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Quality control in public participation assessments of water quality: the OPAL Water Survey

Rose, NL; Turner, SD; Goldsmith, B; Gosling, L; Davidson, TA; (2016) Quality control in public participation assessments of water quality: the OPAL Water Survey. BMC Ecology , 16 (Suppl 1) , Article 14. 10.1186/s12898-016-0063-2. Green open access

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BACKGROUND: Public participation in scientific data collection is a rapidly expanding field. In water quality surveys, the involvement of the public, usually as trained volunteers, generally includes the identification of aquatic invertebrates to a broad taxonomic level. However, quality assurance is often not addressed and remains a key concern for the acceptance of publicly-generated water quality data. The Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) Water Survey, launched in May 2010, aimed to encourage interest and participation in water science by developing a 'low-barrier-to-entry' water quality survey. During 2010, over 3000 participant-selected lakes and ponds were surveyed making this the largest public participation lake and pond survey undertaken to date in the UK. But the OPAL approach of using untrained volunteers and largely anonymous data submission exacerbates quality control concerns. A number of approaches were used in order to address data quality issues including: sensitivity analysis to determine differences due to operator, sampling effort and duration; direct comparisons of identification between participants and experienced scientists; the use of a self-assessment identification quiz; the use of multiple participant surveys to assess data variability at single sites over short periods of time; comparison of survey techniques with other measurement variables and with other metrics generally considered more accurate. These quality control approaches were then used to screen the OPAL Water Survey data to generate a more robust dataset. RESULTS: The OPAL Water Survey results provide a regional and national assessment of water quality as well as a first national picture of water clarity (as suspended solids concentrations). Less than 10 % of lakes and ponds surveyed were ‘poor’ quality while 26.8 % were in the highest water quality band. CONCLUSIONS: It is likely that there will always be a question mark over untrained volunteer generated data simply because quality assurance is uncertain, regardless of any post hoc data analyses. Quality control at all stages, from survey design, identification tests, data submission and interpretation can all increase confidence such that useful data can be generated by public participants.

Type: Article
Title: Quality control in public participation assessments of water quality: the OPAL Water Survey
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1186/s12898-016-0063-2
Publisher version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12898-016-0063-2
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2016 Rose et al. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0) (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Keywords: Citizen science, Open Air Laboratories, Quality assurance, Water quality, Water survey
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of SandHS > Dept of Geography
URI: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1505739
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