The Biological Heritage National Science Challenge are excited to be contributing to a project for the regional sector led by NIWA, to develop a quality assurance (QA) framework for citizen science data.

Throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, community-based environmental monitoring contributes a wealth of data which could provide important information around the issues and needs of environmental management and protection. This project, led by researchers Juliet Milne and Amanda Valois, aims to create a framework which will help support councils and government organisations to better utilise data collected through citizen science to its full potential.  

At this stage, citizen science data doesn’t tend to be utilized all the way through to the decision-making process. “A lot of people feel that their voices aren’t being heard” says Amanda. “This QA framework is about giving them a voice, and giving legitimacy to their voice.” By establishing protocols to standardise data collection and documentation of key supporting information, organisations such as councils can be confident the data is of a ‘known’ quality and fit for purpose.   

“I think biodiversity data is particularly interesting because there’s so much collected and it’s definitely not comparable how much biodiversity efforts are being made by communities compared to paid data by government entities. If we can get everybody on the same page collecting data in a similar way with similar quality assurance and controls around it – the power of what the data could be used for would be immense.” 

The idea that this framework will give more power to the data collected by communities fits in nicely with the Whakamana (Empower) goal of the challenge. Citizen science data will be of importance to many challenge projects, such as Eco-index, and those working on Predator Free 2050 and biosecurity monitoring. 

One of the main challenges of this project will be around data stewardship, and figuring out what to do with citizen science data once it is collected. “To be able to implement this framework we ultimately need a home for the data” says Juliet.  For the QA framework to be of use, it will need to be hosted in a way that ensures data is easily accessible.  

To begin with, the QA framework will be designed around variables of relevance to freshwater ecosystem health, recreation and mahinga kai (compulsory values all rivers and lakes must now be managed for). However, it is hoped that the framework will be transferrable to other environmental domains such as marine and terrestrial.  

“Community groups have always realised that everything is connected, and there are very few community groups that just work in the river and then don’t do anything on the land” says Amanda. “What we’re finding in New Zealand is that community monitoring is becoming more and more organized and this framework will add rigour to support increased end use of the data.” 

Challenge Knowledge Broker Kevin Collins adds that “with freshwater quality being a pressing issue in Aotearoa, there is huge demand for monitoring the state of freshwater ecosystems, making this a good place to start. However, national biodiversity monitoring by agencies is much less well developed than water quality monitoring, which means that getting good data from community restoration and monitoring initiatives is even more essential.”   

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