Northern ecosystems are rapidly changing; so too are the learning and information needs of Arctic and sub-Arctic communities who depend on these ecosystems for wild harvested foods. Public Participation in Scientific Research (PPSR) presents a possible method to increase flow of scientific and local knowledge, enhance STEM-based problem solving skills, and co-create new knowledge about phenology at local and regional or larger scales. However, there remain some key challenges that the field of PPSR research must address to achieve this goal. The proposed research will make substantial contributions to two of these issues by: 1) advancing theory on the interactions between PPSR and resilience in social-ecological systems, and 2) advancing our understanding of strategies to increase the engagement of youth and adults historically underrepresented in STEM, including Alaska Native and indigenous youth and their families who play an essential role in the sustainability of environmental monitoring in the high latitudes and rural locations throughout the globe. In particular, our project results will assist practitioners in choosing and investing in design elements of PPSR projects to better navigate the trade-offs between large-scale scientific outcomes and local cultural relevance. The data collected across the citizen science network will also advance scientific knowledge on the effects of phenological changes on berry availability to people and other animals. The Arctic Harvest research goals are to 1) critically examine the relationship between PPSR learning outcomes in informal science environments and attributes of social-ecological resilience and 2) assess the impact of two program design elements (level of support and interaction with mentors and scientists, and an innovative story-based delivery method) on the engagement of underserved audiences. In partnership with afterschool clubs in urban and rural Alaska, we will assess the impact of participation in Winterberry, a new PPSR project that investigates the effect of changes in the timing of the seasons on subsistence berry resources. We propose to investigate individual and community-level learning outcomes expected to influence the ability for communities to adapt to climate change impacts, including attributes of engagement, higher-order thinking skills, and their influence on the level of civic action and interest in berry resource stewardship by the youth groups. Using both quantitative and qualitative approaches, we compare these outcomes with the same citizen science program delivered through two alternate methods: 1) a highly supported delivery method with increased in-person interaction with program mentors and scientists, and 2) an innovative method that weaves in storytelling based on elder experiences, youth observations, and citizen science data at all stages of the program learning cycle. This project is funded by the Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL) program, which seeks to advance new approaches to, and evidence-based understanding of, the design and development of STEM learning in informal environments. This includes providing multiple pathways for broadening access to and engagement in STEM learning experiences, advancing innovative research on and assessment of STEM learning in informal environments, and developing understandings of deeper learning by participants. The project also has support from the Office of Polar Programs.
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