Does the quantity and quality of citizen scientist-generated data depend on how the participants are engaged?

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Monday, 3 February 2014: 12:00 AM
Room C107 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Theresa M. Crimmins, USA National Phenology Network, Tucson, AZ; and A. H. Rosemartin, J. Weltzin, and L. Barnett

Engaging non-scientists in data collection through formally organized participatory programs has great potential to provide data critical to managing natural resources and to improving scientific understanding of relationships among weather, climate and physical and biological processes. These programs -- referred to as Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) or more broadly Citizen Science, have already yielded data at spatial and temporal scales far beyond what science or management budgets could allow. The long-term success of such programs hinges on their abilities to maintain participants in generating high-quality, reliable data. We propose that participants' retention rates, activity level, and data quality may be related to the level of support and contact they receive from program staff or representatives.

The USA National Phenology Network's (USA-NPN) national-scale plant and animal phenology observation program, Nature's Notebook, has been active since 2009. This program engages thousands of citizen scientists in tracking plant and animal life cycle activity over the course of the year. On-line tools enable participants to register, learn the observation protocols, and submit observations. Participants may contact USA-NPN staff for assistance as needed; otherwise, the primary form of contact that these participants receive is email newsletters including updates, data summaries, news tidbits, and relevant articles from USA-NPN staff.

In an alternative model of participation, many established groups and organizations, including Master Gardener chapters, nature centers, arboreta, National Parks, and National Wildlife Refuges, have chosen to engage groups of individuals locally in tracking phenology using Nature's Notebook. Though these participants receive the same support and communications from USA-NPN staff, what sets these groups apart from individuals participating in Nature's Notebook independently is the additional face-to-face contact, interaction, and support that they receive from their local group leader and other group members.

We compared the quantity and quality of observations yielded by participants in Nature's Notebook via these two models, recognizing that these two models are common within the field of Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR). We evaluated the number of volunteer observers recruited, observer activity level and annual retention rates, and accuracy of estimating life cycle stage onset among participants engaged through the two models.

Though the number of individuals participating in Nature's Notebook directly is nearly ten times greater than the number of individuals participating through a local group, retention rates, activity levels, and data quality are all significantly higher among participants working through a local group. However, the costs associated with maintaining these groups is also greater. In this presentation, we will articulate the costs and benefits of both models in terms of data yielded, staff time necessary to support, science outcome, and other costs and benefits. ified by on 8-14-2013-->