Having a flexible structure for a project is necessary for engaging different participants with different levels of familiarity, interest, trust, confidence, and skill with scientific investigation. Providing a variety of ways to participate helps practitioners and participants find common ground.
Although the ultimate goal of a PPSR project may be data collection, it may take time with a number of scaffolding activities to develop the interest and confidence necessary to collect and submit data for scientific analysis. These scaffolding activities may be outside of the PPSR project.
It takes practitioners, participants, and local leaders working together to come to a mutual understanding of each other’s needs and what they can offer one another and flexibility to be able to effectively adapt and re-adapt projects over time.
As part of the NSF-funded Communicating Climate Change (C3) project, The New York Hall of Science adopted the BudBurst project to help people understand local impacts of climate change on plant phenology. Somewhat unexpectedly, their workshops attracted a mixed-age crowd (from pre-K to retirement). Program Manager Michaela Labriole at times speaks about diversity in regards to the diversity of ages represented, but for her Queens, NY, audience this also closely correlated with cultural diversity – many of the families participating with young children were from diverse cultural backgrounds.
Michaela said they sort of fell into citizen science programming for such a wide range of ages – they aren’t experts, and they weren’t planning with much of this in mind. It took flexibility to be successful.
“You want to create a project where participants take ownership of it, and take it in their own direction. So no matter what your audience is, it’s important to design a project that’s responsive to the participants – that’s especially true when you’re dealing with diverse groups. It’s also important to know that it takes work. You have to get a little creative if you want people to come who don’t often participate in these kinds of things.”
To be responsive, they changed activities, they changed the room, they offered activities based on what they were hearing from the participants on their social networking site. In short, they listened to what people were interested in, what they were asking questions about. The program took some tending, even after the structure was in place, to continue to adapt to interests.