Volunteer Macroinvertebrate Monitoring: Tensions Among Group Goals, Data Quality, and Outcomes

Abstract

Volunteer monitoring of natural resources is promoted for its ability to increase public awareness, to provide valuable knowledge, and to encourage policy change that promotes ecosystem health. We used the case of volunteer macroinvertebrate monitoring (VMM) in streams to investigate whether the quality of data collected is correlated with data use and organizers’ perception of whether they have achieved these outcomes. We examined the relation between site and group characteristics, data quality, data use, and perceived outcomes (education, social capital, and policy change). We found that group size and the degree to which citizen groups perform tasks on their own (rather than aided by professionals) positively correlated with the quality of data collected. Group size and number of years monitoring positively influenced whether a group used their data. While one might expect that groups committed to collecting good-quality data would be more likely to use it, there was no relation between data quality and data use, and no relation between data quality and perceived outcomes. More data use was, however, correlated with a group’s feeling of connection to a network of engaged citizens and professionals. While VMM may hold promise for bringing citizens and scientists together to work on joint conservation agendas, our data illustrate that data quality does not correlate with a volunteer group’s desire to use their data to promote regulatory change. Therefore, we encourage scientists and citizens alike to recognize this potential disconnect and strive to be explicit about the role of data in conservation efforts.

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Acknowledgments

We thank all the volunteers and volunteer organizers who gave their time, both to complete the survey and to be interviewed. At the University of Minnesota we appreciate the financial support of the Conservation Biology Program, the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife and Conservation Biology and the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program. We are grateful for the efforts of undergraduate researcher Katherine Phillips and the thoughtful reviews of professionals in the field and Ph.D. committee members David Fulton, Bruce Vondracek, and Leonard Ferrington.

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Correspondence to Julia Frost Nerbonne.

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Nerbonne, J.F., Nelson, K.C. Volunteer Macroinvertebrate Monitoring: Tensions Among Group Goals, Data Quality, and Outcomes. Environmental Management 42, 470–479 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00267-008-9103-9

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Keywords

  • Volunteer monitoring
  • Citizen science
  • Macroinvertebrate monitoring
  • Collaborative conservation
  • Data quality
  • Resource mobilization theory