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2017 ANROSP Talk - Local Phenology Leader Course: Kicking it up a notch
Local Phenology Leaders: Creating successful natural resource volunteers through citizen science
Natural resource organizations seek to connect the public with meaningful real-world experiences, related to critically important topics like climate change. Citizen science is powerful when place-based observations are made via repeated visits to view the change in plant and animal life cycles (phenology) over time.
USA National Phenology Network’s (USA-NPN; usanpn.org) Nature’s Notebook (NN; naturesnotebook.org) Professional and Citizen Science Program teaches volunteers how to make careful, long-term observations of the natural world, in a static location, using rigorous scientific protocols. NN delivers real-world data which volunteers can use to educate others about seasonal change and begin discussion about the potential impacts of climate change upon our planet’s ecosystems.
Master Naturalist volunteers are invited to participate in the USA-NPN’s Local Phenology Leader (LPL) 50-hour Certification Program and invited to join the Local Phenology Leader Community of Practice- designed to connect volunteers, educators, and conservation practitioners with the public via citizen science. The innovative $50, 50-hour 10-week online course teaches program planning and community engagement and is appropriate for MN advanced training. It increases volunteer educator confidence in the field, leading to an accurate dataset and a vibrant local volunteer corps.
The course provides enough training to support skills for LPLs to design and lead a NN phenology monitoring program (Local Phenology Projects (LPPs). Often volunteers interested in citizen science have difficulty obtaining support from staff or scientists at popular natural areas or research stations given limitations on their time. This course empowers them to become community leaders in science in collaboration with community conservation leaders.
The LPL Certification has facilitated collaboration between site staff and volunteers in many locations. Course content includes how to use NN, modules for advanced training on phenology protocols, sustainable community program planning to involve underserved audiences, and evaluation and reporting for connecting phenology observation to concepts like climate change. The course also introduces volunteers to a wealth of resources available for summarizing and visualizing observational data to track phenology and participant engagement. Course deliverables include opportunities to develop creative, locally useable resources.
The NPN has thus far hosted four cohorts, certifying 54 individuals (~15 are certified Master Naturalists), representing 49 LPPs. An ongoing action-oriented evaluation process will be shared with the conference audience. Evaluation data demonstrates 100% of participants appreciate the opportunity to communicate with cohort members and staff and would recommend it to colleagues; 90% report having valuable, useable deliverables; and 80% report the course helping them view using a citizen science program differently. Other reported impacts include opportunities to connect to county conservationists and other new community audiences; benefits for improving job scope and performance; understanding/knowledge of how to use phenology in a climate change discussion; and a better understanding of effective methods for recruiting and managing volunteers. The end result: educators with a sense of place and belonging to the LPL Community, as well as strategies to reach across programmatic boundaries within and external to one’s organization.