SUCCESSES AND CHALLENGES OF CITIZEN SCIENCE AT NATURE CENTERS
Somerville Zamora, Stephanie
College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point
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Citizen science, the involvement of the public in scientific research, is a powerful tool that can expand the capacity to collect data and address research questions. In addition, it can foster a sense of place and connection to nature. Citizen science programs are being implemented in formal and non-formal education facilities around the world, such as schools, universities, natural history museums, national parks, nongovernmental organizations, community organizations and nature centers. Much research has explored the definition of citizen science; its history; the controversy around the term; planning, implementation, and evaluation of specific citizen science programs; best practices; its benefits; and the motivation of volunteers. However, few studies have investigated the relationship between nature centers and citizen science. Nature centers are unique sites for citizen science because they allow community members to experience education, interpretation, scientific research, land conservation, and outdoor recreation in a single, natural location. For this study we wanted to know what factors make the implementation of a citizen science program in a nature center successful and what are some of the challenges involved in implementing citizen science programs? Data were collected by conducting semi-structured interviews with staff members from ten nature centers in Wisconsin that implement citizen science programs at their sites. Data were coded for emerging themes. Results showed that the success of a citizen science program at a nature center depends on having committed staff and volunteers. The main challenges identified were recruiting and retaining volunteers, ensuring data collection quality, and maintaining financial and human resources. Results of this study are relevant to nature centers currently offering citizen science and to nature centers considering adding citizen science to their suite of place-based programs.