Citizen science can broadly be defined as the involvement of volunteers in science. It has a vital role in scientific research and education, and the potential to help meet some of the challenging demands of environmental monitoring at the national scale. This gives citizen science a clear relevance to government policy across the UK, and puts citizen science on the agenda for the UK-EOF Management Group organisations.
The role of the public in 'Big Society' is still topical and, with over half of the biodiversity monitoring in the UK being collected by voluntary organisations, there is significant reliance on the third sector for key environmental knowledge. The value this provides is acknowledged in the Defra white paper 'The Natural Choice'. With the current economic climate and increasing need for new environmental knowledge, the UK-EOF Management Group members are looking to increase public engagement to help collect information of use to their organisations. A workshop was held on 27 July 2011 to:
- identify the new requirements, aspirations and plans of public sector organisations for citizen science monitoring;
- identify areas of synergy across organisations and sectors;
- exchange knowledge on best practice and discuss issues and/or concerns; and
- scope the need for further national co-ordination (by the UK-EOF or others) to achieve synergies and address the recommendations of the Countryside Survey's 'Measuring Change in the Countryside and Beyond 2010' reports.
One of the issues emerging from the workshop was that valuable lessons could be learnt from the experiences of existing citizen science environmental monitoring schemes, but that no-one had sufficient oversight to do this currently.
To address this knowledge gap, UK-EOF commissioned NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (working with the Natural History Museum) to carry out a project looking at:
- lessons learnt from past citizen science projects;
- best ways to encourage more researchers and volunteers to get involved in citizen science;
- the ever-increasing role of technology in citizen science data recording; and
- potential future directions to maximise the value of volunteer effort through the use of available and emerging technologies.
The outputs of this work are now available. The 'Guide to Citizen Science: developing, implementing and evaluating citizen science to study biodiversity and the environment in the UK' shares the good practices identified during the review process, making suggestions on how to plan, carry out, and evaluate citizen science projects to provide benefits for both participants and potential data users.
The guide is underpinned by a comprehensive report 'Understanding Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring' that presents current knowledge and experiences of using citizen science, and examines how the use of recent technological developments is revolutionising citizen science.
A press release promoting this project accompanies the 23 November launch at the National Biodiversity Network annual conference. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for hard copies of the guide.