Australia will soon be getting another citizen science hub

The University of Adelaide will be adapting the global citizen science platform SciStarter for Australia, thanks to a $160,000 grant from the South Australian Government’s Citizen Science Fund.

Citizen science involves engaging the community to participate and collaborate in scientific research, with the aim to increase scientific knowledge.

Professor Frank Grützner, from the School of Biological Sciences and the Environment Institute, told Cosmos that the new platform will add to value citizen science in Australia.

“We’ve got a big country, we don’t have a huge amount of people, but you’ve got 640 odd projects that are really good,” he says.

“How can we improve getting participants to engage in projects? And generally broadening participation in citizen science overall?

“We think that the SciStarter platform would really add value to getting more people involved in projects and giving projects more of a profile.”

Grützner co-leads the project alongside Professor Rachel Ankeny, from the School of Humanities.

SciStarter was founded in the US more than a decade ago to digitally connect and disseminate citizen science activities. The Australian site will build on platforms that already exist in Australia, with added features to improve the process of finding and engaging with projects.

“For example, a participant can sign up to it and they can put in what their interests are, and what they’re doing in their [free] time. And then you can basically connect them with projects that they’re interested in,” says Grützner.

He believes the new features will better facilitate people that participate in more than one project at a time.

“Let’s say that they’re a keen bushwalker … then there might be a number of projects that they could contribute to. They’re going on a bushwalk, they might look for orchids, but they also might look for echidna scats, but they might also look for koalas.

“So, you can say, ‘Well, you’re in this area going out on a regular basis for bushwalking, then these are the projects that you should look at and can potentially participate in.’”

People in high-vis vests watch a woman handle an echidna in bushland
Citizen scientists taking part in the EchidnaCSI project on Kangaroo Island, South Australia. Credit Mike McKelvey.

It will also allow for research on how citizen science is being done, creating rich data for investigating why people are participating, what their experience is, and their activity patterns.

Expected to launch by the end of the year, SciStarter first needs to be redesigned in a way that is suitable to the Australian citizen science landscape.

“It’s not about taking something off the shelf and sort of popping it into the Australian landscape, because Australia is different in many ways. And so, what we are doing is working with SciStarter to really adapt it to the Australian citizen science environment,” says Grützner.

“And that’s going to be a lengthy process.”

The team will be collaborating with the broader citizen science community including other South Australian Universities, the Australian Citizen Science Association (ACSA), and the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA) to draw on the important work of existing resources – like Project Finder – to add value to them.

And while this is a South Australian initiative to start, facilitated by a grant through the SA Department for Environment and Water, the platform will be available Australia-wide.

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