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William

William Feeney

Year of Award: 2017 Award State: Queensland Environment > Conservation
Science > Taxonomy
To build a citizen-science program for understanding and conserving Queensland's unique avian biodiversity - South Africa, UK, Germany, Switzerland, USA
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Conclusions and Recommendations

The incorporation of citizen-science initiatives into ecological research represents a valuable opportunity to engage the public in the scientific process while increasing the capacity and scope of research programs. A key insight that I gained through my Churchill Fellowship was that ornithologically-oriented citizen-science initiatives can be extremely successful, providing fulfilling opportunities for participants and valuable data for researchers. However, they are by no means a trivial endeavour. Notably, almost everywhere I went strongly advised that their success relied on embracing their local (or target) community and providing a service that is not otherwise available. That might take the form of digital infrastructure that underpins bird watching or banding experiences, such as for eBird or SAFRING, or it might take the form of a social event for like-minded people, such as for community run bird banding stations (e.g. Braddock Bay). While intuitive, this is perhaps the most important recommendation that I can give based off my Churchill experience, and I imagine that this advice is important for any similar initiative, regardless of the particular discipline.

Interestingly, while my experience from the European Citizen-Science Association Conference strongly indicated that the recruitment, training and retention of participants is a key limiting factor to citizen-science programs, my understanding from visiting ornithological institutes around the world appeared to suggest that these issues are not as significant for ornithologically-oriented programs. While I cannot be sure exactly why this is, I imagine that it might be due to the stereotypical meticulous nature and passion of bird enthusiasts (i.e. “twitchers”). Following this, while the recruitment, retention and training of participants does not appear to be a limiting factor of well-planned and considered ornithological citizen-science programs, from my discussions, two key challenges did stand out: 1) securing consistent funding, and 2) producing tangible deliverables. While not regularly cited as linked issues during my visits, I am inclined to suggest that consideration of the latter is key for securing the former.

In sum, my experience reaffirms the idea that the incorporation of citizen-science initiatives into research programs is a potentially fruitful avenue for research scientists in Australia and abroad. Based off my experience as a Churchill Fellow, I highly recommend that those interested in incorporating such an initiative into a research program consider three key questions: 1) what service will you provide to your participants to help ensure participation and retention of participants over an extended period of time? 2) what data will be collected through administering this service and are those data reliable? And, 3) what questions will you answer or what deliverables will you produce with these data, and are those deliverables sufficient to seriously pursue consistent funding?

Keywords: Taxonomy, Ornithological, Birds, Conservation, Biodiversity

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