May 19, 2016, by Postgraduate Placements Nottingham

Exploring Citizen Science with the National Biodiversity Network (Part 2)

In the second of a three-part series, Ben Brown describes some of the insights he gained from his placement.

ben brown2Correspondents with the National Biodiversity Network (NBN) are often surprised to discover it’s not the monolithic body they may have imagined. While on placement I came to realise that rather than running a strict hierarchical machine, so much of what the NBN does is about relationship building and seeking to understand and implement what serves the recording community. This is not trivial and hinges on sensitivity to the interrelations and histories that pre-exist. Biological recording grew up organically around the country long before any attempt at centralisation, and the entrance of a national body was met with some ambivalence; so I came to appreciate the NBN’s experience at achieving their mandate via diplomacy rather than authority.

Delivering my placement project involved making my first collection of ‘qualitative data’ (questionnaires and interviews) outside of my Psychology degree. Heavy organisation and a sensitive telephone manner were required to encourage candid responses, and my technique developed as time went on.

‘Citizen science requires investment and careful management, so is in no way ‘free’.’

Speaking to correspondents I discovered that much of biological recordings’ success as citizen science turns out to be specific to that activity and tradition, whose scope was far larger than I initially realised. The approaches and practices cannot therefore simply be transplanted to another science to reap the benefits of ‘free’ volunteer-collected data. It also requires investment and careful management, so is in no way ‘free’. Recorders are not a passive army of hands to be marshalled but bring their own priorities and reasons for engaging. These insights have made me reflect that, if I do incorporate citizen science into my visual perception research, the perspective of the citizens will need to be central in my design, and I should be prepared to expend effort ensuring the experience meets their goals.

This post is the second 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.

Posted in Placements