Citizen Science Co-Development – Launch Workshop

On 19th October 2022, our Falmouth and Plymouth teams came together at the Lostwithiel Community Centre to start something beautiful: a new rock pool research project built from the ground up by the community! Project leader Dr Ben Holt tells the story...

My love for citizen science

Citizen science has been a passion of mine for nearly two decades, starting when I was a PhD student researching coral reef fish evolution. One of the chapters of my thesis used data collected by the citizen science organisation REEF. I was so impressed by the quality and quantity of the data collected, as well as the amazing dedication of the volunteers involved. I wrote a piece for the REEF website to explain to everyone how I had put their data to use.

Since then, I have become more and more involved on the ground with citizen science projects, to the extent that in 2018 I cofounded The Rock Pool Project, a brand-new citizen science organisation. This year our Blue Recovery programme (supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund) has allowed us to build strong communities of citizen scientists in Falmouth and Plymouth, and this co-development work will allow these teams to shape our research in 2023 and beyond.

Blue Recovery Citizen Science Co-Development

The video above, which I put together while recovering from COVID, gives a flavour of the general approach. I made use of the CitieS-Health Toolkit, which gives an excellent framework for allowing citizen science communities to build research projects together. The rationale behind this approach is that, by involving citizen scientists from the start, people will feel more ownership over projects, build projects in a manner that works for them and will act as project ambassadors. With our natural world, and specifically our local marine environment that we love so much, under increasing threat, the need for such projects is acute.

The Launch Workshop

Based at the geographically ‘neutral’ Lostwithiel we were lucky to kick off the project with representatives from both our Falmouth and Plymouth hubs. We also had a good mixture of experienced team members and people new to rock pooling through the Blue Recovery project.

Many people had an eventful journey to Lostwithiel and, once everyone had arrived, we had all sorts of fund and games getting the projector set up but in the end, we got there! Our first significant success for this project.

Prior to the session, I circulated a google form survey among the team to get a feel for people’s positions on why they would like to be involved and what sort of direction they would like the project to take.

Why do people like to go rock pooling?

Our team members explained that they have a variety of motivations for going rock pooling, with conservation and learning being particularlty important.

Interactive session

Throughout the evening we made use of Mentimeter, a sort of online powerpoint that allows everyone to contribute individually via their phones, with results being displayed live on screen.

Focus on conservation?

One of the first questions I asked related to conservation, and whether our work should have direct applications for conservation, as opposed to being purely ecological or evolutionary based research. As you can see below, people generally agreed the work should have a direct conservation application. I half expected the result to be stronger actually; maybe an early sign of the variety of viewpoints within the group.

This result was consistent with the results provided by google form survey circulated in advance, which showed an overall preference for conservation research, although some significant interest in ecological research:

Conservation vs Ecology

There was some confusion expressed regarding the difference between conservation research and ecological research. During the session, I tried to explain that conservation research must have some direct relevance towards to protection of wildlife from human impacts. Ecological research can focus purely on improving our scientific understanding of species and species communities ; considering how they interact with their environment and with each other. Ecological research often has implications for conservation (and vice versa) but does not have to.

Once we have identified the scientific question that we will try to answer, then somebody might ask ‘Why do we care about the answer to that question?’, the answer to that could be ‘to help protect rock pool wildlife’ (conservation) or to learn more about rock pool wildlife (ecology or evolution). It may sound like semantics but since it relates to exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it, it’s an important thing to clarify.

Comments from the team

The google form circulated in advance finished with an open-ended question asking respondents what they would like our work to focus on. Lots of really interesting responses. Again there is a general inclination towards conservation issues.

Responces from our team members to: “Please tell us what specific issue, or issues, you would like us to research together next year:”

I also put together a word cloud using these responses:

The impact of pollution and, in particular, water pollution seems important to at least a few people.

Getting down to specifics

Now we had a general feel for the kinds of things people were interested in and concerned about, we broke into subgroups to consider potential research topics that we could look at. At the end of this part of the session everyone was invited to post up to three suggestions via Mentimeter. The team came up with some brilliant stuff. It was a little unfortunate that we didn’t have time to go through them all on the night but that is the task that lies ahead of us now.

Click on image to expand

Next steps

For our last break out group session, we considered where we go next and four specific possibilites. After a group discussion, people were invited to agree or disagree with each of the four approaches:

There was general agreement for all four approaches but considerable variation between the approaches in how strongly the team felt.


It was generally agreed that we should consult with the community some more, although this agreement wasn’t 100%, probably reflecting a desire to crack on with things sooner rather than later.

Selecting most popular options

There was close to universal agreement that we should look to select a small number of topics and present them to the wider team. During discussions it was agreed to look to round the options down to three and then set up teams to look closely at each one. We will then meet online to make the final decision.

Getting feedback from the public

This turned out to be the most controversial suggestion, but it just about got the nod. We had some interesting discussions surrounding this. Facebook and Twitter polls that I set up in advance had not been successful in terms of numbers of responses, and we weren’t clear what was the best way forward. I’ll share this blog post via our channels. It was also suggested that we can get feedback during our Blue Recovery beach days in November.

Practical considerations

Bit of a no brainer this one and something that the sub-teams will need to look at and feedback on when they consider the final three options.


I’ve put together a timescale to finish the Identification stage of this co-development project:

  1. 1st NovemberResearch topic options available online for voting. This will include the option to add new topics.
  2. 11th NovemberTop three topics selected and sub teams created. Sub teams will be tasked with looking into:
    • Practical considerations
    • Existing knowledge base
    • Producing research question
  3. 25th NovemberSub teams share their results. Via a blog post on our website.
  4. 1st DecemberPublic Online Event. Final decision and completion of project stage 1!!


It’s important to keep the conversation going. If you were part of the team at the launch event, please let me know what you think of my blog post and if I’ve missed anything out.

If you are a member of the local community, an expert in one of the areas we are considering or just someone who isyou are interested in our work, we would love to hear your thoughts. Please comment on this blog post below or via our social media posts.

Get involved

We want to grow our community! If you would like to join in please click the button below to add your details via the google form.

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