As urban forest managers look for new ways to engage the public, many municipalities and non-profit groups are turning to citizen science and open data to connect with stakeholders. Citizen science generally refers to partnerships between the public and professional scientists to address real-world problems. The public can be involved in all stages of a project including formulating research questions, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, and developing technologies and applications. Citizen science projects can generate public interest, but there are often concerns about the need for data coordination, quality control, open access, and long-term funding and resource commitment.
Many of our OpenTreeMap customers use citizen science to increase public awareness and support for community forestry and to collect quality data that can help drive management and policy decisions. This month’s Urban Forest Connections webinar, a webinar series sponsored by the U.S. Forest Service, highlights the challenges and opportunities surrounding citizen science in urban forestry. Lara Roman, Research Ecologist at the Philadelphia Field Station, presents findings from a study of volunteer data quality in urban tree inventories and implications for the use of citizen science for various urban forest data collection needs. OpenTreeMap Project Manager, Deb Boyer, shares lessons learned from citizen science and open data projects across the U.S. and discusses various technical approaches. You can watch the full recording here.
There are many other resources available to help you determine whether citizen science and open data projects are right for your community. We’ve listed a few below. We would also love to hear your stories about using citizen science.
- Data Quality in Citizen Science Urban Tree Inventories: In this article from Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, Lara Roman and colleagues examined consistency across volunteer field crews doing street tree inventories, drawing implications for appropriate uses of citizen science in urban forestry.
- TreesCount! 2015: Mapping every street tree in New York City: This webinar provides an overview of the TreesCount project that includes both organizational and technical details.
- Data Management for Urban Tree Monitoring – Software Requirements: This report from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society (PHS) and the USDA Forest Service Philadelphia Field Station explores how technology can be used to support the long-term systematic monitoring of urban trees by trained professionals, student interns, and volunteers; assist with tree planting and maintenance data processes; and enable data to be organized and shared between researchers and practitioners.
- Integrating Experts, Communities, and Online Resources for Equitably Expanding Urban Tree Canopy: Using the case of Portland, Oregon, this webinar from the U.S. Forest Service provides context for organizing a citywide initiative to enable community groups, researchers, and city staff the data and tools to advance urban canopy management and expansion.
- Citizen Science at the U.S. Forest Service: A general resource for learning more about citizen science and crowdsourcing activities at the Forest Service.