The California Academy of Sciences is thinking about citizen science at the highest institutional level. With a long history of supporting public participation in scientific research and running several citizen science projects, the Academy has turned its focus to thinking carefully about how to integrate those activities deeply into the fabric of its work to document biodiversity in the state of California.
In doing so, the Academy has pulled together a document that offers insights for anyone considering how to make the best use of citizen science to advance both scientific literacy and scientific research. ()
In May 2012, the California Academy of Sciences hosted several lively days of meetings about citizen science, bringing together folks from California, D.C. and as far away as Maine. Together they began to explore how project design influences the utility of the data for conservation purposes and impacts the stewardship behavior of volunteers and researchers. Through presentations by citizen science project leaders, educators, and researchers, and panels that included enthusiastic volunteers, the convened group considered ways to engage, enlist, and collaborate with citizen scientists.
Although the Academy has a particular goal of developing projects to document current California biodiversity,focus on key questions that cut across many different kinds of citizen science initiatives and settings:
- How do you define citizen science? How do you recruit, train and keep volunteers?
- What kind of participation do you offer (spectrum from observing to helping design the research project)?
- Quality control– how good are the data? And, to answer that, how are the data going to be used?
- Is the project answering a real research question?
- How can technology and data management tools best be used to engage volunteers and share project data?
It is the Academy’s goal to develop a citizen science program that will increase scientific literacy and public participation in science, answer pressing research questions, provide a model of how natural history collections can accelerate and advance biodiversity studies, and help Californians reconnect with nature. The Academy is taking a very focused and deliberate approach to planning their citizen science programming to align with departmental and institutional goals, and by doing so has offered a great resources to others interested in doing similar work in other locations.
Thank you to Alison Young, Citizen Science Educator at the California Academy of Sciences, and other Academy staff, for providing text for this case study.