Citizen Science focus groups and user testing

The Atlas' Citizen science focus groups and usablity testing are complete. A detailed report on these activities, titled ‘ALA Citizen Science Focus Group Report’ has been released online.

Benay Wettle and Robyn Lawrence, Atlas of Living Australia.
In the last newsletter, Piers Higgs from Gaia Resources reported how the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) is working with citizen scientists and citizen science (CS) groups.

Where are we now? Findings from citizen science* ‘focus groups’ and usability testing, is directing the development of ALA’s citizen science toolkit.

The team at Gaia Resources is beginning to build this toolkit, which will allow CS groups to collect, organise and edit their data online, in their own domain, or hosted by ALA. The CS data will form an important part of ALA’s larger data-set.

To ensure we are building a toolkit that would prove useful to CS groups, ALA held a series of ‘focus groups’ with citizen scientists in Melbourne, Sydney, Canberra and Perth. Their aim was to discover what people involved in citizen science would like from an ALA-funded toolkit. Two different types of ‘focus groups’ were held; those for active citizen scientists and those for IT system managers likely to administer a citizen science website.

The CS groups gave us a range of ideas for what they needed to see in a successful citizen science toolkit:

Four of the most frequently mentioned points were that:

  • the tools must be easy to use, flexible, mobile, fast and free
  • the toolkit includes identification tools, system generated maps and reports
  • the toolkit includes an easy to use data-collection form builder
  • technical and scientific support would be needed

Some citizen scientists were concerned about the longevity of the ALA project.

The full report is available online at: CS_Focus Group Report V03 PDF (1.3MB)

Based on the findings from the ‘focus groups’, Benay Wettle, ALA’s user-centred design expert and the team at Gaia Resources have developed a prototype of the citizen science toolkit.

The next step was to test the prototype on individuals and observed how they used it. In Perth and Canberra, potential toolkit users test-drove the prototype, answered questions and made comments on the prototype. The user-testing sessions enabled usability designers to observe the user’s interaction with the system and their degree of intuitive understanding.

A few citizen science groups will pilot the early versions of the toolkit prior to the Atlas’ launch in late 2010. Once officially launched, it will be made available to other interested CS groups and organisations.

For more info please contact: Mr Piers Higgs at the

* Citizen science is a term used for projects or ongoing program of scientific work in which individual volunteers or networks of volunteers, many of whom aren’t professional scientists, conduct or manage tasks such as observation, measurement or computation to assist research or research-related work. (Based on Wikipedia June 2010 definition).

Canberra Citizen Science Workshop for Data Managers

At the Canberra Citizen Science Workshop for Data Managers.
Left to right: Jeff Tranter, Robyn Lawrence, Murray Fagg adding CS toolkit priorities to the chart. Photo courtesy: Atlas of Living Australia