Abstract: Citizen science involves volunteers who participate in scientific research by collecting data, monitoring sites, and even taking part in the whole process of scientific inquiry (Roy et al. 2012, Scyphers et al. 2015). In the past two decades, citizen science (also called participatory or community-based monitoring) has gained tremendous popularity (Bonney et al. 2009, Danielsen et al. 2014), due in part to the increasing realization among scientists of the benefits of engaging volunteers (Silvertown 2009, Danielsen et al. 2014, Aceves-Bueno et al. 2015, Scyphers et al. 2015). In particular, the cost-effectiveness of citizen science data offers the potential for scientists to tackle research questions with large spatial and/or temporal scales (Brossard et al. 2005, Holck 2007, Levrel et al. 2010, Szabo et al. 2010, Belt and Krausman 2012). Today, citizen science projects span a wide range of research topics concerning the preservation of marine and terrestrial environments, from invasive species monitoring (e.g., Scyphers et al. 2015) to ecological restoration and from local indicators of climate change to water quality monitoring (Silvertown 2009). They include well-known conservation examples like the Audubon Christmas Bird Count (Butcher et al. 1990) and projects of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (Bonney et al. 2009).

Despite the growth in the number of citizen science projects, scientists remain concerned about the accuracy of citizen science data (Danielsen et al. 2005, Crall et al. 2011, Gardiner et al. 2012, Law et al. 2017). Some studies evaluating data quality have found volunteer data to be more variable than professionally collected data (Harvey et al. 2002, Uychiaoco et al. 2005, Belt and Krausman 2012, Moyer-Horner et al. 2012) and others that volunteers’ performance is comparable to that of professionals or scientists (Hoyer et al. 2001, 2012, Canfield et al. 2002, Oldekop et al. 2011). For example, Danielsen et al. (2005) concluded that the 16 comparative cases studies they reviewed only provided cautious support for volunteers’ ability to detect changes in populations, habitats, or patterns of resource use. In a more recent review, Dickinson et al. (2010) found that the potential of citizen scientists to produce datasets with error and bias is poorly understood.

The evidence of problems with citizen science data accuracy (e.g., Hochachka et al. 2012, Vermeiren et al. 2016) indicates a need for a more systematic analysis of the accuracy of citizen science data derived from individual studies of accuracy. To our knowledge, despite useful qualitative reviews (e.g., Lewandowski and Specht 2015), there are to date no reviews that combine the case studies to quantitatively evaluate the data quality of citizen science. In this paper, we conduct a quantitative review of citizen science data in the areas of ecology and environmental science. We focus on the universe of peer-reviewed studies in which researchers compare citizen science data to reference data either as part of validation mechanisms in a citizen science project or by designing experiments to test whether volunteers can collect sufficiently accurate data. We code the authors’ qualitative assessments of data accuracy and we code the quantitative assessments of data accuracy. This enables us to evaluate both whether the authors believe the data to be accurate enough to achieve the goals of the program and the degree of accuracy reflected in the quantitative comparisons. We then use a linear regression model to assess correlates of accuracy. With citizen science playing an increasingly important role in expanding our scientific knowledge and enhancing the management of the environment, we conclude with recommendations for assessing data quality and for designing citizen science tasks that are more likely to produce accurate data.

Source: Aceves-Bueno, E. et al, 2017. The Accuracy of Citizen Science Data: A Quantitative Review. The Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America, 98(4): 278–290. DOI: 10.1002/bes2.1336

Abstract: Science communicators develop qualitative and quantitative tools to evaluate the ‘impact’ of their work however narrative is rarely adopted as a form of evaluation. We posit narrative as an evaluative approach for research projects with a core science communication element and offer several narrative methods to be trialled. We use citizen science projects as an example of science communication research seeking to gain knowledge of participant-emergent themes via evaluations. Storied experience of participant involvement enhances understanding of context-based and often intangible processes, such as changing place-relations, values, and self-efficacy, by enabling a reflective space for critical-thinking and self-reflection.

