Participatory and citizen science can help people connect with the world around them and create effective long-term conservation outcomes. In this story, we meet Dr Monica Peters who brings a creative spirit to people-led conservation.
This is part of the series In Her Nature: New Zealand women changing the way we connect with the world around us, meeting New Zealand women working at the intersection of people and nature. These stories are a feature for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science 2020.
Dr Monica Peters gained her PhD researching community environmental groups and effective citizen science, but she began in a very different direction with a Bachelor of Visual Arts and a Master of Fine Arts. Her heart, however, always lay with conservation.
“There was a sort of a weaving backwards and forwards between arts and conservation. For me, science has to have a social, economic, political and cultural context. So that kind of space where learning about the natural world is very situated in a socio-ecological context with all of the other angles made sense to me, and that’s ultimately where my passion lies.”
Now, she runs her own consultancy working with organisations on projects connecting the public with science and is co-chair of the newly formed Citizen Science Association of Aotearoa New Zealand. Citizen science is when members of the public contribute observations and data into scientific research, often through community monitoring of conservation and restoration projects.
Some of New Zealand’s most well known citizen science projects are iNaturalistNZ, where the public can log sightings of plants and animals, the annual New Zealand Garden Bird Survey, where numbers of birds are recorded over a specific time period, and Litter Intelligence, which is creating a national litter database to record litter and track trends.
Trust is growing in the power of communities to provide quality data back to scientists and project leaders. In many places around the country, central and local government agencies are now actively working with communities to monitor local habitats. Monica is thrilled by the increasing growth and credibility of citizen science as a valid research tool and is passionate about equipping organisations to do it well.
“You can get acceptable data quality from community groups, and you can get fit-for-purpose data. There are quality assurance and quality control methods that you can use throughout the process to ensure that you get good quality data, but it takes planning, it takes organising, it takes resourcing.”
Monica sees a future where scientists, communities and policy makers are working together to manage, monitor and protect New Zealand’s unique ecosystems.
“Enabling community members to actually go out and get a better understanding of their environment I think is really, really critical, and that can be an amazingly powerful political tool.”
The article Working as a scientist provides a brief overview of some of the many scientists featured on the Hub. Use it to discover some of the reasons people choose a science-related career and some of the things you can do if you are curious to begin a career in science.
The number of opportunities to be involved as citizen scientists continues to grow, and teachers are increasingly using them to make science education more relevant and engaging and to develop students’ science capabilities. Explore the projects listed in the Citizen science section to find one that sparks an interest or is local and see these tips for planning your science programme.
If you need more help or inspiration, see our recorded PLD webinars:
- Getting started with citizen science – this will help to make sense of the growing opportunities to engage with citizen science.
- Online citizen science – Prime Minister’s Science Teacher Prize winner Carol Brieseman shares her experiences using online citizen science projects in the classroom.
The New Zealand Government’s Participatory Science Platform (PSP) is a world-first initiative that aims to engage communities in research projects that are locally relevant and have quality science and learning outcomes. Use our search to find articles on some of these projects.
This article was written by Anastasia Turnbull.