Blog Post
by Marisa Villarreal / California Ocean Science Trust

Mixing it up at the first ever Citizen Science Association Conference

March 10, 2015

My favorite thing about conferences is the networking. I know all you introverts just cringed a little (or a lot). The conversations after the talks end, outside conference rooms, during lunch - these are the conversations where I feel like I can really connect my ideas with others, and learn from them in a way that is more organic than didactic. Networking also makes me feel like I’m a part of a community that is working together to answer similar questions and solve similar problems. So naturally, I was super excited when my colleagues and I at Ocean Science Trust decided to host a networking event during the first ever Citizen Science Association (CSA) Conference - a conference that brought together over 600 scholars, practitioners, and others interested in citizen science, from around the world, to build connections and exchange ideas across a wide range of disciplines.

 

At Ocean Science Trust we’ve done a lot of thinking around how to link citizen science with coastal and ocean resource management here in California, and this conference was an opportunity for us to learn from the work and experiences of others who were asking similar questions around coastal and ocean citizen science work: where is the opportunity and what are some of the unique challenges?

 

Ready, set, network! Hosting a fun mixer allowed us to gather conference goers working on, or interested in coastal and ocean citizen science, and give them a space to network, share ideas and explore the answers to some of these common questions. Knowing we couldn’t track all of the conversations happening around the room (though creepily eavesdropping would have been fun), we wanted to better understand our guests and what perspectives they’d bring. So, prior to the event we had guests fill out a short survey, and shared the results with them, as fodder for conversation.  

 

Who did we mingle with? Despite a common thread of working in ocean and coastal environments, there was a lot of diversity among guests with regards to the focus of their work, the kinds of issues they address through their work, and what kinds of groups they are partnering (or hoping to partner) with.

 

Where did everyone come from?

Over 50 people attended the mixer, coming from California, several other U.S. states, and abroad!

What do they focus on?

Guests collected data on a range of things, with plants and algae, invertebrates, and fish being the most common categories.

 

What issue(s) were they trying to address?

Science literacy was the top issue guests were addressing through their work, followed closely by climate change and site management (i.e. marine protected areas). As we at Ocean Science Trust, continue to think about how citizen science can play a role in managing marine resources, we’ve developed a concurrent understanding of the various  priorities and motivations of citizen science groups -- what issues they prioritize and hope to inform. It was exciting to see so many groups addressing issues like climate change and site management that directly link to resource management

 

Who did they partner with/hope to partner with?  

Partnerships with government scientists, informal science education groups and government managers were the most common types of partnerships represented. It was interesting to see that despite only a few ongoing partnerships with with academic groups, most guests hoped to partner with academic groups in the future. It’s tough to know exactly why this was the case, though partnering with academic groups can benefit citizen science groups in a number of ways: helping to establish protocols and standards, increasing credibility, providing access to equipment, etc. It was also exciting, to see ongoing partnerships with government managers and scientists; this shows that many groups are already linking their work to resource management.

 

What did they see as unique challenges in ocean and coastal citizen science?

Interestingly, many of the common challenges guests noted weren’t necessarily unique to ocean and coastal citizen science, but represented important challenges nonetheless: retaining and training volunteers, funding, data standardization, usability and credibility. Some of the more unique challenges identified were related to the logistics of working in the physical ocean/coastal environment including: difficulty in accessing the environment, high transportation costs, unpredictable weather conditions and expensive equipment.

 

Success! The event was a great success, with highlights of good food and rich conversation. People were excited to have a place to connect with others working on citizen science in and around the marine environment. Through conversation, guests were starting to think about the impact of their work in the context of a broader community of ocean and coastal citizen science practitioners. Walking back to my hotel room at the end of the night I felt excited to be a part of a community of people who are advancing how we think and use citizen science in managing our ocean and coasts in so many different ways. It’s an exciting time for citizen science.

 

Learn more about Ocean Science Trust’s work on citizen science here

Learn more about the CSA 2015 conference here, or follow #CitSci2015 on Twitter


 

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