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Cornell Lab of Ornithology


Train Participants: Reality Check

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Citizen science can enhance participants' science literacy (understandings of the process of science, scientific inquiry, critical thinking for decision making, etc.).

Such education can happen naturally when the appropriate materials and support are provided. Beware of shoehorning a science education agenda into a skills training format (unless working in schools or museums where participants come for an education).

Research partnerships can allow volunteers to learn alongside of scientists.

Scientists may not always be available for training sessions, and educators may be more skilled at conducting trainings. Particularly when volunteers are geographically dispersed, connections between volunteers and scientists are difficult to foster. Technology may offer some opportunities to build communication channels between scientists and non-scientists.

Technology can be leveraged to get people outdoors, and back in touch with nature and/or science.

Technology is not inherently a motivator to get people outside. Be sure that there are strong enough incentives to move beyond the desk (if that is your goal). Take care that technology does not become a barrier to, or limiting factor for, participation.

Participating in citizen science can illustrate how science happens, even as a part of daily life.

Citizen science can encourage thinking and wonderment.

This is too often overlooked!


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Interpreting scientific processes, methods, and information for the public.

The free choice learning environment of citizen science offers an ideal setting for public education, and public participation in the process of science can advance understandings of scientific literacy. Partner with educators to build materials that facilitate learning. Beware of this becoming a mission, rather than just an opportunity... 

Assessing skill level of participants both before and after training.

Being able to show and account for changes in skill levels (and knowledge) is a boon:
  • support for confidence in volunteer observations
  • evaluate effectiveness of training measures
  • sponsors and funding agencies appreciate proof of impact
See some tips for measuring effects.

Testing for proficiency (accuracy, reliability, use of equipment and tools)

Volunteers generally want to know that the data they collect is useful, and routine testing can be one way of assuring all that this is the case. If testing is necessary it must be done respectfully, and can become a means to recognize and reward skillful contributions. Be sure recognition and support are available for new and advancing volunteers, as well. See one initiative for bird certification in Wisconsin.

Targeting training topics appropriate/necessary for a project.

For some projects, data collection may be a means to an end. Outside of the skills and content knowledge necessary for collecting data, training sessions can touch on other topics as appropriate, such as:
  • Policy issues
  • Local stewardship actions
  • Educating others
Project staff and volunteers generally have limited time, so targeting the specific needs of the project and interests of the volunteers is critical.

Offering opportunities beyond data collection.

With the energy of motivated volunteers, targeted skills training can enhance contributions in:
  • data analysis
  • posing new questions
  • writing funding proposals
  • project leadership and administration
  • training new volunteers
  • outreach to others
With strategic partnerships, some projects are run almost entirely by volunteers.

Training a dispersed network of observers.

New technologies can complement traditional means of reaching volunteers at a distance (see some tech tools). Networks of skilled volunteers or regional educators can also be established through "train the trainers" initiatives. Local support can always complement any online materials.



Know of any opportunities for or challenges to this step?  Soon you will be able to share them through our discussion forum.


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Citizen science, volunteer monitoring, participatory action research... this site supports organizers of all initiatives where public participants are involved in scientific research.

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