Citizen science programs can suffer from perceptions of poor data quality, which can impede incidences of data uptake. Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch was established in 1995 as part of a national program and represents a typical citizen science program that is overcoming these issues through a ‘data-first’ approach.
In 2013 Waterwatch lost its core funding and was forced to review its purpose, methods and processes. It was believed at the time that Waterwatch data suffered from a lack of confidence from potential users due to a range of real and perceived issues. Thus, the main focus of its review was to increase confidence and uptake of the Waterwatch data by researchers and policy makers in order to help secure funding.
The review included an independent analysis of Waterwatch data from the University of Canberra, an overhaul of the quality control processes, a consolidation of Waterwatch data management systems, plus a standardisation of equipment, instruction manual and training processes. The annual Waterwatch catchment health report card was updated to present results at a finer spatial scale and providing a high-profile communication tool to the funding agencies and community.
The ‘data-first’ approach has enabled Waterwatch to better partition and manage the key areas of the program. Shifting to a more contributory structure, whilst recognising the positive elements that come with community ownership, has supported a shift in focus to be more strategic which has enabled improvements in site placement and data quality control. This has resulted in better data uptake and this in turn has encouraged retention rates for volunteers who can see the data they collect being put to good use.
Waterwatch now receives ongoing funding from the ACT Government and their data features in the local Water Strategy, three government monitoring programs as well as the ACT State of Environment report 2019.