Waterlines: Confluence and Hope through Environmental Communication. The 15th biennial Conference on Communication and Environment (COCE). June 17-21, 2019, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Biodiversity Mapping as Participatory Science Communication

Per Hetland's picture
Hetland, Per
Oswald, Emily C.
Category of presentation: 
Scholarly papers

Over the last 20 years, citizen science (CS) has been understood as either democratized citizen science (Irwin, 1995) or contributory citizen science (Bonney, 1996). The present paper will argue for a third understanding—citizen science as participatory science communication (Metcalfe, Riedlinger, & Pisarski, 2008).

The present paper builds on four case studies done by the two collaborating authors: (1) interviews with 17 scientists at two natural history research museums concerning their own role in science communication, (2) a web-based survey about the use of the Norwegian Species Observations System (SO) with a total of 404 respondents, and (3) qualitative interviews with eight very active amateur naturalists using SO (they have submitted around 2.4% of the total volume of records) and four boundary spanners who served as liaisons between knowledge production and knowledge infrastructures, and (4) a crowd sourcing activity focusing on collaboration between a museum and a botanical society, between paid staff and volunteers, between “professionals” and “amateurs” recording historical material.

Activities of amateur naturalists are certainly not a recent phenomenon but have a long history in the natural sciences. Digital technology, however, has changed the scale and momentum of their contributions. The cases suggest that well-functioning boundary infrastructures play an important role in facilitating the activities of participatory science communication. SO was established in 2008, have now more than 12,000 contributors and about 20 million records. Boundary infrastructures like the SO success depends on its ability to reciprocate to its contributors, facilitate participatory science communication and lasting participation in knowledge production and knowledge politics.

The aim of the paper is to increase our understanding of participatory science communication with the following research questions:

  1. How do scientists at natural history research museums perceive their own communication styles in science communication, and how does this perception shape their practical actions in involving and/or engaging different publics in science?
  2. What identities do amateur naturalists and museum staff signal during the collaboration through their choices of discourse?
  3. How is knowledge articulated, created, and validated?
  4. How do knowledge infrastructures such as SO facilitate reciprocity?

Three main styles can be identified when scientists address different publics; dissemination activities involving general and pure publics; dialogues with partisan public; and dialogues with affected publics. The importance of dialogue is common to all three identified styles. At the same time, these scientists perceived such dialogues as being unseen by either institutions or society at large.

Scientists aim to establish a shared affinity identity with amateur naturalists; one related to common (if not shared) practices or experiences associated with their discipline.

The difference between professional and lay knowledge is primarily a question of different validation methods. While the scientists aim to provide something of scientific value to biodiversity, most amateur biodiversity mappers are more concerned about environmental citizenship.

Boundary infrastructure's success rests on its ability to accommodate many smaller projects within the larger one. While uploading information highlights the act of giving, downloading information stresses SO's ability to reciprocate in a relevant manner.