Clare Hawkins (Hobart, Tasmania, Australia) is the Citizen Science Coordinator at Bookend Trust and author of the Nature Trackers blog. She has five years of dedicated experience managing citizen science projects including Where Where Wedgie and Claws on the Line. Clare was interviewed by Anne Eichholtzer, a PhD student at Deakin University based in Melbourne (Victoria, Australia). Anne is interested in the social outcomes of citizen science participation and the automatization of wildlife monitoring and is working on a TechnEcology project testing a new video camera trap technology with citizen scientists.
Anne interviewed Clare as part of a new member interview series, where we pair someone new to the field with someone with extensive experience in citizen science. These are opportunities for the interviewees to get to know one another, to hear about different projects and perspectives, and to be inspired or refreshed. Below is a snapshot of their conversation.
We hope that you also find value in getting to know some of our CSA members. Our goal with this series is to highlight the diversity of our membership at CSA- we have members from many different disciplines and geographies who work in a variety of different roles. If there is a type of citizen science you want to see featured either through our Career Path or Member Interview series, please reach out.
A good surprise you had when starting to work in Citizen Science?
Clare : ‘Competition’ between different citizen science projects is something that I had in the back of my mind when I first started. But I soon came to realize that it was quite the opposite. Of course, where funding is involved, there is always a bit of competition. But once the projects are up and running, I feel like each project is ‘feeding’ each other. They usually leave participants with a happy feeling, that stimulates motivation and leads them to ask themselves ‘what else can I do?’, ‘I enjoyed doing that, I will be interested in this.’ And there is a big diversity of projects and areas covered to keep everyone curious.
Anne : Coming from the luxury industry, I was concerned about launching a Citizen Science project that wasn’t 100% perfect and tested multiple times by professionals. Research can be quite unpredictable and the resources and skills available are obviously not the same. I was very happy to see how understanding, patient and helpful the participants have been despite a few hiccups along the way.
That said, good communication and a well-designed project (within the resonable limits that the research offers) remain crucial to keep citizen scientists engaged. Not putting in the effort could ‘waste’ the enthusiasm in the process; it would not only be detrimental to your project but also very likely to other citizen science initiatives.
What are the main challenges you have experienced working in Citizen Science?
Clare : The scientific approach is just one aspect of managing Citizen Science projects, and you often need to learn many other skills along the way. New technologies of course, but also (and that was very new to me), a better grasp of ‘marketing’ and communication practices. These are specific to each project, and need to be adapted depending on which organization and which audience you are working with (school kids, professionals, science enthusiasts, parents who would not be here in the first place if it wasn’t for the school project etc.).
Because another challenge is that the duration of most research projects tends to be dictated by funding period; this an issue for population monitoring, which usually needs to continue for much longer periods. It is therefore important to understand what the citizen scientists are interested in, and to fully integrate them in the project – and in the efforts to maintain the project long term. For this to work, I believe it can be more sustainable to reach out to a relatively small group of people, specifically interested in the project, rather than searching for support from more standard funding organizations whose interests might fluctuate with political and other pressures.
Anne : Reaching citizen scientists outside of the ‘environmentally friendly’ bubble. If you go to a conference on climate change (or related topic), a vast majority of the audience is already convinced and the lecturer ‘preaches to the converted’. Similarly, a lot of citizen scientists are already aware of environmental issues and what they can do to help in their daily lives. By default, citizen science also tends to attract participants from higher socio-economic backgrounds, as participation implies the awareness, the technology, the time and the headspace necessary to focus on environmental challenges. Projects that include schools – as developed by Clare previously – or various clubs and associations, can be a great way to reach children – and parents – outside of the regular bubble.
What are you hoping for the future of Citizen Science?
Clare : I hope it becomes increasingly normal and popular! There is a fear among some that it will be excessively relied upon to replace projects more appropriately carried out by professionals – but I don’t see that. At least in terms of threatened species monitoring, there is very much more that needs to be done than has ever been achieved prior to the recent flowering of new forms of citizen science.
I particularly hope that we can all get better at reaching an increasingly wide audience. I am very happy to bring the ‘converted’ all together in united efforts, but I’d love to share the joy and achieve more with others – most immediately, with those who loved the natural world as a child but perhaps subconsciously feel now that it’s not a serious pursuit for adults. We have social scientist, Dr Angela Dean, on our NatureTrackers expert team and I hope very much that our efforts will help progress this goal.
Anne : I fully support the two points made by Clare… But to avoid repetition, I will add that it would be great to see an increase of inputs and responsibilities from the citizen scientists; to create even more collaborative initiatives (Extreme Citizen Science as an example). Real-time dialogue between scientists, citizens and the local community is now easier than ever and can produce scientific projects that are more relevant, applicable and resilient. Besides valuable knowledge from locals, integrating non-scientists in the process can also bring different points of view on an issue. When you have been working in a field for a long time you sometimes forget to question the status quo or ignore the obvious, out of habit.
Citizen Science and Coronavirus… how is it impacting your work? Any tips to keep on going?
Clare : Over the next few weeks, it’s possible we’ll all be going a little stir-crazy. The project Where? Where? Wedgie! involves minimum coronavirus transmission risk, and is a great way to look after mind, body and nature. But as for now, we all have to stay close to home. We still invite all Tasmanians to book a survey square for one or all of 15-17 and 29-31 May nonetheless! By mid-May, we’ll hope to have the organization figured out. In the most extreme scenario, everyone’s planning can be applied to next year, and we’ll do what we can from our windows or gardens! We’ll keep everyone posted (Facebook & Twitter pages).
In the meantime, we are developing our online resources. We already have a bunch of school resources and will be developing these further for 2020. In previous years, we’ve done school visits and community workshops – this year we’re planning online webinars and discussions for potential participants of all ages.
I’m also encouraging everyone to explore their local area with iNaturalist. It is a wonderful way to take a closer look and discover all sorts of surprises we might not have noticed with less time at home. And I have my own specific agenda too for getting people familiar with this app – we run Claws on the Line as an iNaturalist project, and may potentially run some aspects of Where Where Wedgie on it too.
Anne : My project will unfortunately be on hold for the time being due to lockdown in Victoria. But there are still a lot of ways to keep contributing to science, with projects directly related to the Covid-19 pandemic or other areas of your choice. As highlighted by Clare, you can help on a lot of projects for all ages directly online, or from your garden if you are fortunate enough to have one. You can find a few more ideas here on CSAs website. It is a great way to maintain social engagement, learn new skills, contribute to new scientific knowledge and overall stay sane during the quarantine.