Never before has it been easier for you to join in and participate in monitoring Alberta’s biodiversity, water and air. From Miistakis2
collecting grizzly bear scat, listening to amphibian calls to reporting ground water levels, Albertans are partaking in real science.
Enter citizen science, the engagement of citizens with scientists to address real world questions.  The role of volunteers can be diverse, from citizens contributing field observations, to sorting or classifying images from their home computers to identifying relevant research questions to address a local concern.
The benefits of citizen science to scientists are clear. More people can collect more data and at much larger geographies, leading to the creation of big data. Take Ebird, where citizens report bird observations from all over North America. This data has been used to show shifts in seasonal migrations as an indicator of climate change. Citizen Science can also speed up and improve field detection of invasive species, air pollution and wildlife disease.  The Zooniverse platform hosts 36 online citizen science programs where volunteers can ID phytoplankton, bat calls or wildlife or report on seasonal changes such as the timing of leafing out, flowering, or leaf drop across different ecosystems all in the name of cleaning and sorting large volumes of data for scientists to use.

But it’s not just scientists that benefit. Many natural resource management agencies report that citizen science has lead to better management decisions and decision makers have used results from citizen science projects to inform policy. Citizen science has been shown to increase the flow of information between citizens, researchers, and decision makers, improving transparency, accountability and outcomes. For example, the UK Opal project has been used to inform the protection of new marine conservation zones, and special protection areas for wetland birds.

Miistakis4Even the United States highest federal body, the White House, has joined the surge of Citizen Science, and recently released a Citizen Science toolkit and a memorandum of understanding to US Federal Agencies to embrace Citizen Science. They acknowledge three key principles;

  1. Citizen science is subjected to the same standards and protocols as traditional science (it is science after all);
  2. Support open source policy, where data collection, technologies and results are transparent and open to the public; and
  3. Balance the value volunteers provide to the project with the value they derive from the project.

But what about you, the citizen?  Why would you want to contribute to a Citizen Science program?  How do scientists maximize the value of citizen participation without a clear understanding of what motivates people to join and stay engaged in citizen science programs?  Studies show volunteers may be motivated for many reasons, for the social interaction, to gain employment skills, or a desire to contribute to environmental monitoring, decision making or policy change.

Whatever the reason, if you’re an Albertan and want to contribute to monitoring the status of our province’s biodiversity, air or water, here are some ideas to get started:

  • Check out RinkWatch where backyard skating meets environmental monitoring
  • Join CoCoRaHS and set up a rain water gauge and contribute microclimate reports to a North American database.
  • Help the Alberta Lake Management Society keep track of invasive species in Alberta Lakes by reporting adult zebra or quagga mussels.  

Interested in learning more about the field of practice of citizen science, have a look at these resource Links:


This feature story was written by Tracy Lee of the Miistakis Institute, Mount Royal University