I have never seen such a colourful bunch of scientists as those who attended this years Citizen Science Conference in Adelaide. It was fantastic!
I sat and listened to stories of all different kinds of citizen science projects – from global projects on migratory species to tiny local projects based in small rural regions. The CitSciOz18 conference went for three days from February 7th to 9th. There were visiting scientists from interstate and overseas and everyone had something to share – some new perspective to add to our collective conversations.
Some of the highlights for me were:
“Where are the Millennials?”by Margot Law & Ellie Downing.
These ladies were high energy and rocked their interactive workshop about how to engage more millennials (and how they really aren’t that scary). They explained that when it comes to citizen science – you just have to give a bit of thought to what drives them (e.g. wanting to do good, a strong engagement with causes, activities that interest them AND represent values, or projects which consider issues such as: basic human rights, education, the environment, gender equality, financial matters/employment or climate change).
From Peter Brenton we heard all about the Atlas of Living Australia and BioCollect. BioCollect is an impressive data collection and support platform particularly suited to field data capture for citizen science projects and it’s free for public use! If you’re hunting for the right support platform for your project (instead of going to all the cost and effort of building your own like I did) then I strongly recommend BioCollect. Later, Peter also spoke about the value of data beyond the life of your project, and what options there are for storage and enabling of external data use.
Cass Davis spoke about the project RiverScan and ‘How Citizen Science is helping us improve native fish populations’.
Riverscan is a Victorian based citizen science project monitoring creek and river conditions. Besides the amazing project impacts, what I was really taken with was the attention to detail put into the engagement of their citizen scientists and their results reports. We were shown a map of the monitored rivers with all the data collection points given a simple colour coded score for the 3 separate indicators (green, yellow or orange). They also had different levels of accreditation/achievement given to their volunteers – bandannas in different prints and colours to symbolise how long you had been collecting data. Very clever.
Read on for some great citizen science project tips from the great Kylie Andrews, and to watch the presentation I gave ( I promise it’s a good slideshow 😉 ).
There were nine of us sitting there around a big table, nervously shuffling papers and preparing to share our own stories of mental ill-health. Where were we? What were we doing? Why were we drawing on all our courage to tell others vulnerable details of our own experiences and journeys?
We were there because each one of us wanted to learn how to tell our story – to tell our story in a structured way that connected with others without emotionally swamping them. We had the reassuring presence of Sam & Tom, our workshop facilitators and Amy – our support person.
“Who’s ready to share next? You have 10 minutes and we’re all ready to listen.”
I took a deep breath in and out, then raised my hand. I looked at my notes, and started to speak…
From the Batyr workshop we learnt practical elements of storying telling around mental health. Things like,
Begin with you – what you’re like and what you enjoy.
Add a little background context – your family, your up-bringing.
What you experienced: how did it begin? What did you notice first? What did others notice (or not notice about you?). Was it an ongoing issue? Describe how it felt – moments in time. Be careful not to generalise, use “I” and “for me”. Everyone experiences everything differently. No one experience is more “real” or more “valid”. (Depending on who you’re talking to – leave out specific methods of any kind of harm and focus instead on the feelings.)
Turning points & support – there may have been one or there may have been many. How did you know you needed to reach out for support? What support did you seek out? What has worked and what hasn’t worked for you? (This is where you can go into detail).
Where are you now in your journey? What is the key message you want to share with others who may be struggling? What do you do today to manage your wellbeing? (For example, being in nature)
What about for those of us who think a friend or someone we know might being going through a tough time?
In a royally decorated room of the Science Exchange in Adelaide (complete with red carpet, wood panelling and throne-like chairs in the corner), there we awkwardly stood, 30 people in a circle, nervous and fidgeting. We were ready to brave Improv!
This winter, the Royal Institute of Australia (RiAUS) hosted an Improv night specifically geared towards helping scientists, scientists-in-the-making, and other communicators improve their communication skills by diving into a bit of Improvisation.
Dain and Jarred, from OnTheFly Improv (http://www.ontheflyimpro.com) ran the session. They cracked jokes, moved us around and generally reminded us to “keep breathing”. They were wonderful. With my heightened nervous senses, our two-hour session flew by. There were games, mind tricks, advice on stance – all things to could help us to overcome our natural reluctance to blurt out whatever comes first to mind, and instead to trust ourselves. Even in a simple word association game, it was hard not to second guess your answer!
Dain and Jarred also gave us some very practical advice for presenting
I recently attended an Adelaide based forum on “Building Nutrition”, held by the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA). It was fascinating to say the least. Afterwards I was contacted and asked if I was interested in writing a guest blog on the forum experience – and of course said “Yes!”
Here’s how it starts…
“There are times when you hear about real people taking small steady steps toward achieving their goals and making changes. You listen with a sense of satisfaction, the changes might not be huge but at least they’re happening. This is how most change comes about, “green” or not.
Then there are times when this slowness of pace gets to you a little… You begin to hanker for some mountainous shift in the ways things work, some outrageous plan or project or people just getting on with things – regardless of apparent restrictions. For me, these are the moments that make all the small steps and the consistent effort worthwhile. And it doesn’t have to be something I’m personally involved in, I’ll accept inspiration from anywhere!
This is where the latest Adelaide Forum from the Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) comes into the story…”
Every now and again I wonder about whether big data can still be personal. This generally occurs after I get a pop-up on my computer or an up-date on my phone which asks if they can track and use my background data.
But it does get me thinking – I hear a lot about us being in the era of “big data”, with mass data collection all around. Some of this is used to categorise us according to our likes and shopping desires. Some is used to actually better the systems and interfaces we work with.
But I know from my own data collection experiences how easy it is (once everyone’s answers are turned into numbers and categories), to lose sight of what those answers really mean in context to each person, and in turn what this means for your research.
But there are people out there making huge efforts to keep our interfaces, data collection and communications not just individual but personal too. I only recently watched a TED Talk by Aaron Koblin from 2011 called, “Visualizing ourselves… with crowd-sourced data”.Read More »
The fourth instalment of Dr Randy Olson‘s book explores the trait of “likability” and its place in scientific communication.
“Don’t be so unlikeable”
Even just the title of this chapter made me think – “What does he mean ‘unlikeable’? Is he talking about always agreeing with people? Or trying to look pretty and make friends?” It turns out there’s a bit more to it than that…
To begin with, Olson once again describes the value of scientists as society’s truth tellers, or as the “designated drivers” of reality. Scientists are those who resist getting swept up by fantasy and instead try to take a good hard look at the facts.
Scientists play an important role – there’s no denying it. However the question remains, can you be a scientist and still be liked?
Here we cover the third instalment of Dr. Randy Olson‘s book which gets a little deeper into the “arouse and fulfil” tactic of getting people interested in the point you’re trying to make. And although that simple two-step process can work just fine, one way to mix it up is via storytelling…
“Don’t be such a poor storyteller”
By now you may have noticed… many scientists aren’t brilliant storytellers. They can be passionate and big picture oriented, but also long-winded, detail obsessed or even dull. In Hollywood, people study for years to learn how to tell a good story. Scientists study and train for the complete opposite – to always constructively review whatever they are told, and to keep an eye out for any inaccurate details. But to get your information across to a non-academic audience… you have to be able to tell a good story.