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Tina: Citizen science project manager


Photo credit: http://bit.ly/1KAeZEI
(CC BY-NC-ND 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: 

Tina is a 42-year old science educator who runs a citizen science project in Portland, OR. She works for Multnomah Nature Center (MNC), a 36-year old nonprofit organization focused on natural history education and conservation research. MNC is funded by private donations, development activities such as fundraising events, and an allocation from the Oregon Lottery. Tina has a dual MS in Science Communication and Natural Resources from Oregon State University, and a BS in biology from Michigan State University.

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

Tina has been working for MNC for 12 years. She started as a field technician doing plant inventory, but when a position was created for science education through program expansion from a family foundation grant, she was successful at demonstrating how her field skills and science communication background combined for effective outreach to multiple age groups. Eight years ago, MNC decided to start a citizen science project named “Multnomah Weed Watchers” focused on invasive species monitoring at the nature center and in adjacent public lands and Tina was tasked with organizing this project, in addition to providing support for visitor programs, including school groups. She is enthusiastic about the dual benefit for both MNC’s conservation work and involving MNC and community members in scientific research.

A day in the life: 

Tina’s work involves developing training materials and a website for data entry and reporting for both researchers at MNC and project participants. On a daily basis, she reviews recent observation reports, manages the project email and phone communications, and develops recruitment materials. She arranges quarterly training sessions for new volunteers as well as a volunteer mentor pairing program that matches experienced volunteers with new recruits to help ensure that initial training is supported and skill development can continue, and to provide social support for ongoing participation.

Tina knows that there are other invasive species monitoring project in the state and in the Pacific Northwest that may make good partners for extending the reach of the program and increasing the value of the data being collected. In the past, she has had summer interns helping with database development, marketing materials, and development of educational resources, both for ongoing project participants and for school groups that participate on a one-time basis. However, she does not have regular support beyond the volunteer resources that she can coordinate herself, and she is always strapped for time to fully implement project plans.

The project’s target monitoring species include Tansy ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Kudzu (Pueraria lobata), Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), Spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), and Dalmatian toadflax (Linaria dalmatica). All of these species are classified as “T” weeds, meaning that they are considered an economic threat to the state of Oregon. This makes the project compelling to diverse groups within the region who are interested in preserving farmlands and public natural spaces, and individuals who have strong environmental conservation interests. Project participants include senior citizens who choose their own monitoring sites, school groups who participate at the nature center and their schools, a singles organizations whose members volunteer for monthly surveys at several local parks, and an assistant professor at Oregon State University along with his graduate students.

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

Tina has just heard about DataONE from her Oregon State colleagues. She thinks this might be a resource that would help her find out how to start improving project data management. She is excited about the potential to share her data and make it more usable for research. Because she knows very little about data management, she finds most of the materials bewildering, and therefore has a hard time understanding how DataONE can help her.

Intellectual and physical skills that can be applied: 

MNC is very supportive of the project and showcases it regularly in annual reports and media releases. However, there is no dedicated funding in the annual budget to support the project, beyond covering Tina’s salary. Tina therefore spends a disproportionate amount of her time seeking sources of funding to cover basic operational costs for the project. Although MNC has a Development Officer, that person’s focus has been on raising operational funds for whole centre, so she can only provide advice and pointers to resources that Tina then has to pursue.

Technical support available: 

Tina has taught herself basic HTML and SQL database management over the years so that she can support the project’s online data entry functionality, which was initially set up by a short-term web development volunteer. She is an “accidental techie” and struggles to keep up with the ever-growing task list as expectations for technology sophistication continue to increase. The MNC’s Marketing Director manages the organization’s website, but she has no time or resources to offer Tina to help support the project.

Because location of the invasive weeds is important, she has worked with a work-study student to enable Google Maps location resolution for online data entry, as well as GPS coordinates. With a small grant to support public communication of science, she also hired a developer to create a simple mashup map of locations for each species sighting.

