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Rick: Citizen scientist


Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1G39tJL
(CC BY-NC 2.0)
The person represented here is not affiliated with DataONE and use of their image does not reflect endorsement of DataONE services.

Name, age, and education: 

Rick is a middle-aged male with an advanced degree in civil engineering. And in fact, Rick is a civil engineer by trade, but he has long been an enthusiastic outdoorsman, nature photographer, and gardener, and is keenly interested in local and native flora. He loves photographing what he sees on his nature walks, which mostly take place in local reserves but occasionally on family vacations. He has supported the local chapter of the Nature Conservancy for years both financially and as a participant in guided walks and as a volunteer for management activities at their local preserves. In the last few years, he has participated in an effort coordinated by Nature Conservancy staff to regularly survey the presence, abundance, and life-history characteristics of several different plant species that are resident in local reserves. He is not a computer or data expert but is perfectly comfortable using computers and following standardized rubrics and protocols.

Life or career goals, fears, hopes, and attitudes: 

Rick sees his citizen science activities as one of his hobbies. However, that doesn't mean that he doesn't take this work seriously. He believes that the data he is helping to collect are important, both for local resource management needs but also as part of the larger body of evidence regarding the role of nature preserves in protecting endangered and native species. His sense of the exact role his contributions play is vague though, and he often wishes that he had a better idea of how the information is being used, and also how important his specific contributions are to the enterprise. Regardless, because he participates in data collection for fun, he expects to keep participating as long as there are opportunities to do so.

A day in the life: 

On any given weekend, Rick is likely to be found taking a stroll through one of the local preserves, taking photographs along the way. He is now proficient with the data collection protocols, having gone through an initial brief training program with reserve staff and also met up with other data-collection volunteers to hear updates on the project and share notes. The protocol is fairly simple, consisting of noting the presence/absence of any target species he finds, noting the location (if possible, usually using his smartphone’s GPS or by noting the location on a map with a grid of coordinates), noting the life-stage of the plant (e.g., germinating or leafing out, flowering), and adding any other notes that seem relevant. Rick records all of this data in waterproof pocket notebooks and turns those notebooks into the reserve staff as he fills them up. He will often, but not always, take a picture of the specimen at the time of the observation, noting the filename of the picture in his notes. He copies all of the pictures onto a disk and turns those in to reserve staff as well. The reserve staff take responsibility for digitizing the data and linking the pictures to each observation record. When the staff finds errors or cannot read something, they have Rick's contact info and follow up with him for clarification. Occasionally they have to throw out a record because they cannot resolve its accuracy to their satisfaction, but this process tends to be ad hoc and subjective.

Reasons for using DataONE to share and to reuse data
Needs and expectations of DataONE tools: 

Rick first becomes aware of DataONE at a meeting with other volunteers when the reserve staff show how the repository they have been using has become a DataONE node, which allows them the use of the visualization and other analysis tools. The reserve staff also showed how the data from their local project is being integrated with comparable datasets on those same species in other places, providing a more comprehensive picture of the natural histories of the target species and their current conservation status. Rick was inspired by this presentation, which confirmed for him that his volunteer efforts were contributing meaningfully to the science. He also became more interested in exploring related data himself, as well as in improving his data collection methodology to reduce the numbers of errors and the effort required by the reserve staff to digitize the data. To the extent that DataONE could provide templates, best practices, or other data acquisition tools, he might find find that useful. And to the extent that the visualization and data discovery tools are designed for a layperson, he might find that an interesting way to spend some of his time. And perhaps these tools and processes will help him become a leader of sorts for the local effort, serving to train future volunteers and assist reserve staff.

Intellectual and physical skills that can be applied: 

At this point, Rick is quite expert at spotting and cataloging the target plants as an enhancement of his regular walks. Having seen the presentation using DataONE, he is willing to make some extra effort searching for and cataloging the plants in a more systematic manner, though probably only some of the time. He is also willing to learn how to use new tools, such as hand-held GPS units (perhaps available for loan from the reserve staff). And he is willing to assist with the process of entering his data (and those of others) into databases himself, especially if it means that less data will be lost.

Technical support available: 

To date, he has not had to deal with the technology directly, for the most part. Even with DataONE, he may get some limited technical support from reserve staff, but for the most part he will be on his own, particularly when it comes to any exploratory analyses he might perform using DataONE tools.

Personal biases about data sharing and reuse (and data management more generally): 

Rick has not thought much about the challenges of sharing data. He has some increased appreciation for the importance of data quality, but he doesn't otherwise have any reason to withhold data or actively seek other data. He has been operating on the presumption that the data he contributes to the project are useful and are contributing to the larger scientific enterprise. If his data are not being shared (e.g., to protect the locations of specimens of sensitive species), he would probably appreciate knowing about that and may even feel privileged to be part of a trusted circle of participants who have special knowledge about sensitive species.

Comparison of current and DataONE-enabled practices:
Current data collection: 

Rick might be willing to adopt slightly more robust or automated data collection methods based on DataONE templates once he has seen how his data integrate with other data available through DataONE to enable scientific inquiry.

Current data assurance: 

Rick does not know much about data assurance but has developed a renewed appreciation for accuracy in data collection and transcription after seeing how the data get integrated into the DataONE member node. Were the project to implement some kind of expert data filtering similar to eBird, Rick might be willing to volunteer as a first-level editor.

Current data discovery: 

Rick is only likely to engage in data discovery activities as a casual exercise, but the fact that such activities are possible is a major motivational aspect of his continued interest in being a volunteer for the project.

Current data analyses: 

Rick is only likely to engage in data visualization activities (which comprise one component part of analysis) as a casual exercise, but the fact that such activities are possible is a major motivational aspect of his continued interest in being a volunteer for the project.


Written by Ahrash Bissell