Citizen Science and Sense of Place

Photo © Mount Rainier National Park

Where do you live? What can you tell me about it? Beyond the address, what makes the space you live in a place you call home? Is it the building, the landscaping, or the items that fill the rooms? Perhaps it’s the activities, the social interactions, or the memories associated with these. Our individual experiences shape our relationship with our residence and provide a richer understanding of our surroundings, creating important attachments to the places we are familiar with.


Photo © Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

Engaging in citizen-science projects, like Habitat Network, can help you connect with your world as much as you help us connect with ours. While citizen science often aims to collect data at large geographic scales, it tends to engage individuals and communities in local-level data collection. This provides an opportunity to convey specific and local ecological information to interested participants. Most programs provide a specific protocol for collecting and submitting data while others may also take advantage of outreach and education opportunities to offer feedback to participants about their specific impact.

Miao Yuan (left), Dong Dazheng (right) looking out at the Dongtan Wetlands. The Chongming Dongtan National Nature Reserve is one of the world’s largest alluvial islands, situated at the mouth of the Yangtze River and just 30 miles from Shanghai. It’s

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

Data collection, ranging from simple observational counts and geographic location information to the complex geospatial data collected by Habitat Network, has potential to evolve into a recorded personal history of evolving interests, concerns, and behaviors. Documenting changes over time also helps people recognize the impact they have as a result of their continued engagement. Habitat Network, through features like the Habitat Overview and the Planning Tool, seeks to provide this type of platform to participants to inform them of the ecological effects of their activities resulting in deeper, more intimate, connections to their place.

Confirming the identification of a Great Basin Fritillary butterfly in Red canyon, near Lander, WY.

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Kevin Arnold)

Why Citizen Science?

Traditional techniques and funding for conservation efforts are not necessarily sufficient to address the increasing scale of existing and future conservation needs. Citizen science, however, through the recruitment and training of massive teams of volunteer data collectors, is becoming a common way of increasing the scope of data collection to accommodate some of this growing demand.


Photo © Tracy Lee Carroll

For hundreds of years, citizen participation in research has benefited science, conservation management, and environmental protection. As citizen science continues to demonstrate credibility in obtaining high quality data using robust verification techniques, projects are likely to increase in both scale and reach of their public engagement. The increasing support may allow research organizations the opportunity to increase citizen science and conservation efforts to tackle immense and complicated environmental problems spanning large tracts of time and geography.

Research being conducted into the effects of cattle grazing on California's delicate vernal pool habitats by Jaymee Marty, The Nature Conservancy's lead scientist for the Central Valley and Mountains region with the Conservancy's Sacramento Office in Cali

Photo © The Nature Conservancy (Ian Shive)

Online access to citizen-science projects has greatly extended their reach in the past 15 years, increasing participation and bringing the opportunity to engage to 100s of 1000s of people. As they develop, online projects continue to harness new technologies to improve the way data are entered, analyzed, and displayed. Those focused on local conservation efforts may be increasingly effective at improving scientific literacy, expanding scientific knowledge, and connecting individuals to their environment.


Photo © UGA College of Ag & Environmental Sciences - OCCS

Even large, global communities of online citizen scientists can effectively contribute to local conservation efforts and address immediate environmental concerns. Where traditional scientists often have only limited access to private properties, citizen-science projects–that engage the property owners themselves– offer a tool to expand the reach of conservation research into residential ecosystems in meaningful ways.


Photo © USFWSmidwest

You might engage in citizen science for a variety of reasons–an interest in the subject, a desire to help science, or to improve your reputation in the community. Whatever your motivation, we understand that one of the reasons you remain in a project is for the continued learning opportunities and your own personal growth. Being able to see your individual contributions through publications or online data visualizations can be a powerful way for you to take your local place to the next level .


Photo © Cam Miller

What turns insignificant space into a meaningful place? The research suggests that various experiences, gained knowledge, and increased understanding of a place can increase ones attachment along with length of residency or home ownership. Sometimes major landscape characteristics–like rivers, mountain ranges, or skylines– are important, but features of your local environment, like parks, yards, a favorite big tree, or gardens are important to a meaningful place as well.


Photo © Habitat Network

Citizen-science projects, like Habitat Network, recognize the importance of connecting with our environment and aim to help people develop deeper attachment and meaning from places they live, visit, and interact with. At the intersection of citizen-science contributions and sense of place understanding, lies an opportunity to engage and connect with the world around you like never before. By connecting you to your local environment and providing informative feedback, Habitat Network hopes to offer the kinds of experiences that let you make deeper connections to the places you already hold dear.