Last week I had the immense privilege of going to the Citizen Science Association conference in San Jose, where over 650 enthusiastic practitioners, researchers, evaluators and participants gathered to discuss the booming field of citizen science. I’m going to share a few key things I took away from the conference (others have done much more comprehensive blogs, storifys etc, which can be seen by searching #CitSci2015 on twitter).
1. There is a huge amount of enthusiasm around citizen science! The presentations I saw were, without exception, delivered with passion and confidence, and speakers were willing to share experiences and lessons learned from their projects. This is fantastic because this culture of sharing will hopefully lead to improvements in both individual projects and the field as a whole.
2. There is diversity in the topics of projects using citizen science, for example, Anne Land-Zandstra talked about the “Great Influenza study” which has taken place for the last decade or so in The Netherlands (see talk abstract), Eduardo Dopico discussed using old family photographs to observe environmental change over time (see talk abstract), and Amy Robinson delivered a fantastic keynote about Eyewire, a game to map neurons in the brain. There was less diversity in the project approaches, the vast majority that I saw were ‘contributory’ style, where scientists design the project and ask participants to collect or process data (with an exception being Heather Castleden and colleagues’ session on community-based participatory environment and health research, where Heather was asked by the Mi’kmaq of Pictou Landing First Nation to help them find out whether waste from a paper pulp mill was damaging their health). I suspect that there are many more collaborative and co-created projects out there, just not represented at the conference…
3. There is beginning to be some really interesting research being done alongside citizen science projects, in terms of what motivates people to take part in projects, how people move between different projects, what the barriers to participation are, what makes some projects more successful than others etc. As citizen science is a relatively new field of study, I think we need to make sure that we draw on well-established literature such as that around informal science education, volunteering, social psychology, participatory research, etc. etc., so that we are not ‘reinventing the wheel’ with regards to theory. I hope the new journal, Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, will be a space for bringing this rich literature to a new audience.
If you were at the conference, what were your ‘take aways’?