Involving communities in Citizen Science

Published: 2 Oct 2014

Author: Kerry Riddell
Involving communities in Citizen Science

Citizen Science - the involvement of volunteers in scientific research - is increasingly recognised as a valuable tool for connecting people with nature and influencing the adoption of sustainable lifestyles.

Although Citizen Science in the UK has flourished over the last decade, our focus has been largely on contributory Citizen Science: established by professionals with volunteers then being invited to contribute data.

Kerry Riddell, from Dumfries and Galloway, feels that there is a need to explore and develop more participative models of Citizen Science. “There are very few examples of UK communities acting together to monitor and improve their own local environment. I wanted to investigate successful community-based projects overseas, in order to help galvanise and empower more co-created projects in the UK,” she explained.

Kerry, who works in Scotland for The Conservation Volunteers, was awarded a Churchill Fellowship which allowed her to visit several community based Citizen Science initiatives in the United States and Canada.

In Louisiana, she met members of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, who monitor pollution in neighbourhoods situated next to a dump, refinery or chemical plant. Data is collected by volunteers, who use specially designed, low-cost ‘buckets’ to monitor toxic emissions. This has been used to achieve real change in the state over the last 14 years, including relocation of residents and installation of better air quality monitoring equipment by industrial pollutors.

Kerry also visited the Lake Windermere Ambassadors in the Columbia Valley, who monitor the environmental health of the lake, and the Belcarra Beachkeepers - volunteers who carry out education activities and crab monitoring at a beach in North Vancouver. She also spent time with river based monitoring projects run by the Community Based Environmental Monitoring Network in Nova Scotia and the Pacific Streamkeepers Federation in British Columbia. 

“These inspiring initiatives prove that projects co-created with local communities can produce valuable data for the scientific community, as well as building collective environmental responsibility,” said Kerry.

Kerry will be applying her research through community projects supported by The Conservation Volunteers, and sharing her learning through the delivery of workshops. Her Fellowship report, in which she outlines her conclusions and recommendations, is available on the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website. 

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