The National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON) and the National Geographic Society’s Education program are collaborating to fill the need for the development and testing of data analysis and visualization tools for use in citizen science programs. Many ecology-based citizen science programs engage participants in data collection. While that is an important part of engaging the public in the scientific process, it stops short of full understanding. There is a pressing need for tools that allow educators and individuals to go beyond data collection and be able to analyze and visualize data. Project BudBurst, NEON’s citizen science program, is part of the NGS FieldScope project – a multi-year, full-scale development project to create a set of publicly available tools to increase the impact of public participation in scientific research. Specifically, NGS FieldScope is developing online data visualization tools utilizing data collected by Project BudBurst in order to determine if citizen scientists and the informal education community can perform data analysis to answer relevant research questions such as: “What is the geographic pattern of the onset of phenological events?” “How has the timing of phenological events changed over the long term?” and “Can growing degree days be used to model phenological events?”
During the pilot period of the Project BudBurst and NGS FieldScope collaboration, detailed reviews of observation and data collection protocols were conducted to determine a suite of data analysis tools appropriate for use by citizen scientists to answer the research questions posed above. To facilitate the exploration of phenological event onset patterns, an online GIS tool was developed to provide an animated view of reported events over time, providing the user with an intuitive way of observing patterns such as green-up and brown-down. A time-series plotting tool was developed to explore long-term changes in the timing of phenological events. In order to evaluate the validity of plant growth models based on growing degree day calculations, simple analysis tools were created to guide citizen scientists through model creation and evaluation. Educational materials were created as part of an online course series for formal and informal educators offered through NEON’s Citizen Science Academy. In conclusion, the collaboration between Project BudBurst and NGS FieldScope resulted in the creation of a suite of prototype data visualization and analysis tools that proved effective for use by citizen scientists and the informal education communities. These tools will be improved and refined in subsequent years.