I am in the planning stages for a citizen science/public out reach project in a nearby National Park using PhotosynQ.
If anyone has experience hosting a citizen science project using PhotosynQ, please share what you learned about the logistics of hosting such event or types of project questions to ask. How do you introduce photosynthesis and the multispeQ measurements to the public?
Good luck guys! We of Friends of Caulfield Park are soon to start our first data collection once council formally approved and we can organise a time to start! Be patient, it takes a long time to set up the project right from the outset with Matthew knowing the best way to engage all interested (and not so interested) parties. Once it's all approved, and volunteers are signed up and have had a training day, the biggest trick is organising a time which suits everyone's commitments.
I'm sure it gets easier as the data collection goes on in the future!
Awesome you are thinking about getting PhotosynQ into some of our National Parks, which one are you nearby?
Someone you will definitely want to talk to is Matthew Daniel from the Global Urban Forest. He runs a pretty neat project called The Tree Health Calculator and has helped measuring meetups at various parks around Australia. I will link you to the project and go check out the discussions. I'll try to connect you two.
Sean @ PhotosynQ
The project would take place in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Park management and staff have been supportive of the project.
Matthew's project looks really interesting. The thing that I'm most concerned about is the on-boarding process for people without any research experience.
It's nice that the park staff have been supportive of this project. Maybe we can work towards getting measurements inside more parks :D. I know that Matthew often helps to teach basic measurement techniques and data collection to city hall type people who don't necessarily have a science background and has been quite successful at at least getting them excited. I hope when he gets in here ( I prodded him a bit this weekend) he will have some good info for you about getting your people up to speed and ready.
Hey Sean Thanks for the nudge mate.
Hi Craig, Sounds great what you are planning I am surprised more people are not going down the community group (Citizen Science) angle as I believe it is a great way to collect further data cost-effectively and more importantly it helps people really connect with the environment.
One particular thing I have noticed with my groups is that it takes some of the mystique out of natural processes for people who are not formally trained in environmental science or horticulture. All it takes is a little interest, a dash of curiosity and platforms like photosynq to stimulate enthusiasm to better understand the natural world.
I see enormous potential in community citizen science groups contributing to this type of data collection that will assist professionals like myself to improve our understanding of tree function dynamics while simultaneously stimulating community engagement in environmental science. If done correctly Citizen science is 100% symbiotic with my work as I have found so far that I need allot more data to confirm my hypothesis.
Ok to your question.
It is really difficult for a load of reasons.
The way I went about it is breaking the introduction up into a theory, then practical component.
Theory and set up - a slideshow indoors explaining the photosynq platform. Best to use screenshot slides as sometimes the facility internet connection can be slow/not allow access to a platform like photosynq or not work properly that makes the audience lose interest or think its just to hard. It can be very exhausting helping individuals just to do the basic setup over and over again. Also, some people had different types of email platforms that i wasn't familiar with and frustrated me trying to help them. Also, I found that the photosynq emails were going into spam folder allot. Some participants picked it up quickly and became advocates. Take advantage of these people and charge them with responsibilities to get people signed up and assist you in the practical demonstrations and organisation of events. This helps allot. I found one particular person Pascale who has done a great job helping our projects.
Practical demonstration - Initially do this inside with a pot plant. Get each participant to use their own phone, sign in, find the project and take a couple of measures. I find it best indoors as the sun and outdoor distractions can make things more difficult for people to understand the process. Find individual strengths in people and utilise them within groups. e.g get the younger screen savey participants to use the phone and say the older participants to do the observations. Practice the process a few times and make sure people understand it. Its no use wasting time and collecting bad data. I use lowercase for practice runs and uppercase for data collection i intend to use. Makes it easier to find the right data and uppercase is easier to see in the field. This could just be me though. Maybe don't do the theory and practical on the same days. Break them up over a couple of weekends and give people time to do their own navigation through the site and develop the enthusiasm.
Get formal permission. I think this is essential for a few reasons. 1. park managers should know what your doing 2. this can be useful in future if the project is to continue. I have found this part also really hard and have been let down by upper management denying my formal written endorsement. This may change as sometimes public servants forget they actually work for the people, not the other way around. Another reason this has been difficult is due to the process and time required to explain the concept to the professionals. In my case the park managers (arborists) this stuff just isn't delivered in formal education yet so explaining the concept is hard. Some get it, some don't and some don't understand why you want to do this.
Hope this helps for now.....gots go catch a plane....sorry didn't proof read......will get back to you
Pascale and Matthew,
Thanks for share your experience. I hope that I can generate the excitement that you are generating in your project. It is also good to know that the potential pitfalls that I am worrying about are valid.
The steps that you outline of a slide show showing the theory and a practical demonstration sound good. How much do you explain about photosynthesis in your slide show?
I'm not sure that I can count on developing a community of committed participants. The park is located in an area where the population density is less than 0.4 people/km^2 . Many of the park visitors are on a long road trip to visit Yellowstone or Glacier National Park.
I will probably have a bunch of smartphones set up with preset accounts to avoid the frustrations involved in setting up an a photosynQ account in an area with spotty cell phone coverage. I am also thinking about asking some of my students or advanced volunteers to act as docents.
I had not thought about giving a practical demonstration with potted plants. That is a good exercise to help people learn about the range of measurements that they might encounter and the types of error messages.
For this first project, I am focusing on tree and shrub species. I noticed that your project has many user input questions. Do your participants have the patience to go through your list of questions?
I think if you want people to be engaged in taking measurements and look at it as "fun" and an extension of their time in the park the project needs to be lean and easy. I would try and keep the questions asked under 5 and make as many multiple choice as possible. This will not only help cut down on errors (if you ask volunteers to identify a tree species, I think you can get 10 "correct" answers for the same tree) but will also make time spent measuring and thought at a minimum.
I agree and was going to suggest just setting up some volunteer accounts on smartphones that are prelogged in. This will cut down on a lot of frustration getting people signed up, logged in, which is also a time suck. You can have the volunteers prejoined to both your test project with the potted plant if you go this route and the actual project inside the park.
I think the potted plant idea is a good idea not only because it gives the volunteer a sense of typical ranges (inside your MultispeQ box it came with a card with a brief explanation of parameters along with expected values indoors, and outside with and without sun) but will also give the new users a quick way to learn the steps to taking a good measurement. It can be tricky knowing when to hit measure, and open/close the clamp without shading the device with your body! If you want, I am sure we can find the file we used to make those cards and you could print/cut out a few to give out :D
I also agree that where the park is located is not a great base for having a solid group of returning volunteers and mostly do consist of people passing through on their way to Yellowstone, something I did two summers ago! However, I think it would be possible to work something out with Park people after some time that maybe at the visiting center you could set up your display, potted plant and maybe a laptop with a short video tutorial and let the visitors check out devices and phones to take measurements at their leisure during their day adventure. I bet some people would take it up out of curiosity and wanting to nerd out over plants, they could also look at the gps data later in the day and see what route they took, people like that I think. This is a pretty passive approach but low input is low cost and your students can focus more time on being students.
Keep us updated!