Integrating geospatial and cognitive modeling tools to improve collaborative citizen science and decision making
Although model-based reasoning is often at the center of scientific investigation and environmental decision-making, the process of constructing and empirically validating scientific models is not often made explicit to citizen scientists. This lack of transparency and participation has many negative implications. To address these issues, we explored cognitive mapping software (mentalmodeler.org), embedded within a citizen science portal (collaborativescience.org, based on citsci.org) that allows scientists, environmental managers and citizen scientists to collaboratively develop semi-quantitative conceptual models of environmental problems to help structure citizen science projects. We then explored a “proof-of-concept” integrating a free web-mapping geoportal (databasin.org) to allow a complementary means to reach the ends of improved science, communication, and decision-making. We created a group workspace in Data Basin for eighth grade science honors students accustomed to working in citizen science. We compiled relevant spatial layers and made shared maps to evaluate if that process led to hypothesis generation and new inquiries. This combination will allow for new collaborations using field data, their models, and spatial tools and data from Data Basin. We will collect qualitative data on users’ inquiry and the effect of these resources on their understanding of complex systems.
The use of a free geospatial web platform that allows the mapped overlay of a user-defined set of data layers provides significant value to citizen science. Over 12,000 of these datalayers already exist in the pilot platform, and others can be created or uploaded by users. Specifically, use of the platform has shown to help users develop new hypotheses and additional nuances to their conceptual models of the environmental problems in question. This occurred via discovery of spatial data they did not already know about, including predictions based on species range changes because of climate change, and also via the overlay and spatial exploration of various current species range-maps. It appears that it also contributes to a more refined “sense of place” which has strong stewardship implications, but this will need to be evaluated further. The integration of databasin.org with collaborativescience.org appears to have a synergy greater than the summed benefits of each in isolation. Future research will examine the best cognitive and technical approaches to tight integration of all these tools in a single web platform.