Think Global, Recognize Local: Twitter Chat on Friday, October 23 about “Invisible” Citizen Science

Citizen science is nearly everywhere you look. One place you can look — SciStarter — helps millions of people worldwide discover thousands of citizen science projects, events and tools through its searchable database. Though large-scale projects like iNaturalist or projects hosted on Zooniverse may appear more frequently on the national and global stage, local and community-based projects are likely just as numerous — if not more so, based on what I see in the SciStarter Project Finder

Using Home-Grown Projects to Address Local Problems

The traditional scientific products of large-scale projects in peer-reviewed literature and subsequent media coverage can make it seem as though large-scale projects are more important than the smaller, community-based efforts. However, I argue that we can collectively address the most pressing existential, environmental issues we face on planet Earth with smaller scale, action-oriented projects that do not necessarily have a goal of publication.

Elevating the visibility of local projects that effectively address issues such as biodiversity, natural resource use and environmental justice in a given community is important in order to promote participant self-efficacy, funding and broader public recognition of strategies that succeed in addressing environmental issues.  

“Invisible” Citizen Science

Caren Cooper uses the phrase “invisible citizen science” to point out that published peer-reviewed papers that rely on citizen science data often fail to credit the help they received from citizen science projects. I want to focus on another type of invisibility: lack of recognition of the impacts of projects UNRELATED to peer-reviewed papers. 

Many projects influence policy, regulation, social justice, natural resource management plans, environmental justice decisions and more, without being part of the system of peer-reviewed publications and subsequent mainstream media attention.

 “Invisible” citizen science, in the context of this discussion, is a shorter way of referring to citizen science projects that:

  • are action-oriented and do not have a goal of publication
  • do not receive much media attention or are not recognized as citizen science when findings are discussed in the media
  • are not recognized for their influence on policy decisions
  • reside in “grey literature” such as government documents, evaluations and white papers 
  • are not recognized for how they inform industry practices

Join the Conversation

In a Twitter-based #CitSciChat event on October 23 from 9-10 AM ET, I (@nl_esch) explored the importance of and strategies for recognizing the contributions of “invisible” citizen science projects via my Twitter handle with #CitSciChat. Small-scale, grassroots projects can catalyze local climate action, given their tendency to influence change on local scales. Local efforts can customize environmental solutions to make them maximally effective in their unique on-the-ground context, and the combined impact of this targeted local work results in comprehensive global benefit. However, these efforts won’t succeed and spread until local work is celebrated on the global stage, so other communities can learn about it and find inspiration from these models.

To explore these issues, I invited the following guest panelists to discuss these issues with me. I’ll retweeted their responses from my account (@nl_esch):

  • Stuart Fulton (@cobi_mx) is a Society for Conservation GIS Scholar and the Head of Marine Reserve Program at COBI. He works with local communities to understand activities related to fish refuge and spawning sites, training fishers to become effective citizen conservation biologists.
  • Elli Theoblad (@ElliTheobald) is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Biology Department at the University of Washington. Dr. Theobald’s scholarly work is focused on classroom practices that promote equity in higher education STEM classes. Her previous work explored the biological impacts of climate change and the contributions of volunteers to science through their involvement in citizen science programs. Her education experience varies widely from formal to informal and middle school to graduate levels.
  • Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) is an ecologist who has worked for many years with farmers, forest users, hunters and fishermen on setting up community-based monitoring programs for informing decision-making on natural resource management and for protecting the rights of Indigenous communities.

During this discussion, the above panelists posted responses to questions about “invisible” citizen science on Twitter with #CitSciChat.  The chat took take place Friday, October 23 from 9 – 10 AM ET. You can still retweet and share examples of your favorite small-scale projects to begin increasing the visibility of community-based citizen science!

What will we see when we look at this work, together? 

Selected Posts from #CitSciChat


Categories: Citizen Science, Events


About the Author

Nicole Esch

Nicole Esch

Nicole always knew she wanted to have a career in science. From collecting “tree stars” in the woods as a kid (Land Before Time anyone?), to majoring in Biology and Journalism in her undergrad career at UNC Chapel Hill, she has always taken steps to make that happen. Along the way, she discovered a love for writing, photography, and communication as well as a desire to help close the gap between science and minority communities. Though she uses her spare time to pursue slightly selfish hobbies like bodybuilding and cooking, she hopes her career will allow her to serve the public. She hopes to be an apt communicator and a well-informed scientist.