What is Citizen Science and Why is it so Important?
Citizen Science is a participatory approach to environmental research where participants learn about local green spaces by contributing collected scientific data to real studies. Typically organized or managed by professional scientists, the collection of crowdsourced data sets are utilized to both gain a better understanding of the world around us, and answer practical and pressing questions.
EcoSpark has been an Ontario leader in citizen science since its founding in 1996. For example, through working with over 80,000 South Ontario residents in over 20 watersheds, EcoSpark has contributed 10.85% of the data in the Ontario Benthos Biomonitoring Network through contributing over 145 different sites among other projects.
EcoSpark, like many other non-governmental organizations, were formed during mid-1990s. Spearheaded by a platform of deregulation branded as the “Common Sense Revolution”, Mike Harris and the Progressive Conservative Party won the 1995 Ontario election with a 44.8% majority. With an ambitious promise to assist Ontario in coming out of a long recession, the party streamlined the government with unprecedented budget cuts to several critical programs-- including environmental regulation and monitoring.
These severe cutbacks in the Ontario Ministry of Environment impeded the government’s ability to effectively monitor environmental change. However, at the same time, it was recognized that there was potential for citizens to undertake a role in monitoring and decision-making. This realization led to the founding of EcoSpark, which was formed as the Citizens' Environment Watch (CEW). Led by prominent scientists including Dr. Ursula Franklin, Dr. Beth Savan and Dr. Ian Brindle, the CEW was designed to supplement environmental monitoring carried out by the government through educating and empowering citizens in the process of quality data collection.
Over 20 years later, citizen science has never been more important. With unprecedented change occurring in our ecosystems, compounded by the recent reorganization of government resulting in cuts to climate change programs and funding like the Green Ontario Fund, quality data collection has become even more critical to understanding the effects and implications of these rapid environmental changes.
EcoSpark continues to fill governmental gaps in environmental monitoring through our Nature Academy programs, which focus on building capacity in community members to take on citizen science initiatives. EcoSpark recently released the Park Watch Guide, which contains information, tips, examples and resources to help anyone either participate in, or lead their own citizen science project. To learn more about how you can get involved and make an impact, check out Park Watch: http://www.ecospark.ca/park-watch
This project would not be possible without the generous financial support from TD Friends of the Environment Foundation and our partnership with Park People who assisted in the development of Park Watch.
Brandon contributed this blog as a Communications Assistant Intern at EcoSpark. He is passionate about environmental education and youth engagement in policy issues. During the school year, he attends the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania where he is completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics, with intended concentrations in Marketing and Environmental Policy & Management.