During the past two decades, an increasing number of informal science education projects have involved the public directly in the multifaceted and iterative processes of scientific research—covering topics ranging from acid rain to backyard birds. Such projects contribute to awareness and understanding of key scientific concepts and excel in building interest in scientific activities and developing science-related skills, the evidence suggests. That's the conclusion of a CAISE Inquiry Group that has just completed a study of Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) programs, often called "citizen science."
Opportunities abound, the group concluded, to create new PPSR projects, enhance those already underway, add PPSR elements to other informal science education programs such as exhibitions, and enhance research and evaluation of PPSR. As the authors note, "The natural world is full of questions whose answers require a PPSR approach. The number of published scientific papers based on citizen-collected data is increasing each year. Many more projects could be created that will appeal to the increasing numbers of amateur naturalists and stargazers who are interested in lending their brains to science."
The Inquiry Group based its conclusions in part on analysis of existing PPSR projects and programs, which vary in the extent to which the public is involved in different aspects of a scientific investigation—from data collection to defining a question for study. The report identifies three project types:
Spotting the Weedy Invasives is an example of a Contributory project, in which volunteers in the New York/New Jersey Highlands survey invasive plants along hiking trails. A Collaborative project focusing on community health effects of industrial hog operations in Tillery, North Carolina, involved residents in co-authoring publications. In Pennsylvania, the Shermans Creek Conservation Association undertook a fully Co-created project to monitor water quality in the Shermans Creek Watershed and presented their results to local government officials.
Lead author of the report was Rick Bonney of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Join a discussion with Rick and other members of the PPSR Inquiry Group: online in the CAISE Forum in ASTC Connect in early September, or at the ASTC Annual Conference, Sunday, November 1, 4:00-5:15 pm
Download the report:
Public Participation in Scientific Research: Defining the Field and Assessing Its Potential for Informal Science Education (full report, PDF, 3 MB)
Public Participation in Scientific Research: Executive Summary (PDF, 347 KB)