Training, modeling tools, and an online portal let citizen scientists make an impact on conservation, new research shows.
With these factors in place, citizen scientists can follow scientific-based practices to improve environmental decision-making and even secure funding to help solve environmental problems, say the researchers.
“The nature of citizen science is changing; citizens aren’t simply used solely for data collection,” says Steven Gray, assistant professor of community sustainability at Michigan State University and the study’s lead author. “They are designing the protocols, conducting the experiments, securing funding, and implementing the plans.
“They may not have the credentials of scientists, but they have the capacity to engage in the same approaches.”
For example, a community group in Virginia had concerns over the water quality of a stream that ran through agricultural land. They wanted to measure the benefits of fencing that kept cattle from wallowing in the stream. Using Mental Modeler, special online software pioneered at Michigan State, the group came up with a sensible solution to reduce water pollution.
As part of the study, the Virginian community group also used a citizen science web portal, Collaborative Science, developed with partners at Rutgers University and Colorado State University. This combination allowed the group to work with scientists and other stakeholders to define the issue as well as model and represent assumptions, evidence, and existing information surrounding the problem.
The end result saw landowners work with the local soil and water conservation district to secure funding for four miles of fencing and three wells, which act as buffers between the cattle and the stream. The team effort dramatically reduced water pollution, specifically E. coli contamination.