Citizen science: a fad or the future?

Citizen science conference

The first conference of its kind was held by OPAL partners and invited guests at the National Museum Wales in Cardiff on 1 December 2015 - an event which sought to examine the current state of Citizen Science.

Delegates braved the wet weather to attend a day of thought-provoking presentations and interactive workshops, all surrounding the question and title of the day:

'Citizen Science: A Fad or the Future?'

The event was designed to look at the health of this growing trend of mass participation science and was hosted by OPAL's Big Lottery Fund-financed partners in Wales:

Through a lens...

The event started with a joint presentation from the OPAL Director Dr David Slawson and OPAL Coordinator Dr Poppy Lakeman Fraser: ‘Exploring the Citizen Science landscape through the OPAL lens’.

Poppy Lakeman Fraser presents

The morning session was chaired by Environmental Scientist Madeleine Harvard, now Deputy Chair of Natural Resources Wales (NRW).

Audience analysed

Delegates were given the opportunity to test the interactive polling element of the day with some fun questions about favourite cakes, before providing an insight into what had brought them to Cardiff to attend Wales’ first Citizen Science (CS) conference.

OPAL conference audience

53% were involved in CS and 47% wanted to either know more about, meet people involved in, or get involved themselves in CS - a good mix for the day ahead.

The road ahead

A second presentation titled ‘Thoughtful enthusiasm for Citizen Science’  was delivered by Dr Michael Pocock, Ecologist for the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), casting a cautious look at the effectiveness of CS and where it could take us with the right application.

One delegate commented:

“The topic range was very good, for someone like me who is relatively new to the concept of citizen science – the right mix of theory, practice and differing views”

BTO expertise

After a delicious networking lunch provided by the museum’s catering staff, we enjoyed an inspiring in-depth look at the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) long term use of Citizen Science by Dr Rachel Taylor, testament to the effectiveness of CS when mixed with the public’s enthusiasm for a subject.

Fresh air

Throughout the day delegates were assigned to one of 3 rotating workshops, providing an opportunity to look at CS in a variety of ways.

Workshop 1

First from a practical perspective, OPAL Community Scientist Barbara Brown delivered a training session on the use of the OPAL Air Quality Survey before getting outside to take a closer look at some of the trees lining the city streets outside the museum and understand what lichen communities can tell us about local air quality.

Lichen survey in Cardiff

Workshop 2

Dr Shaun Russell, Director of Treborth Botanic Gardens and Tracey Lovering, Ecosystem Advisor NRW/WBP held a workshop looking at example Evidence Gaps in Wales, as previously identified in the Wales-wide project. Delegates were asked to look at several Gaps and asked to provide ways in which Citizen Science could help solve them.   

Workshop 3

Dr Ralph Underhill, Researcher form the Public Interest Research Centre ran the third workshop and tempted delegates to challenge their views on the way conservation is portrayed in the media.

This thought-provoking workshop was commented on by one delegate:

“I wasn't expecting Ralph Underhill's 'framing nature' presentation to be on the programme, but it is certainly very relevant and was the highlight for me”

The big question

The day came to a close with the opportunity once again for delegates to give a collective answer to a series of CS-themed questions, some of which had already been asked at the start of the day. 

An interactive poll yielded gratifying visual representation of the audience’s CS outlook, with questions such as:

  • ‘There is a lot of enthusiasm for Citizen Science but do you think: Its potential exceeds current expectations / Expectations match its potential / It’s over hyped (exceptions exceed its potential)'

Citizen science polling slide

  • 'Should there be a national benchmark for assuring the quality of Citizen Science data?'

Citizen science polling slide

  • 'If you had a choice between spending money on ‘Traditional Science’ or ‘Citizen Science’, what would you choose?'

Citizen science polling slide

and of course...

  • ‘In your opinion do you think Citizen Science is: A fad/ the future or not sure’.

​​Citizen science polling slide

- By Iwan Edwards, OPAL Community Scientist