Help Make Citizen Science Tools Accessible and Discoverable

SciStarter, a longtime collaborator of the Wilson Center, has always been a platform for the citizen science community to find projects to contribute to. But for many projects and would-be participants, there are significant challenges to finding and accessing the right tools for collecting and sharing scientific information.

To meet this need, SciStarter is expanding their platform to collect information on a range of tools that projects and volunteers can build, borrow, or buy.  The Wilson Center, a proud partner in this initiative, recently co-hosted a Workshop at the Arizona State University Citizen Science and Maker Summit to help design an initial taxonomy for the SciStarter Tools Database. Our next step towards finalizing this taxonomy is testing the initial list of fields by collecting information on a range of tools used by citizen science project coordinators and volunteers.

If there is a citizen science tool that you sponsor, fund, design, build, calibrate, distribute, or otherwise consider yourself an expert on, we need your help. Please add your tool to the beta version of the SciStarter Tools database by filling out this form (note: you will need a SciStarter user account to submit your information). The information you share will help us better understand how people articulate important information about citizen science tools before the database structure is finalized and populated with hundreds of tools from around the world.

tool

Photo: A kit containing the tools required to participate in a citizen science project measuring soil moisture. For more information on citizen science tool kits, check out this video

While the taxonomy included in the beta version of the SciStarter Tools database builds upon the contributions of our workshop participants, the workshop was a single step in a longer process of user-centered design.

  1.  In early 2016, SciStarter and Arizona State University interviewed 110 people about their citizen science tool needs. The core project team, which included SciStarter founder Darlene Cavalier, ASU Assistant Professor of Engineering Dr. Micah Lande, and students Brianne Fisher, David Sittenfeld, and Erica Prange, used lean launch methods to identify key “pain points” for the “customer segment” of citizen science volunteers and project organizers. Insights gleaned from this approach are documented here.
  2. Led by Erica Prange, the SciStarter team then surveyed 50 project owners about their tools. These responses were instrumental in building the initial database taxonomy.
  3. SciStarter, the Wilson Center, and Arizona State University held a workshop to test the use of key database fields through personas and use case to validate key hypotheses and identify new information to include.
  4. Based on this research, a beta version of the SciStarter Tools database will be tested by project coordinators and volunteers who enter information their tools here.
  5. Entries to the beta database will be tested and reviewed by an expert advisory panel. This step will help ensure, for example, manufacturer specifications for longevity, data quality, and other factors are accurate in a range of use conditions.

Thanks to a growing number of databases including SciStarter, the Federal Catalog, and CitSci.org, information about citizen science projects is now very easy to find. Information about tools- including the hardware cataloged by SciStarter, and also the software required to support data management and other key phases of the scientific research process- remains elusive. The SciStarter Tools database is one crucial step towards a research ecosystem where the public can access both opportunities for contributing to science, and the tools required to get research done.

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