Source: Constant, N. and Roberts, L., 2017. Narratives as a mode of research evaluation in citizen science: understanding broader science communication impacts. Journal of science communication, 16 (4): A03. DOI: https://jcom.sissa.it/archive/16/04/JCOM_1604_2017_A03

Abstract: A growing number of ‘wicked problems’ faced by society including climate change and biodiversity loss need to be engaged with as sustainability challenges. Addressing such problems might appear to necessitate science educators and environmental educators working together. However, science education, which has tended to focus primarily on teaching knowledge and skills, and environmental education which is characterised by the incorporation of values and a focus on changing behaviours have, over the years, moved apart significantly. In order to address the wicked problems, a convergence of science and environmental education is now needed. One strategy might involve collaborative research among scientists, educators and the public which could link science and society with place and identity. The outcome of this convergence would be more effective processes of public engagement and learning that could result in meaningful socioecological outcomes. The data gathered and shared using information and communication technologies can provide useful input to scientists. At the same time, such projects can empower citizens to engage in debates about local and global environmental and sustainability issues. More importantly, perhaps, they can support the public in taking action to address the key issues and challenges faced by society.

Source: Dillon, J., 2018. On the Convergence Between Science and Environmental Education. In: Yeo J., Teo T., Tang KS. (eds) Science Education Research and Practice in Asia-Pacific and Beyond. Springer, Singapore. pp 87-94.

Abstract: Physical inactivity across the lifespan remains a public health issue for many developed countries. Inactivity has contributed considerably to the pervasiveness of lifestyle diseases. Government, national and local agencies and organizations have been unable to systematically, and in a coordinated way, translate behavioral research into practice that makes a difference at a population level. One approach for mobilizing multi-level efforts to improve the environment for physical activity is to engage in a process of citizen science. Citizen Science here is defined as a participatory research approach involving members of the public working closely with research investigators to initiate and advance scientific research projects. However, there are no common measures or protocols to guide citizen science research at the local community setting.
We describe overarching categories of constructs that can be considered when designing citizen science projects expected to yield multi-level interventions, and provide an example of the citizen science approach to promoting PA. We also recommend potential measures across different levels of impact.

Source: Hinckson, E., et al, 2017. Citizen science applied to building healthier community environments: advancing the field through shared construct and measurement development. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 14:133. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-017-0588-6

Excerpt: The latest version [of citizen science game platform Eterna] sees players tasked with designing a CRISPR-controlling molecule. The design of the challenge is to develop an RNA molecule that’s capable of acting as an on/off switch for CRISPR. The resulting molecules will then be tested by molecular biologists.“Great ideas can come from anywhere, so this is also an experiment in the democratization of science,” the [Eterna] team say. “A lot of people have hidden talents that they don’t even know about. This could be their calling. Maybe there’s somebody out there who is a security guard and a fantastic RNA biochemist, and they don’t even know it.”

Source: Gaskell, A., 2017. Eterna Citizen Science Game Turns Its Attention to CRISPR, 5 September 2017. Available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/eterna-citizen-science-game-turns-its-attention-to_us_59aea162e4b0c50640cd61c9 [Last accessed 2 October 2017].

Abstract: A species’ distribution and abundance in both space and time play a pivotal role in ecology and wildlife management. Collection of such large-scale information typically requires engagement of volunteer citizens and tends to consist of non-repeated surveys made with a survey effort varying over space and time. We here used a hierarchical single-census open population N-mixture model, which was recently developed to handle such challenging census data, to describe the dynamics in the Finnish population sizes of the reintroduced native Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) and the invasive North American beaver (Castor canadensis). The numbers of beaver winter lodges (i.e., family groups) were counted by volunteers in the municipalities of Finland every third year during 1995–2013. The dynamics of both species followed Gompertz logistic growth with immigration. Initial abundance of North American beavers increased with proximity to the introduction sites as well as with the amount of water in the municipality. The intensively hunted North American beaver population declined and the Eurasian beaver population increased during the study period. The model generated reasonable estimates of both total Finnish and local numbers of lodges, corrected for the incomplete detection. We conclude that the single-census N-mixture model approach has clear potential when using citizen-science data for understanding spatio-temporal dynamics of wild populations.

