Throwback Thursday: Citizen Science

The case study below is from a summative evaluation RK&A completed for the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico.  Based in Manati, Puerto Rico, the Conservation Trust runs a Citizen Science program for local residents.

Citizen Science [2010]

A summative program evaluation with a nature conservancy

The Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico collaborated with RK&A to study the impact of its Citizen Science program, a NSF-funded project designed to involve local Spanish-speaking citizens in scientific research that contributes to growing knowledge about the Trust’s biodiversity and land management efforts. The Citizen Science program underwent formative evaluation in 2009 and summative evaluation in 2010. Summative evaluation is discussed here.

How did we approach this study?

Summative evaluation was guided by four impacts developed using NSF’s Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects. These included that participants will: use and understand the scientific method; experience and understand the purpose of scientific rigor; develop a sense of ownership for the Reserve; and realize that the research in which they participate has wide application to decisions made about conserving the Reserve’s flora and fauna. To explore these impacts, RK&A collected 343 standardized questionnaires, conducted 39 in-depth interviews, and conducted three case studies with participants who have a high level of program involvement.

What did we learn?

In all areas where the Trust hoped to achieve impact with participants, gains were made. Findings show that participants self-reported moderate gains in their knowledge and awareness of flora and fauna and scientific processes; interestingly, those who participated in programs with live animal interaction self-reported greater gains. Some also acknowledged attitude and behavior changes as a result of program participation. Findings further demonstrate that a majority of participants felt the Reserve is relevant and valuable to them and Puerto Rico, honing and developing their sense of pride and ownership. Finally, some participants also recognized the application and value of the research in which they participated. Findings also raised some potential barriers to achieving impact, such as the average participants’ brief, often isolated exposure to a specific research project; as well as the fact that many participants entered the program with prior knowledge and interests that might limit the program’s potential to facilitate significant learning gains.

 What are the implications of the findings?

A review of Citizen Science projects found that very few have formally assessed the impact of participants’ experiences.[1] This study sought to contribute to knowledge in this area by exploring participants’ experiences through the lens of the four program impacts mentioned above. Some findings are consistent with those of other Citizen Science studies, such as the fact that participants exhibited more gains in content knowledge than process skills, and many participants enter with prior interest in and knowledge of science and conservation. Other findings suggest that animal interaction and small group size positively influenced participants’ experiences and perceptions of learning. Collectively, findings suggest implications for program design, including the importance of bridging participants’ experiences so they envision their contribution as part of a greater goal.

[1] Bonney, R., Ballard, H., Jordan, R., McCallie, E., Phillips, T., Shirk, J., & Wilderman, C. C. (2009a). Public participation in scientific research: Defining the field and assessing its potential for informal science education. A CAISE inquiry group report. Washington, D.C.: Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE).

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