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Participatory Workshop Introduction

2012 July 2
by Seth Inman

Last week, thanks to the effort of very helpful contacts on the islands, I was able to attend a Participatory Monitoring workshop in Puerto Ayora. For those of you unfamiliar with the term in the workshop title, you are not alone. Participatory monitoring, community science, public participation in scientific research, volunteer data collection–these all mean practically the same thing as citizen science, which I have briefly written about before. Here is another good, and possibly the most definitive, source of information on the subject, and although the site is a part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, I’ve pointed out (even more briefly) that projects are by no means limited to birds.

The workshop consisted of an impressive list of international expert invitees—representing Cedar Crest College/Earth Watch, SUNY (College of Environmental Science and Forestry and at Stony Brook), Stanford University, Pepperdine University/ Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation/American Museum of Natural History, Colorado State University/University of Wisconsin-Madison, the United States National Park Service (Joshua Tree National Park and Acadia National Park), and the Galápagos Conservancy. Additionally, the Galápagos National Park, Charles Darwin Foundation, WWF Galápagos, Conservation International, Universidad Central Sede Galápagos, and Grupo FARO were present. A very skilled interpreter, with portable headsets, helped those who didn’t speak English or Spanish. Being in the minority of non-PhD.-holders, and practically the only person with just an undergraduate education, made walking into the room slightly unnerving, but I knew that since the Cornell Lab of Ornithology didn’t have a representative in attendance there were still constructive inputs that I could contribute, seeing as the workshop was about citizen science. Another comfort was that people commonly mistake me for being older than I am. While a freshman at Cornell two years ago, many of my TAs thought I was a senior or junior for most of the semester, and when traveling, people who I tell I’m studying at Cornell tend to assume I’m in graduate studies until I correct them.

Thankfully, on no occassion did I feel that any of the workshop attendees felt my presence was unwarranted or detractive. The majority of invited experts were not only quite friendly, but also interested in hearing about my work and life experience and in telling me about their own research or positions (the latter is, of course, very much expected). I learned a lot from talking with them during coffee breaks and by accompanying them to meals. For the lunches I was able to take them to my two preferred midday locations—which happen to be the only two I’ve been to for lunch in Puerto Ayora—and at both restaurants (Galapagos Deli and El Chocolate) everyone was exceedingly happy with the dishes they ordered, so I was very satisfied that the only guiding I felt qualified to pursue produced good results.

The workshop was organized into a series of brainstorming and presentation periods: groups designed by the organizers of the workshop would assemble for several hours and think about issues and programs together, then the group leaders would present to the wider workshop as a whole. This happened at several stages: first I was in a group labeled “Terrestrial,” the others being “Marine” and “Sustainable Society.” In this initial terrestrial setting we talked about types of species any citizen science project would be concerned about, data collection methods, and how to engage different demographics and categories of people. Perhaps a bullet list is the best way to briefly describe what we discussed:

The composition of focal species lists that would include species that are:

  • invasive/introduced
  • endangered/threatened
  • charismatic
  • indicator (i.e. species that are sensitive or that can tell us about the state of the ecosystem)
  • ecologically important

We talked about potentially ranking species based on the chance of encountering them, their cultural importance, the level of knowledge present regarding their natural history, and their sensitivity to monitoring. Attributes to measure could be:

  • distribution over time and location
  • abundance
  • health
  • morphology
  • presence/absence
  • phenology (i.e. seasonality in relation to climate and associated plant and animal life)
  • behavior
  • genetic diversity

Designing citizen science programs for residents, tourists, and guides requires different forms of data collection, focal species, physical areas of concern, levels of commitment, and countless other factors. The workshop ended up dividing the groups down to urban residents, rural residents, scuba-diving tourists, and ship-based tourists. How we discussed these groups and came up with potential programs for them is the subject of my next post!

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