It just so happens that 2017 was a good year for writing; I (along with my co-authors), had my first two scientific articles published. Both are open-access and are therefore available for anyone, anywhere in the world to read – no subscription necessary. Publishing articles as open-access may cost more and require a little more ‘hoop-jumping’, yet it is a valuable method of science communication (particularly suited to citizen science).
Hence myself, along with my supervisors Dr James Ward and Dr Philip Roetman wrote a paper called, “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research”. It’s about the practical challenges of researching urban food production, how past studies have gone about researching urban food yields and inputs, and how effective a citizen science approach can be. We describe the design of the “Edible Gardens Project” as an example of how citizen science can be successfully applied to urban agriculture research.
To read or share the full article, follow this link: Pollard, Georgia, Philip Roetman, and James Ward. “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research.” Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 5, no. 3 (2017): 9-20.
But what exactly is “citizen science”?
Citizen science is, “public participation in organised research efforts” (Louv, Fitzpatrick, Dickinson and Bonney, 2012). In its earliest form, think of keen hobbyists studying plants, animals and the stars – their carefully collected observations contributed much to our knowledge of the natural world, (even without being trained scientists). Nowadays, in the era of BIG data, not only are scientists focussing on large global issues and complex systems, but we are collecting so much data that much of it is never even looked at. This is where the public can help. Citizens who are interested in the topic or method under research can contribute their time and attention. Their contribution can range from basic data collection, to assisting in analysis, and all the way through to being part of designing, conducting, analysing and communicating the research (Catlin-Groves, 2012; Cooper, Dickinson, Phillips & Bonney, 2007).
Here are some links to examples of very cool citizen science projects happening around the globe.
They range from large-scale global (or even space) projects, to medium-scale projects based on particular species or landscapes, and to quite small local projects:
- “Age Guess” an online project researching the difference between perceived age (how old you look) and chronological age (how old you actually are).
- “FrogWatch” a Canadian study monitoring frogs and toads to track population trends and climate change.
- “Cat Tracker” is a South Australian study where cat owners use a small GPS device to track the movements of their pet cats (hint: they travel a lot further than you think!)
- “CosmoQuest” is another online project to help NASA scientists make maps of our solar system.
- “Project BudBurst” an American study which asks people to get outside and monitor plants as the seasons change.
- And of course “The Edible Gardens Project” investigating the productivity and social value of urban food gardens in South Australia.
If you’re in Australia and keen to learn more about citizen science, check out the Australia Citizen Science Association: https://www.citizenscience.org.au. And if you’re in South Australia, have a look at the Discovery Circle – a citizen science initiative of the University of South Australia: https://www.discoverycircle.org.au.
In citizen science it’s fundamental to practice ‘giving back’.
As acknowledgement and thanks for the public’s contribution it’s important to give them something in return (Roetman, 2013). This may be a report of the analysis or results, a copy of the data for their own use, or some public acknowledgement of their help. By publishing the results of the research as open-access articles, everyone can access, read and learn more about the science that’s important to all of us.
Catlin-Groves, Christina. “The Citizen Science Landscape: From Volunteers to Citizen Sensors and Beyond.” International Journal of Zoology 2012 (2012).
Cooper, Caren, Janis Dickinson, Tina Phillips, and Rick Bonney. “Citizen Science as a Tool for Conservation in Residential Ecosystems.” Ecology and Society 12, no. 2 (2007): 11.
Louv, Richard, John Fitzpatrick, Janis Dickinson, and Rick Bonney. Citizen Science: Public Participation in Environmental Research. New York, USA: Cornell University Press, 2012.
Pollard, Georgia, Philip Roetman, and James Ward. “The Case for Citizen Science in Urban Agriculture Research.” Future of Food: Journal on Food, Agriculture and Society 5, no. 3 (2017): 9-20.
Roetman, Philip. “The ‘Citizen’ in Citizen Science: The Research, Education and Engagement of a Program Based on Local Wildlife Species in South Australia.” University of South Australia, 2013.