By Ian McDonald

Discussion in action (photo sourced from Science Rewired - Flickr)

Australia’s best and brightest science communicators came together for two days of workshops and discussions at the Big Science Communication Summit in Sydney on June 6 and 7 – discussing the pathways to better inspire Australia about science and scientific research. The Atlas of Living Australia Director – Dr John La Salle along with Leader of the CSIRO Science into Society Group – Ms Peta Ashworth were the expert brains trust giving advice about how to encourage the best in citizen science. The workshops were moderated by Dr Will Grant from the Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. Those who attended discussed how the platforms and processes of citizen science could be used to deliver public science engagement activities across Australia and the most valuable ways for science communicators, practitioners and the public to work together.

Two different 90 minute sessions saw lots of brain storming and even some heated discussions but finally three main issues were decided as impediments for citizen science projects. These were:

  1. Research scientists don’t take citizen science projects seriously and therefore it is difficult to sell the rewards.
  2. Mismatched expectations – it was asked whether both citizens and scientists get enough output for the effort required?
  3. Multiple resources are required for training, data collection and management – time and money.

So while problems were discussed – time was equally applied to coming up with solutions to overcome these impediments when running a citizen science project. Such solutions included:

  • Promoting more widely the success stories of citizen science projects.
  • Designing citizen science projects which will lead to peer reviewed papers and therefore respected by the science community.
  • Involving the community from the outset – asking community groups to help design the projects and what they would also like achieved from the research. Therefore both parties having input into what is being planned and achieving shared objectives.
  • Making data collected open access to all.
  • Making more funds and grants available for citizen science ‘pilot’ projects using science mentors who are willing to participate and assist in publishing the results.

It was worth noting that CEO of the Australian Research Council (ARC) – Professor Aidan Byrne was in attendance on the second day of the summit and he confidently stated that citizen science grants are welcomed amongst the ARC grant applications and looked highly upon but he reminded us that ARC grants are competitive and tightly fought – so they would need to be quality projects and scientifically significant.

It was great to see amongst participants of the summit that some organisations already have these solutions in place and the Atlas of Living Australia is just one example of how we try to work with community groups and organisations to help promote both our resources and citizen science in Australia to further engage all Australians in science.

However, let’s not stop the story here and I hope that we see just as much interest and discussion in continuing citizen science projects and starting new collaborations at the Atlas of Living Australia Science Symposium June 12 and 13 – join in on twitter at #alass13.

If you would like to read more about what was discussed at these workshops – there is another great blog by Claire Harris who attended the workshop.