**This blog entry orginally appeared on the website oceanspaces.org.**/p>
We’ve finished the first stage of the California Citizen Science Initiative, which explores opportunities to engage citizen science in the monitoring of marine protected areas. To get started with this, we first needed to know kinds of programs make up the mosaic of citizen science in the ara. So we developed an inventory of existing citizen science programs in the Central Coast and scoured their public materials for their basic program information. Photo: A volunteer catches a fish as part of the Calfornia Collaborative Fisheries Research Program.
What have we found? Our first impression based on this initial scouting is that Central Coast citizen science is just like citizen science the world over: very diverse. This is a theme echoing through many of the posts on this blog thus far — citizen science comes in all shapes and sizes.
The 28 programs we found vary in their size, scale of operation, age, experience and education of volunteers, official partnerships with government and academic institutions, and core goals. Some programs self-identify as “citizen science” while others do not. One shorebird monitoring program depends on volunteers with PhDs or decades of experience, while a intertidal monitoring program recruits hundreds of high-school students and links with their biology curriculum.
Programs reside in every category of the various typologies we’ve used to classify diversity of citizen science in the Central Coast. For a quick reminder of the typology specifics, Bonney divides projects by the number of steps of the scientific process participants are involved in. Contributory projects involve solely data collection, while co-created projects are partnerships in every step; collaborative are in between. Wiggins and Crowston divide programs by their main mission – action directed toward a particular outcome, conservation by increasing stewardship ethic in participants, education by increasing knowledge in the community, investigation by creating new knowledge, and virtual by creating an online data hub. Here are some summary metrics to give an idea of the diversity involved.
By increasing intensity of involvement, Bonney et al’s typology:
– contributory: 26
– collaborative: 2
– co-created: 1
By the main program goals, Wiggins and Crowston’s typology:
– action: 4
– conservation: 12
– education: 2
– investigation: 4
– virtual: 6
A few weeks ago we debunked the myth that citizen scientists are all untrained, inexperienced novices. We can see evidence of many expert volunteers as well as participants from entirely unrelated careers in our group of Central Coast programs. Who are the volunteers engaged by these 28 programs?
– children: 1
– by rule, experts only: 3
– by chance, mostly experts: 2
– random mix: 20
And what time commitment is required of these volunteers?
– once a year: 1
– monthly: 4
– seasonal: 3
– weekly: 3
– opportunistic: 17
Other useful demographics, like the number of volunteers involved or the spatial scale of the research, were not easily accessible through program websites. There is a wide range for both of these metrics. One group consists of only two volunteers monitoring algal mats in Elkhorn Slough while some of the virtual natural history reporting programs have hundreds or thousands of participants. Similarly, the scope of programs ranges from watching a single nest box fledge its chicks to adding observations of sharks to an international database.
These metrics will all be useful in thinking about what works best for bringing citizen science into monitoring of marine protected areas. For instance, is it easier to work with a small group intensely or large groups once a year? Is it better to focus on the monitoring needs of one protected area or is a statewide or nationwide dataset more useful? Of course, these questions aren’t black or white — answers fall along in shades of gray. We will be tackling these questions in the months to come, asking groups can reflect on their strengths and weaknesses in a monitoring context.
We have so much to learn from these programs! And of course, we may discover more of them along the way. But it’s exciting to see this list take shape and to begin planning our conversations with these groups as we explore this vibrant patchwork of citizen science in the Central Coast.