The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) is partnering with the Miistakis Institute at Mount Royal University to explore how citizen science can inform and guide environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting efforts in Alberta.
Citizen science is 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, over much larger geographical areas, ultimately leading to the creation of big data.
Citizen science can result in better management decisions and can be used to inform policy. The increased flow of information between citizens, researchers, and decision makers improves transparency, accountability and outcomes.
Citizen science programs lead to advanced scientific knowledge, enhanced stewardship of biodiversity and ecological systems, cost efficiencies and enhanced data collection – -which benefits all Albertans.
“This project marks the first step in including citizen science in the business of AEMERA. Collaboration between AEMERA scientists and volunteers expands opportunities for scientific data collection and advances environmental outcomes. Citizen science allows for the enhanced understanding and engagement of communities and the public – a key priority for AEMERA,” said Jay Nagendran, President and CEO of AEMERA.
Work is underway to establish a program inventory of citizen science initiatives in Alberta, and to learn how other scientific agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, use citizen science to inform their environmental programs and initiatives.
“The Miistakis Institute has seen first-hand the benefit of a citizen science approach, which is the duality of advancing environmental outcomes while enhancing citizen engagement. AEMERA is demonstrating leadership in exploring how citizen science can be used to advance environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting in Alberta and we are excited to be working with AEMERA to profile citizen science in Alberta,” said Danah Duke, Executive Director of the Miistakis Institute.
The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) is an arm’s length provincial agency responsible for measuring, assessing and informing policy makers and the public on the condition of Alberta’s environment on key ambient air, water, land and biodiversity indicators including information necessary to understand cumulative effects. http://aemera.org/
The Miistakis Institute is an applied non-profit research institute affiliated with Mount Royal University, and is recognized as a leader in the field of citizen science in Alberta. The Miistakis Institute has been designing and implementing citizen science projects to advance conservation for over a decade. http://www.rockies.ca.
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The Alberta Environmental Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting Agency (AEMERA) is partnering with the Miistakis Institute to explore how citizen science can inform and guide environmental monitoring, evaluation and reporting efforts in Alberta.
Q: What is citizen science?
A: The term citizen science has been used to describe research projects that engage individuals – many of whom are not trained as scientists – in collecting, categorizing, transcribing, or analyzing scientific data.
Q: What is community based monitoring?
A: Community based monitoring is a process where concerned citizens, government agencies, industry, academia, community groups and local institutions collaborate to monitor, track and respond to issues of common community concern.
Q: Why is AEMERA interested in citizen science?
A: Citizen science ultimately leads to a more complete and robust view of our environment. This outcome ties directly to AEMERA’s mandate to provide comprehensive and trusted environmental information to decision-makers.
The benefit of using a citizen science approach is the duality of advancing environmental outcomes while enhancing citizen engagement.
As AEMERA strives to develop systems that bridge indigenous and western ways of seeing and understanding the natural environment, citizen science is an approach to help to foster relationships and ongoing conversations among all interested parties, leading to a more robust and thorough provincial monitoring system.
Q: Why is citizen science important to environmental monitoring?
A: Recent critiques of mainstream sciences’ ability to provide information in a timely, efficient manner, and of a quality to address increasingly complex environmental issues, illustrate the importance of exploring alternative approaches to knowledge generation (Cohn 2008, Danielsen et al. 2009, Irwin 1995).
Ultimately, making scientific processes and data more accessible and fluid (i.e., the democratization of science) requires the development of mechanisms to engage citizens in research activities (Bäckstrand 2003, Carolan 2006). There is growing recognition that environmental decision-making is not just about technical information, but must include the expertise and values of the public. Engaging citizens in these processes generates more data and expands the breadth of information considered in decision-making.
Q: What are some current examples of citizen science initiatives in Alberta?
A: Examples of current citizen science projects in Alberta include:
- Road Watch in the Pass – A project coordinated by the Miistakis Institute, Road Watch in the Pass gives you the opportunity to report sightings of wildlife crossing Highway 3 in the Crowsnest Pass.
- The Great Backyard Bird Count – The Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time. This year’s count is taking place February 12-15.
- LakeWatch – a volunteer-based water quality monitoring program offered to Albertans who are interested in collecting information about their local lake or reservoir.
- Citizen Science Conference – The Miistakis Institute hosted a western Canadian citizen science conference in September 2014 in conjunction with the Under Western Skies biannual conference at Mount Royal University. The conference attracted over 70 citizen science practitioners, indicating the interest and potential of this discipline.