May 12, 2016, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Exploring Citizen Science with the National Biodiversity Network (Part 1)

In the first of a three-part series, Ben Brown describes some of the opportunities his placement presented to him.

ben brown2My motives for wanting to do a placement with the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) were fairly direct; I saw a potentially untapped route to gaining more information for my own research into citizen science and publicly collected data. The NBN had just released a five-year plan, redoubling their commitment to understanding and motivating recorders, so a placement with them would give me a good vantage point from which to explore questions such as how to motivate volunteers and what special considerations apply during analysis.

The internship taught me more about citizen science than I could have hoped. Leveraging my background in psychology, the NBN asked me to survey biological recorders via questionnaires and interviews, and to attend two of their conferences to meet with ecologists who work with biological records. I therefore gained exposure to all levels of the process from grassroots collection through to dissemination and research outcomes.

‘The internship taught me more about citizen science than I could have hoped.’

I carried out the project fairly independently, soliciting respondents through the hundreds of recording organisations in the network. This gave me the opportunity to gain experience of several activities with which I had little prior experience; including providing adverts and for newsletters or websites, press releases, and presenting a brief talk on the project at the NBN national conference. In all cases this level of public engagement was new to me, and rarely have I had the role of building enthusiasm for a project like this.

Working with the NBN was an unusual opportunity, as it’s rare to work within a small team (the secretariat) with such a national reach. Although I’d worked for small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the distant past, it was pleasant to be reminded of the collaborative atmosphere a small team brings, and how productive this can be in the face of significant responsibilities and situational pressures. As a result, I’m re-evaluating whether I’d enjoy working as a small part of a large organisation so much.

More generally the entire system runs on volunteers or (to a lesser and decreasing extent) sporadic grants. Were I to leave academic research, jobs in the non-profit sector – though scarce – appear to be some of the more fulfilling, and everyone I met was committed to the underlying ‘mission’ of their role. I became aware of both how much gets done without remuneration, and how much more could be done with a little funding.

This post is the first of a three-part series by Ben Brown who is studying for a PhD through the Doctoral Training Partnerships Programme.
He has recently completed a three-month Professional Internship for PhD Students (PIP) at the National Biodiversity Network; a collaborative partnership created to exchange biodiversity information and involves many UK wildlife conservation organisations, government, country agencies, environmental agencies, local environmental records centres and many voluntary groups.

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