MammalWeb and the 10 Principles of Citizen Science

The European Citizen Science Association has developed ten principles that underlie good practice in citizen science.  Here, we consider each, in turn, in relation to the MammalWeb platform.

 

1. Citizen science projects actively involve citizens in scientific endeavour that generates new knowledge or understanding.
Relative to taxa such as birds and butterflies, mammals have not enjoyed rigorous, sustained and community-wide monitoring over recent decades. Documenting their presence, absence and activity patterns in space and time yields data that can be analysed to gain new knowledge about aspects of the environment that determine where they occur and when they are active, as well as how that changes through time. These are not trivial questions and they require a critical mass of data, about which we understand the quality, biases and limitations. At MammalWeb, we are using the collated data to inform analyses that underpin that understanding. We can then progress to answering ecological questions of both pure and applied importance.

2. Citizen science projects have a genuine science outcome.
The insights gained from MammalWeb have been presented at national and international scientific conferences and have been used to underpin published scientific papers [hyperlink]. Ongoing work will develop that – and we anticipate that scientific outputs will accelerate over time, once our platform and protocols are sufficiently refined to attract and sustain widespread engagement.

3. Both the professional scientists and the citizen scientists benefit from taking part.
As scientists engaged in academia and practical conservation management, members of the MammalWeb team certainly benefit from the availability of data to inform management actions (such as the removal of invasive species), underpin scientific publications, and provide an important resource for training and education. From communication with participants, we also know that many benefit from the way that MammalWeb can be used to collate and manage their projects, from the challenges inherent in identifying wildlife, and from the satisfaction of contributing to the wider endeavour of monitoring our mammalian heritage.

4. Citizen scientists may, if they wish, participate in multiple stages of the scientific process.
One of MammalWeb’s unique facets from the outset was our focus on citizen scientists participating in both data collection (camera trapping) and data processing (image and video classification). In addition, some participants have gone on to author their own reports, co-author publications, or be interviewed in the national press about their work. We welcome ideas from participants about questions they would like us to answer using the data, or about questions they would like to answer using the data.

5. Citizen scientists receive feedback from the project.
All participants can explore the data using the Discover menu item. In addition, all are welcome to sign up to our monthly newsletters, which provide regular feedback on what we’ve been up to and what we’re finding out from the data. We also post findings and outcomes on social media and on our News page.

6. Citizen science is considered a research approach like any other, with limitations and biases that should be considered and controlled for.
We have invested significant effort in understanding the biases and limitations in the data, and much of our ongoing work is focused on how to reach reliable inferences most efficiently.

7. Citizen science project data and meta-data are made publicly available and, where possible, results are published in an open access format.
We have previously contributed data to local records centres but the best way to do that (at a level that can be considered reliable, and by a process that is efficient for the data recipients) is still under discussion. This is an area of development. In the meantime, our publications have made data available on open repositories, where relevant. Our open data policy is, however, sensitive to issues of privacy raised by contributing organisations and individuals.

8. Citizen scientists are acknowledged in project results and publications.
All participants are credited via group authorship, where publisher policies permit, or relevant acknowledgements where that is not an option. In addition, some contributors have co-authored papers with the MammalWeb team.

9. Citizen science programmes are evaluated for their scientific output, data quality, participant experience and wider societal or policy impact.
We aim to produce data with societal impact and outputs that educate and inform. Ultimately, our participants and the end-users of the collated data must be the judges of whether MammalWeb performs in these respects.

10. The leaders of citizen science projects take into consideration legal and ethical issues surrounding copyright, intellectual property, data sharing agreements, confidentiality, attribution, and the environmental impact of any activities.
We take these issues very seriously, as enshrined in our Terms and Conditions. We have active data sharing agreements with organisational contributors and have previously signed data sharing agreements with external researchers.