Monday, April 27, 2009

Citizen Science 1.0 (Venice)

In 1992, I organized over 1,000 students from all the middle schools in Venice to go out at the same time at 105 locations throughout the city and the surrounding lagoon islands to simultaneously measure the currents in the neighborhood's canals. It was the first time that the hydrodynamic behavior of the entire lagoon was quantitatively measured at the same moment. Thinking that the stage was set for a repeat, I foolishly organized a second campaign the following year, with incoming instead of outgoing tide, assuming it was going to be easier to pull off. I was wrong, but still happy to see such enthusiastic participation. We conducted over 600 measurements on a shoestring, using hand-made floats made of soda cans, plastic water bottles, fishing line and weights. It was extraordinary to see the children and their teachers get excited about contributing to something that was bigger than themselves. The kids loved being pulled out of the boring classroom environment to go out to the canals and conduct the measurements... They also really enjoyed the post-measurement awards ceremony to celebrate everyone's participation with plaques and medals that I cobbled together thanks to donations from a number of city offices and departments (another day off from school!). The workshop at UNH last week congealed in my mind the essential tenets of a successful citizen science initiative, which I had already stumbled upon in my Venice experience, namely:
  1. Keep it simple
  2. Make it fun
  3. Give rewards
Even though the overall middle-school project was not easy for me to organize single-handedly, the actual measurements were simple for each student to make. The whole thing was fun (especially for the students) and the reward was a day off from school, plus an award for participating... We will apply the same logic to our NASA grant and crowdsource vegetation change over time. We'll keep you posted on the successes!
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