Data is more often than not at the heart of the environmental projects we get asked to help with. The more good quality data we have, the better the insight we gain into our environment. And one of the best ways to get information, at scale, is through running citizen science projects.
The number of citizen science projects in the environmental sector has grown dramatically in recent years due to smartphones now being ubiquitous and an increasing interest in the state of the environment. Well known projects include the Big Butterfly Count and the Big Garden Birdwatch. These projects have highlighted what’s possible using the power of public engagement. However, without the use of software to collect the data, these type of projects are both far harder to run, and less useful to science.
So, what value does software actually add to citizen science projects?
Scope and scale of projects
It’s no secret that trying to use paper-based systems to collect data isn’t always practical. It’s not just the logistics of getting paper surveys out to your audience, or competing with the great British weather. It’s also the costly process of transferring all that information from paper to online systems back in the office. It’s hard enough when it’s just one or several surveys. But multiply this by tens of thousands of people, and you have a large problem.
In reality, without data collection apps and websites, many citizen science projects would not be practical to operate. Last year, through the use of an app and website, the Big Butterfly Count had over 100,000 participants from all over the UK. This enabled Butterfly Conservation to map the location, species and number of butterflies in near real time.
Standardised data collection
With most surveys it is critical to collect the right data in the right way. Providing people with paper forms isn’t necessarily the best way to achieve this and the use of apps can overcome many of the typical problems.
For example, apps can support the use of mandatory fields, meaning certain questions have to be completed before data can be submitted. This is a simple but effective way to ensure that you always get the data you need from every survey.
Whilst you can designate a field as ‘required’ on paper forms there’s obviously no way to enforce this. It’s really up to the surveyor to notice or to remember that the question is mandatory. If they forget or overlook it, the mistake won’t be picked up until they return back to the office. By then, it’s likely too late to do anything about it.
Arguably the most important aspect of citizen science projects is user experience. If you want 10,000 people to take part in the project, you need to ensure that the process is simple and engaging, or else they won’t do it (or certainly not repeatedly).
Through the use of software, you can build in features that support both the needs of your organisation and the user.
Examples include the provision of species identification guides, ‘one tick’ completion boxes and offline functionality. With software you can help to ensure that your users both provide you with high quality data, whilst also being able to learn from the app, and enjoy taking part.
Improved data quality
Research has shown that by including technology in your citizen science projects, you can drastically improve the quality of the data that is collected (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-018-07106-5).
For example, by submitting photos with records we can check and ensure the accuracy of data. Similarly, GPS technology makes it straightforward for people to accurately provide locations without having to resort to using a map and trying to provide complicated grid references. This adds vital context to records and gives those responsible for quality assurance a way to verify the data.
Now that you know how software adds value to citizen science projects, you must be wondering where to start?
That’s where we can help.
At Natural Apptitude, we support organisations big and small with their data collection needs. With over 50 citizen science projects to our name and former ecologists and environmental scientists as team members, we understand the issues public engagement projects face.
Our Coreo platform has been developed to help get your citizen science projects off the ground. Our no-code solution to building spatial data collection apps helps you to:
- Improve data quality & business productivity
- Replace outdated, inflexible paper-based solutions
- Manage data & users in one convenient location
- Maximise efficiency & save time
Get in touch with us to find out how we can help you and your organisation with all your data collection needs – firstname.lastname@example.org.