The Museum of the City of New York has many historic images that they know little about – photographs depicting unknown buildings along unknown streets with unknown people milling about. Yet, many of these images have been become less mysterious since the museum posted the images on their Facebook page and asked the public to help pinpoint the photo locations. People responded. Some made guesses. Others knew for sure where pictures had been taken. Suddenly, the museum had on-the-ground reporters throughout the city who were able to contribute.
Why am I telling you, reader of the NEON blog, about historic photographs from one of the world’s most urbanized areas? Because it is a great example of crowdsourcing – the idea that we collectively may have answers that we individually do not.
We can potentially solve more complex problems as a group, and have new fresh ideas. And by “we” I mean all of us, at least all of us who want to participate. Perhaps, just as people from all over New York are able to contribute to our collective understanding of the history of that city, people from all over the United States and Puerto Rico may be able to contribute to our collective understanding of large-scale ecology through NEON.
Citizen science programs, also known as public participation in scientific research (PPSR) or community science programs, are ways of crowdsourcing science research. These types of programs provide ways that everyone can get involved. Some people collect and report data about the natural world. Others help analyze or interpret data. Some people even help design scientific studies working directly with scientists.
Currently, the public engagement team at NEON is considering how to get the public involved with the NEON project though citizen science programs. I will post regular updates on the NEON blog as our plan for citizen science develops.
While we are developing NEON’s long-term plan for citizen science, we are getting our feet wet prototyping Project BudBurst, the citizen science campaign that now calls NEON home. As we learn more about existing citizen science projects, I’m learning about the many ways people are contributing to our collective understanding of Earth. I’ve started a blog on Talking Science called Citizen Science Buzz to share information about innovative citizen science projects. Talking Science, an educational web site run by the Science Friday Initiative, provides a multitude of science education resources for the public, students, and educators.
If you are interested in contributing to research projects as a citizen scientist, there are several excellent web sites where you can browse projects that need your help – including Citizen Science Central from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Science For Citizens and Citsci.org.
Lisa Gardiner is NEON’s Director of Education.