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Government, policy & community

Citizen science for policy development: the case of koala management in South Australia

Hollow, B, Roetman, PEJ, Walter, M, & Daniels, CB 2015, Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 47, pp. 126-136.

The authors of this paper discuss how data gathered from citizen science projects may contribute to policy development, using the South Australian ‘Great Koala Count’ as a case study. They report that data gathered from citizen science projects may not always be adequate for informing policy development as the opinions of participants may not necessarily reflect those of the wider community.  However, the information collected from these projects may contribute greatly to the early stages of policy development such as defining the issues, measuring public opinion and educating the public about the issues.

  Citizen science has become an important way to gather information in the field of conservation science.  The Great Koala Count was a citizen science project conducted in South Australia, in which participants recorded koala sightings with the aim of informing koala conservation policy.  Here, the authors investigated how responses to and opinions about koala management strategies differed between participants of the project and the greater public (non-participants). They found that responses from project participants were not representative of the wider community as significant differences were found between the groups in terms of support for four of six general management priorities, two of four road-related management priorities, and three of four particular management actions.  As the general public were not given any context on the issues surrounding local koala populations, while citizen science participants were generally more educated about the status of koalas in the region, the authors attributed the differences in responses to the respondents’ education levels and their mindfulness of conservation agendas. Despite not capturing the views of the community at-large, the ‘Great Koala Count’ project was useful in that it generated information that would allow policy makers to define conservation issues and measure public opinion, while at the same time deepening the participants’ knowledge of koalas and koala management through their engagement in the project.

  While this study described how citizen science may be useful in the discovery, measurement and education stages of policy development, further research is required to assess how it may be useful in the later stages of persuasion and legitimisation.   Furthermore, the authors suggest additional research into methods for increasing community engagement in citizen science projects in order to increase the benefits that these projects may generate.

 

Summarised by Cherie Chan

 

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