Source: Brommer, J.E., Alakoski, R., Selonen, V., Kauhala, K., 2017. Population dynamics of two beaver species in Finland inferred from citizen-science census data. Ecosphere 8(9), DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1947

Excerpt: Smith River floaters will be asked next year to help the state document algae blooms in what officials are calling a “test pilot” project for citizen science on one of Montana’s most renowned rivers.

As letters go out next year to the winners of highly coveted float permits, they will come with a request to download a yet-to-be-completed cellphone app. Once downloaded, floaters may take photos of algae blooms and upload the data to state officials after takeout.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks will then have the data as the agencies study a recent increase in reports of algae in the river.

“This is a new one for us as we’re really looking at how to retool our citizen engagement, and getting people on the ground,” said Eric Urban, water quality planning bureau chief with DEQ. “It’s pretty remote, so getting on the ground and seeing it ourselves poses some challenges.”

Source: Kuglin, T., 2017. Smith River float permit winners will be asked to help document algae on their adventures, 21 September 2017. Available at a href=”http://helenair.com/lifestyles/recreation/smith-river-float-permit-winners-will-be-asked-to-help/article_68bffda6-5b99-5f50-99ab-8745ac2fd222.html” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>http://helenair.com/lifestyles/recreation/smith-river-float-permit-winners-will-be-asked-to-help/article_68bffda6-5b99-5f50-99ab-8745ac2fd222.html [Last accessed 2 October 2017].

Excerpt: A cellphone and a few seconds of time. That’s all residents of northern Michigan need to take part in a new project designed to improve management and conservation of a vital natural resource: fresh water.

The idea behind the endeavor is simple but impactful. Fishermen, boaters and other outdoor enthusiasts text data on river levels and temperature to scientists. Then, the project team feeds this and other information into a computer model that generates a seven-day forecast of water conditions.

The pilot location is the Boyne River in Michigan, where researchers have set up five citizen-science stations that feature stream height gauges, with temperature gauges to be installed in the fall. Three additional state-of-the-art gauges will collect similar data at other spots along the Boyne.

Source: Hsu, C., 2017. Citizen scientists to help with forecasts for rivers, streams with texted data. Available at http://www.buffalo.edu/ubnow/stories/2017/09/lowry-stream-forecast.html [Last accessed 2 October 2017].

Editor’s Choice: Now focusing on imagery from Hurricane Maria, the Planetary Response Network continues the important work outlined here for the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma. This effort and others like it still need your help – this is where citizen science can actually save lives! –LFF–

Excerpt: A highly unusual collaboration between information engineers at Oxford, the Zooniverse citizen science platform and international disaster response organization Rescue Global is enabling a rapid and effective response to Hurricane Irma.

The project draws on the power of the Zooniverse, the world’s largest and most popular people-powered research platform, to work with volunteers and crowd source the data needed to understand Irma’s path of destruction and the damage caused. Combining these insights with detailed artificial intelligence will support rescue relief organisations to understand the scale of the crisis, and deliver aid to those worst affected as soon as possible.

Photo of Hurricane Irma by NOAA/CIR

Source: University of Oxford, 2017. Using AI, citizen science and disaster response to help victims of Hurricane Irma, 20 September 2017. Available at: https://phys.org/news/2017-09-ai-citizen-science-disaster-response.html [Last accessed 2 October, 2017].

Abstract: In this paper, we share our findings from a 2-year citizen science program called Mosquito Stoppers. This pest-oriented citizen science project is part of a larger coupled natural-human systems project seeking to understand the fundamental drivers of mosquito population density and spatial variability in potential exposure to mosquito-borne pathogens in a matrix of human construction, urban renewal, and individual behaviors. Focusing on residents in West Baltimore, participants were recruited through neighborhood workshops and festivals. Citizen scientists participated in yard surveys of potential mosquito habitat and in evaluating mosquito nuisance. We found that citizen scientists, with minimal education and training, were able to accurately collect data that reflect trends found in a comparable researcher-generated database.

Source: Jordan, R.C., Sorensen, A.E., Ladeau, S., 2017. Citizen Science as a Tool for Mosquito Control. Journal of the American Mosquito Control Association 33(3): 241-245. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2987/17-6644R.1