Our community science programme gets a boost from AWS

Our ground-breaking partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) is set to turbo-charge our community science programme. But what does this really mean and what’s changing? We sat down with Lucy Robinson (Citizen Science Manager) to ask all the important questions.  

So what is community science, and what has the Museum been doing so far?

Our community science (sometimes called citizen science) projects invite members of the public to become part of a large, distributed research team that’s collaborating with Museum scientists on real science research. By recording observations of wildlife, analysing data or posing research questions, the public are working with us towards a better understanding of the natural world. Anyone can take part, no special skills or training is needed. It’s a fun, free way to enjoy nature while doing a little bit of good in the world. 

We’ve been running community science projects for many years now, and they’re a great way to get more involved in the work the Museum does. Our Big Seaweed Search and Fat Spider Fortnight are good examples of the type of activity we run and they have real-world impacts. Data from the Big Seaweed Search have fed into the development of an IUCN Red List of Threatened Species assessment of British seaweed species, supporting policy and conservation efforts.  

How does community science have real world impact?

Community science is a great way to involve people from all walks of life in the work we do at the Museum. When we start to take notice of the nature and wildlife around us, we’re more likely to want to take action to help protect it.  

The data are also incredibly valuable to our scientists, enabling us to build up a more detailed picture of the state of nature.  

It’s also a great way to engage young people in science. You can read more about our research into the learning benefits of community science for young people in our study here.  

Young people can be motivated by citizen science as a means to both contribute to and take action on environmental and societal issues they care about.

Jennifer Lynn Shirk from the Citizen Science Association

How will our partnership with AWS change the Museum’s community science?  What does it all mean? 

Together with our partner AWS, we’re building a data platform that will store, enrich, and compare urban biodiversity and environmental data. This platform, which we’re calling the Data Ecosystem, aims to give the Museum’s scientists and researchers the world over unprecedented access to a wealth of UK biodiversity and environmental data to support the discovery of solutions to the planetary emergency. 

The Data Ecosystem will transform the way we deliver our community science projects and the ways we can process, combine and analyse the data collected through these projects. 

It will connect a number of systems – the Museum’s website and webforms where community scientists will be able to enter their data; and our contact database which will enable us to build a sense of community amongst people who take part and better share project updates, results and new opportunities to collaborate with us on scientific research.  

The Data Ecosystem will allow us to process data and combine it with datasets from other research projects much more quickly and easily, which at a time of planetary emergency is critical to speed up the research process. The Data Ecosystem will also connect to data visualisation tools, allowing us to share and visualise data in more innovative and meaningful ways. 

That sounds exciting! What’s coming up next? 

Later in the spring we’re launching a new nationwide community science project, which is addressing research questions that we’ve developed in partnership with school students. We’re excited that this will be the first project to use our new Data Ecosystem, and we can’t wait to collaborate with people just like you, all over the country, to examine these research questions and gather data on the impacts of urban areas on wildlife.  There’ll be lots of fun ways to get involved that you can incorporate into your everyday life. So stay tuned and watch out for that launching in April 2023.  

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