Skip to content. Skip to navigation

Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Flickr photo by brewbooks,

   Summary of issues          Challenges and opportunities         Key questions


Summary of issues identified by survey respondents

More than 200 people responded to online questions in 2010 exploring new strategies for conservation through citizen science and other forms of public participation in scientific research. They described Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) or other related conservation initiatives in which they are involved, the major opportunities and challenges they encounter with these, and information and tools that would have the most impact on their work in PPSR for conservation.view larger image

A wide range of people and projects was represented in the incoming surveys and applications, illustrating the use of PPSR at local, regional and national levels, and respondents reported on projects and initiatives from across the globe. Those involved in PPSR include educators at museums, schools, and nature centers; scientists at academic institutions and research centers; conservation management specialists at national parks and government bureaus; and development practitioners who work with urban youth, indigenous communities, and residents of suburban areas.

Respondents are working along a broad spectrum of projects from studying the evolution of the gray squirrel, to collaborating with coffee growers to establish natural corridors in the Amazon, to working with underrepresented communities to find new ways to promote outdoor experiences and develop a sense of ownership and pride in local natural areas.

view larger image

Projects represented through the surveys and applications reflect a myriad of specific conservation goals, such as identifying species at risk, interpreting data for policy and management, and increasing public understanding of the natural environment. However, overall those working in PPSR are concerned with the scientific and educational aspects of the field and how to balance these for conservation outcomes.



Challenges and opportunities

Respondents also raised a number of related issues that may be alternately viewed as challenges or opportunities.


The Science Debate

The reliability and credibility of data collected by the public is a major issue, especially for those who hope to use it to inform policy and management. There is a need to establish guidelines for research protocols, combine existing efforts through online databases and to promote the acceptance of “non-expert” data in the scientific community. If conducted in a way that is scientifically valid and pertinent, data collected by the public can answer important questions for conservation.


Opportunities for Learning

Public participation in scientific research also presents great opportunities for individual and social learning. Direct experiences in nature and with other participants may lead to new skills, attitude and behavior changes, and even increased social capital. In many cases participants come to these research projects with robust and diverse knowledge of their surroundings and it can be a challenge to do justice to that knowledge while offering new learning opportunities and pursuing research and conservation goals.


Conservation Outcomes

Beyond the lab and the classroom there is a host of real-life problems threatening the planet’s biodiversity, and there is hope that PPSR can help to bridge science with practice and ideas with action. But in order for PPSR to be of greater relevance to conservation, there is an urgent need for communication across all levels, connecting scientists, communities and policy-makers – from local to global and back again. In the face of large scale issues like global warming, networks are needed to link existing efforts and to support new initiatives. Linking research and education goals through PPSR can also contribute to interest and capacity for protecting local habitats and promoting sustainable practices for the benefit of participants’ communities.



Key Questions

A number of key questions emerged from the long list of challenges and opportunities cited by respondents. These key questions were addressed through an online forum and in an April 2011 workshop to develop information and tools to advance conservation     Question: how do your experiences fit with the summary of challenges, etc.?
through PPSR. The forum in particular aimed to reveal conservation cases and lessons learned in varied contexts and cultures. Ongoing conversations will also explore aspects of PPSR beyond conservation ... join in!


Question: what kinds of conservation outcomes have been achieved through PPSR?     CONSERVATION ACTIONS  When and how does PPSR lead to further conservation actions? Central issues: application to policy and management; communicating and moving beyond the project level; further engagement in conservation stewardship.


CONSERVATION QUESTIONS  How can information generated through PPSR contribute to conservation-related research? Central issues: priority questions and protocols to address them (e.g., habitat related as well as
presence/absence and species distributions.

KNOWLEDGE AND CREDIBILITY  How can local, lay, and traditional knowledge (LLTK) be integrated with scientific knowledge through PPSR for conservation outcomes? Central issues: concepts of environmental citizenship; integrating alternative knowledges (e.g., local, traditional, experiential); identity with nature; working with non-literate communities; bottom-up approaches.
    Question: how can PPSR info contribute to conservation?Question: how can local, lay, and traditional knowledge integrate through PPSR for conservation?


Question: how can PPSR promote a fuller, more democratic, participation?Question: what types of learning facilitate deep engagement for conservation?     PARTICIPATION  How can PPSR help to promote a “fuller, more democratic” conservation science and practice? Central issues: reaching new audiences; diversity and inclusion; understanding barriers and motivations.

LEARNING  What types of learning facilitate deep engagement with conservation through PPSR? Central issues: participation and
empowerment; literacy and capacity building; implications for changes in conservation values and behaviors.


NETWORKS  How can PPSR initiatives be connected across scales for greatest conservation impact? Central issues: local data - broad application, and vice versa; building networks; strategic partnerships;     Question: how can PPSR initiatives best connect for conservation?
collaboration/replication, feedback loops, sustainability.


Interested in these questions? Join an online conversation to share your thoughts. 


New AMNH logo   Audubon logo   CLOlogo.png


NSF logo small