Citizen science for policy development: the case of koala management in South Australia
Bianca Hollow a,b, Philip E.J. Roetman a,*, Michele Walter c, aChristopher B. Daniels
a Barbara Hardy Institute, University of South Australia, Australia
b School of Natural and Built Environments, University of South Australia, Australia
c Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources, South Australia, Australia
Citizen science involves the engagement of non-scientists in scientific research. Citizen science projects have been reported to be useful in policy development but there is little detail of how projects have contributed. The citizen science project, the Great Koala Count (GKC) collected ecological data about koalas and social data that have been used in the initial stages of the development of a South Australian Government koala management and conservation policy. After the GKC, we conducted an online survey of people who participated in the project and a control group. The survey focussed on opinions towards possible management options for koalas in South Australia. GKC participants were also asked about project-related changes in knowledge and opinions. We received 970 valid surveys and found some differences in opinions between GKC participants and the control group. Therefore, the GKC did not provide a representative sample of the entire South Australian population. However, we contend that the data from the citizen scientists are still valuable for policy development as it has been provided by people who are highly engaged in the topic (koala management in this case). It can be difficult to engage the public in the policy development process, and the citizen science project enabled the collection of a wide range of opinions, helping to discover and define relevant issues. Additionally, many people learnt about koalas and koala-related management issues, and some changed their opinions regarding koala management, also useful outcomes from the project in the policy development context. Our findings suggest that citizen science is useful for policy makers because projects provide the opportunity for dialogue with the people most interested in the topic of the project.