Photo Credit: Dominique Bachelet
August 25, 2016

Citizen Science, Place, & Conservation: Published Paper & Opportunity


People matter. Place matters. The people of a place matter.

That was one of the big messages of the inspirational plenary presentation by Chris Filardi at the inaugural conference of the Citizen Science Association. It moved me to stand up and ask him and the room about this intersection between place and citizen science, and to organize an impromptu lunch meeting on the topic a few days later.  After pulling many tables together for that meeting, an enthusiastic group of folks left with a commitment to explore this intersection of citizen science and place.


Figure 1:  Chris Filardi presenting at the Citizen Science Association, 2015.  Photo:  John Gallo.

What does it mean to leverage the power of place?

Many people develop a deep attachment to the place they live.  This "love" can come from the emotional, cultural, and/or material connections people develop with their home places.  This attachment and bond can lead to deeper ecological understandings, and it can also lead to increased motivation for pursuing conservation-minded decisions.

Yes, this can happen of course, but should it be considered? Can citizen science projects appeal to this power of place, and thereby strengthen the connection between citizen science and conservation decision-making?


Figure 2:  A tweet about the plenary by Chris Filardi.  Image:  John Gallo

A subset of our ad hoc group at the Citizen Science Association were interested in writing a paper, wondering if leveraging the power of place in citizen science can improve conservation decision-making. But we needed somebody to commit to being the lead author. Fortunately for us all, Greg Newman, the president of the Citizen Science Association and the Director of stepped up to lead, and we were off!

Fast forward to today, and I am extremely excited and proud to report that our paper has been accepted and is now in press!

Here is the skinny: "Many citizen science projects are place-based - built on in-person participation and motivated by local conservation. When done thoughtfully, this approach to citizen science can transform humans and their environment. Despite such possibilities, many projects struggle to meet decision-maker needs, generate useful data to inform decisions, and improve social-ecological resilience."  But we posit that leveraging the power of place improves conservation decision making, increases participation, and improves community resilience.

Fortunately, in addition to having some good transdisciplinary action on our team between ecology and geography, we were also fortunate to have Bridie McGreavy on the team, with her background in sustainability science. She guided us in developing the five dimensions of place (detailed in paper), and we devised a way that these could be used as an indicator measure for leveraging the power of place: the more of these dimensions that citizen science projects emphasized in their written materials, the more they were probably leveraging the power of place.  This surrogate was then cross referenced with if the project was actually used in decision-making to see if there was a strong correlation.

With this, and a rich subsection of projects from, Earthwatch, and The Stewardship Network: New England, the coding team was rolling! (N=134)  

The results are that yes indeed, leveraging the power of place does increase the use of citizen science in conservation decision making (p value <0.001). Further, of the five place dimensions, it is the social-ecological, narrative and name-based, and knowledge-based that are driving the results and probably can be focused on in the future. In our paper, we have a robust discussion of recommendations such as the development of place-based networks, as well as making sure that the data collected are open, documented, geospatially referenced, and viewable by the people of the place in many ways, including a map-based interface on the web. Ideally this interface also allows easy overlay of additional layers that can be clicked on and off, giving a better sense of place and interconnectedness.

Figure 3: An example of some of our recommendations: machine readable citizen science data going into a global dataset, then synthesized with other citizen science and conventional data in a map for local people.  Click on the map to open it in Data Basin.

Huge props go out to all the co-authors for this paper, but most of all to Greg Newman, an enthusiastic colleague that it has been a pleasure to work with. This paper would not have happened without his dedication, passion, and taking on the lion's share of the work!  Mark Chandler deserves special accolades as well, especially for being a stalwart of the coding team.

How can you take action?

Well, of course I encourage you to read and/or share and/or act on the paper itself which is published here open access"(Note: The publisher is tracking the tweets that contain the paper's url, so please feel free to tweet it!)  Please also contact me if you would like to be added to the email list for action and news regarding this overall theme.

Speaking of which, a  Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) working group for citizen science is now under development! I've joined this group. On Monday (morning probably) an e-mail is going out, to all signed up by then, regarding naming/scoping. (E-mail me for the link to the sign-up and discussion google doc.)  I encourage you to join today, all you need is an interest and your current SCB ID#.  If you have been on the fence about joining SCB, now is the time! Our society is global, with regional meetings every other year, and a single international meeting the alternate years.  Conservation Letters comes free, along with other membership benefits.

Secondly, you can join us in the Citizen Science Association, and our next meeting has been announced and is May 17-20th in Minneapolis... See you there!

About the author:
John Gallo, Ph.D.
Senior Scientist
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