Public Engagement in Science

Teenagers bird watching

We conceive and develop innovative programs that engage the public in science, particularly in scientific investigation—and evaluate the effectiveness of science education programs, particularly programs that involve the public in research. We help to develop, guide, and evaluate projects based at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology as well as at other science and education institutions throughout North America.

Major Projects

Our Public Engagement in Science team launched, a website that serves as a toolkit for developing, implementing, and evaluating citizen-science projects around the world. The website includes a searchable database of citizen-science projects focusing on many subjects ranging from astronomy to zoology. The toolkit grew from an NSF-sponsored conference at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in 2007 to describe “best practices” in citizen science.

Using Citizen Science to Understand Climate Change

This project, operated in conjunction with the NSF-funded Communicating Climate Change project based at the Association of Science-Technology Centers, is guiding a variety of science museums and other science education institutions throughout the United States in developing and implementing citizen-science projects that help the public understand local effects of global warming. Watch videos produced as a part of this project.

DEVISE: Developing, Validating, and Implementing Standardized Evaluation Instruments

DEVISE is a new project aimed at helping professional science educators obtain strategies and tools for evaluating the educational and social impacts of informal science education projects with an emphasis on projects that engage the public in scientific research. The project includes a group that worked under the auspices of CAISE (Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education) to produce a landmark report: Public Participation in Scientific Research: Defining the Field and Assessing its Potential for Informal Science Education.

Program Guidance and Evaluation

We conduct evaluations ranging from web-based surveys of project participants, which are used to help improve website structure and usability, to complex evaluations of project impact including pre- and post-project surveys, focus groups, structured web explorations, and construction of “personal birding narratives” by participants. At the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, evaluations have been conducted for The Birdhouse Network, the Great Backyard Bird Count, eBird, NestWatch, and BirdSleuth. We have also consulted in program development and guidance at sister institutions including the University of Minnesota (Monarch Larva Monitoring Project), the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (Appalachian Trail Megatransect project), the Oakland Museum of California, the Sciencenter of Ithaca, the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico, the Cornell University Dept of Entomology (Lost Ladybug Project), and others. Our Program Development and Evaluation team also has a close working relationship with the Institute for Learning Innovation.