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
Let's get to it! I'll Tweet out a question using the prefix: Q1, Q2, etc. and the panelists will begin each answer with the prefix: A1, A2, etc. Follow along with their answers, answer questions yourself, start side conversations, however you want to be involved!#CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
Q1. Scientists share discoveries from #Citizenscience projects w large temporal & spatial scales in peer-review literature (https://t.co/NrD0y5eRDu). Why are small-scale #citsci studies missing from literature? #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
Q2. How can we elevate small-scale #citsci projects that influence #EnvPolicy development, industrial development, or #EnvironmentalJustice? What about projects that do not intend to publish their results? #CitSciChat#CommunityScience#CommunityEngagement— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
I've never published a paper myself, what do you need in terms or resources to do so that would be so cumbersome? Just a lot of time? Money? https://t.co/aNLdjeeyCD— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A1 I think the value of #citsci projects comes from their flexibility. This can mean some are missed from the literature because maybe small groups don’t have the means to publish or maybe it just isn’t their priority – they are answering a question of local relevance #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
A1: Absolutely! We can’t discount different goals. Some projects seek to inform local policy or engage active citizenry. Big Goals! #CitSciChat— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
I've never though about the need to work laterally to renew zoning decisions or reserve designations. Is this something that happens frequently? Uses #citsci frequently?#CitSciChat https://t.co/Y9TqyEtNh4— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
I suggest to also keep in mind there are other good reasons for CS projects than scientific publication, improved nat res mngt, awareness raising, empowerment.. #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
A3 We´ve used #citsci to renew agreements for marine reserves, to support climate change policies, and to help small-scale fisheries get eco-certified. National level policy usually draws on many sources, so it’s important to include #citsci there. #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
Take a look in the journal Cit Sc Theory and Practice – many good ideas to get inspiration from I think #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
e.g., publication rate was hard to model because no projects published if they didn't make their data available publicly. So we had to learn new statistical methods to deal properly with this fact. #CitSciChat 4/n— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
A4 Funders should consider *Impact*! See example from many partners' collaboration in BioScience https://t.co/cwxSvjMNv8. More examples in https://t.co/TC8gyHig1B. Vimeo: https://t.co/FaUpCKkOQo #CitSciChat!— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
Q5. Are there times where increasing the visibility of a #communitybased #citsci project could be detrimental to the community, the public’s perception of the study issue, to the species involved? #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A4 In our case as an NGO philanthropy. In developing countries where budgets can be thin, the government should also encourage #citsci to help them meet their own reporting goals, for the SDGs and other international targets. #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
Then came putting the finishing touches on writing the paper and submitting it. We submitted this paper to three journals (it was rejected twice before being accepted). That means we had comments from 9 reviewers to incorporate… #CitSciChat 5/n— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
…and 3 different journal formats to accommodate (i.e., rewrite the paper each time). #CitSciChat 6/n— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
Q6. One factor affecting the visibility of #citsci is #media presence (https://t.co/c3gWEzGVQp). What can we do to increase the visibility of cit sci? Would you prioritize recognition for cit sci in peer-reviewed literature or #mainstreammedia first? #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
Have you had (or heard of) any success with reaching the broader community with messages about the importance of conservation in marine reserves that led to reduced "fish poaching" for lack of a better term? How would you suggest curtailing fishing in these areas? #CitSciChat https://t.co/a2iG0HLXIA— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A5 #citsci with endangered or highly prized species must include an element of caution if key information were to find its way into the wrong hands. Unfortunately, there are examples of marine reserves being fished and similar scenarios… #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
Excellent point. And supporting policies should be established so that government staff time and funds are set aside to sustain the initiatives and supervise the process, and ensure the data are used in practice for improving nat res mngt decisions #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
Q7. Fishers have been providing data about #speciesfreqency & #catchlevels for a long time, affecting #policy & informing the industry. Where else might we find cooperative relationships btw industry & #citsci? #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A6 Need to be clear on the objective. Sometimes visibility and media presence may not be essential. For policy impacts and obtaining funding visibility is however important. Sometimes peer-reviewed, sometimes mainstream, depends on contxt I think #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
The paper was accepted and published in the Jan 2015 issue. Stuff takes a long time! We all get distracted/pulled in many directions so stuff takes even longer! #CitSciChat 9/n— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
A6 Recognizing #citsci in the media would go a long way to help the general public realize that they could participate. Maybe there’s a project nearby that I could join? Maybe someone nearby is studying something that interests me? #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
A7 Farmers, forest users, herders, hunters… Many ex tropics & Arctic. Small-scale #citsci studies equally relevant in temperate regions. Wherever resource users live close to the natural resource base and depend on natural resources for their lives and livelihoods #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
Q8. Analysis (https://t.co/8KWP6tJQt5) of #citsci in #Mexican #fisheries shows that connection btw the research & the fishers’ livelihood facilitates collaboration. Where might we see similar connections btw individuals’ livelihoods & cit sci objectives? #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A7 In most cases fishers provide basic data (size, catch) because they HAVE to, as permit holders. #citsci helps formalize this information, and helps the fishers answer questions – why is this fish doing that? Is this a new species? Are the currents changing? #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
A6: Does one have to be first over the other? Could both happen at the same time? #CitSciChat— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
A4: I've got goals on the mind! Funders should also consider goal of the project and if it is aligned with goals of the sponsor. Totally in line with @FinnDanielsen and impact. Reaching goals is an indicator. #CitSciChat— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
A8 Fishing is a lonely activity, so how do we connect fisher to fisher, and fisher to researcher to answer scientific questions? #citsci opens the door to answer more questions about the natural environment, but in a systemic, scientific way. #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
A8 Probably in *all* areas where communities utilize the environment and living resources on a daily basis. Observing the environment is part of the survival strategy in many communities who depend on nat res for their livelihood #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
Do you think there is potential (or examples) of #citsci in oil and gas industry? I wonder if the people working there would be receptive to showing how their extractive work affects the environment? Conflict of interest?#CitSciChat https://t.co/6ZL4ubXWZl— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
Daniel: Central is that the CitSci projects are developed together with the local communities and from the very beginning fitted into the local nat res governance context. Requires a lot of effort but the benefits can also be huge! #CitSciChat— Finn Danielsen (@FinnDanielsen) October 23, 2020
A9: Maybe. But really, we need to reject that there is one way to do science. Citizen science rejects that there is one definition of who is a scientist but does not reject that there is one way to do science. #CitSciChat— Elli Theobald (@ElliTheobald) October 23, 2020
A9 Indigenous and local communities have a huge amount of knowledge about their surroundings where they live and work. The #citsci process can help provide structure to data collection that already occurs, but should always respect the needs of the community. #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
Know of any places where #CitSci leaders can go to engage in forming collaborations w other #CitizenScience project leaders who are looking to connect projects together/share data?#CitSciChat https://t.co/yyAxqM5h94— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
A10 Keep making it easier to participate. Link similar projects in different regions to maximize impact. Smartphones are everywhere, data collection continues to get cheaper. How do we get the most out of this data? #CitSciChat— COBI A.C. (@cobi_mx) October 23, 2020
That concludes the questions for today! Thank you so, so much to the guest panelists @cobi_mx @FinnDanielsen & @ElliTheobald for contributing their opinions, examples, & experiences! Hopefully this will help us all to go forward and elevate #community #CitSci #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020
Feel free to continue engaging throughout the day as I am sure people will tune in later *YAWN* after they've had some coffee! #CitSciChat— Nicole Esch (@nl_esch) October 23, 2020