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

Tina knows she doesn’t know much about data management but always has more pressing priorities to handle and so hasn’t been able to make much time to learn. However, she is becoming worried that the project data may be lost if her ad hoc funding sources are not renewed or are compromised. She is also interested in data sharing with other organizations and researchers who can use the Weed Watchers data for larger studies, though she does not have contacts beyond Oregon State to use the data. She feels it’s very important to make sure the data are put to scientific use, as this is part of her commitment to the project participants, and also a way to fulfill MNC’s mission.

Tina is only vaguely aware of data repositories, and because academic publication is not a priority, there is little internal pressure to ensure data management standards are met. However, in meetings with her partners from Oregon State, she has realized that this is a point of concern for both project credibility and the potential of the data to be used for conservation research, part of MNC’s mission. She is not sure how to ensure that the data that are collected by her volunteers are interoperable with other data sources, whether her protocols align with those used by other groups, and never has time to seek out relationships for developing ongoing partnerships, although she knows this is an important aspect for long-term project sustainability.

Tina’s volunteers collect data which do get used by Oregon State researchers and local land managers. She does all of the data review herself using Excel spreadsheets. She has never tried to document the database with metadata, and in fact does not know what metadata means. While she is aware that there are data repositories for this type of data, she has no idea how to figure out where she could have her data archived and shared. Currently, the data is backed up weekly to an organizational backup drive, and she also stores it in Dropbox. She does not currently work on data discovery, integration, or analysis, but hopes to support others who can do so by providing quality data.

DataONE could provide Tina with a repository decision tree tool to figure out where she can deposit her data. She needs tutorials on the basic expectations for data documentation so she can prepare a description of the dataset, and guidance on how to maximize data interoperability. Access to tools that provide feedback during the data upload and description process would be especially helpful. Ideally, DataONE would also offer a tool that would provide a quick and easy set of basic data visualizations that would update whenever she uploads fresh data, and which she can embed in her project web pages. Support for data deposit and documentation would also make the data discoverable.

Comparison of current and DataONE-enabled practices:
Project Planning: 
  • Management Planning: Develops a project Data Management Plan following examples provided on the DataONE portal.
Current data collection: 

Collects field data.

DataONE enabled data collection: 

No change.

Current data assurance: 

Validates data using own standards.

DataONE enabled assurance: 

Could apply more broadly-used data quality standards and assurance tools.

Current data description: 

Describes data for her own purposes, using her own data description techniques.

DataONE enabled description: 
  • Training: Learns how to use Morpho (a metadata management editor) based on instructional materials available in the DataONE Best Practices Database and associated downloadable video instructions.
  • Creates metadata for datasets following best practices.
Current data preservation: 

Tina publishes summary and analysis results but does not deposit data or have arrangements for long-term preservation.

DataONE enabled preservation: 

Tina might deposit data with a DataONE member node for long-term preservation.

  • Data Preservation: With colleagues, submits a research paper to an ecological journal associated with Dryad—a DataONE Member Node. Upon acceptance, she submits the publication-relevant data, metadata, and model to Dryad where they are given a DOI (digital object identifier) and preserved in the Dryad repository.
  • Citation: Upon publication, she adds the publication reference and the data citation (including DOIs for both; provided by Dryad and the journal) to her CV.
Current data discovery: 

Does not use other researchers’ data.

DataONE enabled discovery: 

Could use DataONE tools to discover relevant data from other researchers.

Current data integration: 

Does not use other researchers’ data.

DataONE enabled integration: 

Could use DataONE tools to integrate her data with data discovered from other researchers.

Current data analyses: 

Uses standard desktop data analysis tools.

DataONE enabled analysis: 
  • Data Visualization: Uses data analysis and visualization tools identified through DataONE Tools Database or available as part of the Investigator Toolkit to analyze existing data and develop initial model parameters that she will use in her own research.
  • Data Visualization: Creates graphics using tools identified via DataONE.

DataONE PPSR Working Group: Andrea Wiggins & Sandra Henderson