CitSciMonth: Rick Bonney

Throughout April, we will be sharing a series of blogs highlighting the people who power the Council's Citizen Science Program

We can’t highlight the people who power our program without mentioning Rick Bonney! Rick is a citizen science expert who has been advising the Council since the very beginning when the Citizen Science Program was just an idea. He’s currently a visiting scholar for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Before his recent retirement, he was the Director of Public Engagement at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

We got up with Rick to ask him some questions about his experiences with the Citizen Science Program.




An Interview with Rick

Rick, you have been instrumental in the development of the SAFMC’s Citizen Science program – in your opinion, why do you think it was important or valuable for the Council to focus on developing programmatic infrastructure first before developing individual projects?

"From the time that I first started talking with Council staff about using citizen science to gather data that could be used in fisheries management, I realized that the Council was thinking holistically about the area of the ocean under its jurisdiction. That is, the staff wanted data not just about grouper, or striped bass, but about as many species and environmental conditions as possible. That meant that several different data-collection projects would need to be developed, potentially with different audiences. That further meant that an overall infrastructure would need to be developed to guide the design and implementation of different projects, and also to ensure the integrity of each project, especially for projects that might be developed by partner groups.

Developing this infrastructure was a big undertaking, and to my knowledge, no other group has previously taken this approach, partly because it is a big undertaking. So, I hope that the Council program can serve as a model for other programs that wish to develop a “site-based” approach to citizen science. This is an area of citizen science that is thus-far underdeveloped.

I should also note that at the beginning, I was not totally on board with this approach, because I knew it was going to be a tremendous amount of work, and I thought that the Council might want to get its feet wet in citizen science with a pilot project or two before making such a big plunge into the field. But that was before I understood the commitment to citizen science that the Council planned to bring—led by visionary John Carmichael as well as some very forward-thinking members of the Council at the time, such as Ben Hartig, Mark Brown, and Michelle Duval."


You are also crucial in the development of the program’s evaluation plan – why do you think evaluation of the program is so important, especially with regards to using the data in science and management?

"You know, I got involved with program evaluation almost by accident, because evaluation was required for the grants I received for my work at Cornell University. At first I was afraid of evaluation, as many people are. But over time I learned that evaluation done well can help a program succeed, first, by creating program objectives that are achievable and measurable, and second, by showing where a program is succeeding in meeting those objectives but more importantly where it is going astray, so that course correction can be accomplished. My work with the Council in developing program goals and objectives has been really rewarding, largely because the citizen science operations committee and related groups are so committed to building a successful program.

Some of the objectives that we have established are focused on helping fishers collect data that are “fit for purpose”—that is, data that can be used in stock assessments and related endeavors. Over the next couple of years we’ll be able to test whether that is happening with the Council’s first projects.

Other objectives may be harder to measure—for instance, we are just starting to figure out how we can establish baseline measurements of trust, which we hope will improve over time as the program rolls out. And by trust, I mean trust among fishers, scientists, and managers that all are working as hard as they can toward the same goal, which is to ensure sustainable fisheries into the future."