February 2018. It included four cheeky interviews including Ellie Downing (your hilarious ACSA secretary), Mendel Wong (co-Founder of and Zikathon), Stuart Harris (featured in MARATUS: Peacock Spider Documentary), and Caren Cooper all sharing with the public fun anecdotes of their citizen science involvement and experiences.

Evening event at ASCA conference

ABC Radio Canberra also conducted a live interview with Erin Roger, ACSA Chair.  

#CitSciOz18 Competitions! 

A number of competitions were held during the conference, and we would like to congratulate our winners once again! They picked up some terrific prizes including copies of Caren Cooper’s book “Citizen Science: How Ordinary People are Changing the Face of Discovery“, 60x microscopes, ACSA t-shirts and more!

  • Best Student Talk – Tahlia Perry (Echidna CSI)
  • Highly Commended Student Talk – Amelie Vanderstock
  • Best Poster – Cassandra Davis, Sophie Pritchard “River Detectives: young citizen scientists connecting with their local waterways”
  • Highly Commended Poster – Leonie Prater “Digivol Citizen Science Project”
  • Highly Commended Poster – Margot Law “Who’s living on my land”
  • Best #CitSciOz18 Photo – Mendel Wong
  • Sustainability Competition – Nikki Sims-Chilton for “demonstrable use of feet”
  • Business Card Lucky Dip – Ronda Green
  • Best Blog – Nathan Odgers  (read it here)

#CitSciOz18 Ways to Find & Share Info!

  • Conference program access:
    You can review the conference agenda/program and the Book of Abstracts via the ACSA website
  • Join the ACSA Interest Group “#CitSciOz18 Conversation Continued!”
    Members of ACSA can create and join special interest discussion groups, and this group is for those would like to further discuss any aspect of the #CitSciOz18 Conference. Did the conference, for example, help you make vital collections, foster collaborations, or provide learning applicable to your work? The ACSA Management Committee would love to know conference related feedback, testimonials, media, and outcomes! Please share what you liked most and what you hope to see in the future, as well as what you would like to see come out of the conference from this point forward. Many thanks in advance for any information you provide! Members, just log into the ACSA website to join in the conversation!
  • Share outcomes, testimonials, learnings, or other feedback directly!
    If you would like to share these conference experiences aspects with us, you can do so via a direct private message via the ACSA website.  We will be using your testimonials and outcome accounts to garner further support for future events. We are also keen understand what the learnings were for attendees of #CitSciOz18, and are hopeful that you as community members would be interested in contributing to white papers assessing key conference learnings broadly. If you’re keen to contribute send us a message on the website!
  • Connect via Social Media:
    Be sure to check out social media to explore conference happenings, whether for the first time or to reminisce about the fabulous happenings and glorious people! Luckily, many conference goers were furiously exchanging ideas, experiences, talk highlights, posters, and discussion via the conference hashtag #CitSciOz18 on twitter and facebook.
  • Our social media moderator, Michelle, has been busy downloading photos and organising tweets! Enjoy the moments from Day 1, Day 2, the Public LectureDay 3 and the weekend field trips & reflections!
  • Sign up for ACSA updates:
    If you haven’t already, sign up for the ACSA Newsletter to keep up with all things ACSA and citizen science happenings across the nation.

#CitSciOz18 Thank You!

  • Sponsors!
    This conference would not have ever been possible without each and every one of our generous sponsors.
  • You beautiful delegates!
    What a privilege it has been to volunteer for a community of such incredibly passionate citizen science enthusiasts near and far who collectively made this event so unbelievably wonderful! We thank each and every one of you personally for all of the diverse ways you contributed!
  • Tweeters!
    Much of the conference was indexed thanks to folks tweeting at the conference and we would also like to give special thanks to those overseas tweeting from afar and helping to share the great work of our Australian citizen science community!

Supporting & Getting Involved with ACSA

  • Become a Member of ACSA!
    You will have new networking opportunities through our new member directory!
  • Create or Join a Chapter:
    Join your new chapter in WA, SA, VIC or be the champion to start one in another in QLD, NT, TAS, and ACT. See here for more information.
  • Interested in Data?
    Consider joining the ACSA Data & Metadata working group, let us know and we will put you in contact with Peter!
  • Join & share ACSA social media!
    Find us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

Many thanks for your interest in #CitSciOz18!

Jessie Oliver on behalf of both the ACSA Management and Conference Committee members.

The management committee for the ACSA
The Conference Organising Committee: Michelle Neil, Frank Grutzner, Sylvia Clark, Alexis Tindall, Jessie Oliver, Erin Roger, Amy Slocombe, Philip Roetman, Tahlia Perry and Ellie Downing.

