Pathways Project: Developing a Citizen Science Program Model to Engage Underrepresented Minority Groups
This Pathways project from the Ocean Discovery Institute (ODI) seeks to develop and pilot a program model designed to fill an identified gap in citizen science research and practice literature: how to effectively engage and better understand how to foster participation among people from under-represented groups in citizen science research. The ODI model is designed around six principles: (1) leaders who are reflective of the community, (2) science that is locally relevant, (3) guided, as opposed to self-guided, experiences, (4) direct interactions with scientists, (5) progressively increasing responsibilities for participants who express interest, and (6) removing barriers to participation, such as transportation, language, family involvement and access to technology. The project addresses environmentally degraded, crime-ridden local canyons, a locally relevant STEM-related issue, and leverages the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project's (SCCWRP) regional citizen science effort focused on identifying the sources and pathways of trash through regional watersheds. The scientific research components of the project focus on four canyons in the area, employing sampling methods developed by SCCWRP. Youth who are part of other ODI programs and who have demonstrated leadership and interest in science, work with the project team to scaffold family and youth participation in project activities taking place during afterschool and weekend time. Based on continued participation in the project, community participants can become more involved in the project, starting as "new scientists" and moving through "returning scientists" to "expert scientists" roles. The project evaluation seeks to identify the role and importance of the components of the proposed model with respect to participation, retention, and learning by participants from groups under-represented in STEM. The dissemination products of this Pathways project include a white paper describing the model and lessons learned as well as presentations to community groups and education and citizen science practitioners. Based on insights from the iterative approach to the model during this Pathways study, a subsequent full-scale development project would seek to engage citizen science projects around the nation in adapting the model to increase participation of individuals from groups underrepresented in STEM, including building out ODI's citizen science programming.