Collecting continental scale plant phenology data: Lessons learned from NEON's Project Budburst
Citizen Science, broadly defined as engaging non-experts in the scientific process, has been experiencing significant growth and interest from both the education and scientific communities. Individuals from all walks of life are collecting and submitting data on a diversity of ecological topics including phenology and abundance. When tens of thousands of people are involved, dealing with the resultant data (from ingest, to storage, to accessibility) can be complex. Developing a data management plan is critical to success. This is especially important for citizen science programs that are designed to collect data over long periods of time. NEON’s Project BudBurst was developed to collect and share long term data on plant phenology. As part of NEON, it is intended to be in existence for a minimum of 30 years. It is likely that project management will change over time. It is also expected that technologies (including data storage, display, and access) will also change over time. In addition, given ongoing challenges in all citizen science projects regarding participant recruitment and retention, what approaches will support consistent data collection as participants change over time? How will geographic coverage remain and even extend? This presentation will share approaches and results learned from Project BudBurst.
In its first two years, Project BudBurst operated as a pilot to determine interest and utility of a plant phenology citizen science program. There was a great deal of interest, however, very limited resources were available and little attention was given to long term data concerns or long term participant support. For example, in the first year, participant registration was not required, which proved to be a significant oversight. This was corrected in subsequent years. Geographic coverage was limited initially partly due to the choice of plants and timing of data collection. Over time, additional plant species were added and the field seasons were based on a calendar year. Another area that needed changes was the protocol itself. As new plant groups were added, new phenophases had to be identified and added to the database. All of these changes required significant documentation to make the data useful to future users. This presentation will provide detail on challenges and how they were addressed to make Project BudBurst a viable and reliable long-term, continental-scale plant phenology citizen science program.