ACSA heads to the United Nations

By Erin Roger, ACSA Chair

I’d heard about the traffic gridlock in Nairobi- but I guess I never really understood how bad it could be. I am stuck in traffic heading back to my hotel and going nowhere fast.

A public bus or ‘sacco’ in Nairobi traffic

But let me re-wind.

I’m in Nairobi as one of around 20 people who are part of an international citizen science delegation attending the United Nations Science-Policy-Business Forum from December 2nd-3rd at the UN Complex. The UN complex in Gigiri is an oasis of green set on 140 acres and filled with indigenous tree species and Sykes’ monkeys. The focus of the Forum is pollution and how to bring together and encourage collaboration between science, policy and business to address global scale challenges. Our mission as a delegation is to ensure citizen science has a voice throughout the Forum and to place it firmly in the minds of forum participants as a tool to help address sustainability goals.

The UN complex in Gigiri Nairobi is set on 140 acres

The opening plenary with African drumming kicking off the forum was a privilege to attend. Moderated by Axel Threfall the opening was filled with hopeful words encouraging attendees to use the time to shape our own engagement and to think of the UN as the facilitator of the process. Anne Bowser, from the Woodrow Wilson Centre and on the CSA Board of Directors, led the charge for the citizen science delegation at the plenary, inviting Forum delegates to attend the citizen science session held later that day and announcing the bold target of 1 billion people engaged in citizen science by 2020.

The citizen science delegation then split up to make sure our voices were heard in all the sessions throughout the Forum. We also organised our own session titled ‘Future of Citizen Science’, which featured panels and talks from citizen science representatives from around the world. The challenge set for this well-attended session was to tackle ‘how to scale the impact of citizen science’. You can read another perspective on the forum and citizen science session, as well as see a final statement video via Scott Edmunds’ (GIGI) Blog post. Scott was one of the citizen science delegates from Hong Kong.

Some of the members of the citizen science delegation in front of the Forum’s banner

The Forum closed with a challenge for all attendees to set pledges and goals and to push the pollution agenda forward. It was reiterated that everyone’s voice counts and that it is critical for science, policy, and business to collaborate.  The message from the President of the UN General Assembly resonated with me. Miroslav Lajcak highlighted the ‘importance of government policy being informed by science and for it to be made in the best interest of the people. Furthermore, it is no longer business savvy to place profit above the environment and that dialogue between us is the most powerful tool we have’. Powerful words.

The closing concluded with pledges from forum attendees, including the launch of a new gap analysis on the science policy interface by the UN. Johannes Vogel, who is currently Chair of the Executive Board of the European Citizen Science Association (our citizen science delegation lead), made the final pledge of the forum. Johannes urged us to move forward as a society together and underscored that in order to meet the problems of today, professional science alone cannot provide the necessary evidence. He reiterated our ambition of ‘1 billion global citizens engaged in citizen science by 2020’ and launched the Global Secretariat that will convene a standing committee to work with the UN. He also indicated the intent of forming an African Citizen Science Association. African drumming concluded the forum.

Members of the citizen science delegation at the closing plenary of the UN Science-Policy-Business Forum

My final day in Nairobi as a delegate was spent at the United States International University (USIU). USIU is a beautiful campus and I was surprised by the number of common plants that I see in Sydney, such as bottlebrush and interestingly lots of lantana! At the meeting, faculty and students, as well as members of the citizen science delegation including CitSci Asia, ECSA, ACSA and CSA representatives, agreed on draft governance arrangements for the Global Citizen Science Partnership that was announced by Johannes Vogel at the closing plenary. It was agreed that ACSA will have a seat on the steering committee, so I will be able to provide regular updates about this exciting and fantastic initiative. It was also agreed that USIU would serve as the host institution to help establish the African Citizen Science Association. The other associations would support by offering to help with connections to other people and organisations that are active in the citizen science space and to share lessons learnt from our experience in setting up respective associations.

Meeting at the United States International University Nairobi between USIU faculty, staff, students and members of the UN citizen science delegation

Back in Nairobi traffic, my Uber was making slow progress, but I had much to reflect on. It was an absolute privilege to attend both the Forum and the meeting of Associations (and prospective Associations) at USIU. What an experience to meet all the fantastic citizen science delegates, learn about another culture and country, as well as help advance and advocate for citizen science on a global scale. Stay tuned for reports from ACSA detailing how the network is advancing the commitments made to the UN. My thanks to Anne Bowser, Martin Brocklehurst, and Johannes Vogel for leading the delegation. In the words of Martin Brocklehurst, ‘It is an event that in retrospect will, in my opinion, be seen as a watershed in the growth of the global citizen science movement’. Exciting times indeed!

The Forum was closed with inspiring African drumming for all the delegates