26 July 2021

Community Science as a Method of #SciComm and #SciPol

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Lauren Haygood

Heading to test water in the wetland at Oxley Nature Center. Credit: Lauren Haygood

Are you interested in breaking down jargon in your scientific field to be more inclusive of others?  I found a community-oriented science project did just that.  After receiving messages and questions about the state of water systems in Oklahoma during late spring/early summer of 2020, I knew there was an interest within my community to understand water quality.  I found that many people associated water quality to be either ‘good’ or ‘bad’, and primarily refer to bacteria.  I realized water quality can be a confusing topic to people, as it is dependent on the intended use (recreation, supporting aquatic life, and/or drinking water), and even though bacteria is one component of water quality, there are other components, such as pH, dissolved oxygen, salinity, metals, pesticides, turbidity, and more.

This inspired me to start a community-science project focusing on water quality, to break down the current jargon barriers and empower the community to get more involved in water quality and policy action.

This project involved short on-site field session where we would do on-site sample collection and analysis.  This would be followed by a discussion of what the results meant in terms of EPA criteria.  The parameters tested for were driven by the interests of the community, so the focus was on physiochemical parameters and metals.  The project included a water quality test kit and handouts, with information on water quality and engaging with legislators.

The Arkansas River, which is one river we’ve been monitoring. Credit: Lauren Haygood

The project grew rapidly, as not only were people testing water in their free time, but a few teachers incorporated the project into their classrooms, including having their students write to legislators about their gathered data.   When the 2021 Oklahoma legislative session started, there were more community members ready and willing to take-action concerning environment and water-related legislation.  In summary, over 500 people have been involved in the project, and we’ve only covered a few water systems in the eastern portion of the state.

Through this project, I learned interests of the community in research and policy included water sustainability, aquatic life, safe drinking water, water management practices, and instream flow. I have learned that meeting the community where they are at and walking with them builds trust and is effective in both science communication and science policy.

Currently, I am drafting a summary of achievements from this project so far to share with the community and am planning for National Water Quality Month in August.

-Lauren Haygood is a PhD student at Oklahoma State University (OSU) and AGU Voices for Science Advocate. Find her on Twitter.