Report shows value of volunteer science
'Citizen scientists' can provide excellent scientific data at a modest cost, according to a new report. But it's not free, and needs careful design and management to ensure its full benefits materialise.
Citizen science refers to projects that draw on volunteers to collect data that professional researchers can then use. It's become increasingly popular in recent years, but there's been little systematic assessment of its achievements and limitations until now.
The authors of the Guide to Citizen Science examined 234 citizen science projects from the UK and elsewhere, ranging from small 'Bioblitz' events in which volunteers log every species they can find in a small area to large-scale and long-lived monitoring projects like the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. They analyse what makes for a successful citizen science project, and provide guidelines for those setting them up in future.
So far citizen scientists have mostly taken part in projects to monitor biodiversity - some 80 per cent of the projects examined fell into this category. There's probably considerable room for growth in other areas, such as weather and climate or tracking the progress of invasive species. The authors note that smartphone apps and other technological breakthroughs are revolutionising the field by making it easier for volunteers to submit data.
Use of volunteer labour allows data to be collected over large areas and long periods at much lower costs than if professional scientists had to do anything - the report estimates that in one year alone, volunteers on biodiversity-monitoring projects contributed time worth more than £20 million. On the other hand, projects providing data that's relevant to policy spent an average of between £70,000 and £150,000 a year on things like website and app development, data management, publicity material and event costs.
The study, 'Understanding Citizen Science and Environmental Monitoring', was written by scientists from NERC's Centre for Ecology & Hydrology and the Natural History Museum in London on behalf of the UK Environmental Observation Framework. Both the shorter 'Practical Guide' and the full report can be downloaded from the CEH website.
Posted on 23 November 2012
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