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Community Science Connects Angelenos to the Nature In Their Neighborhoods

Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County

Non-profit organization

NHM works with underserved communities to reimagine their environments as vibrant spaces for play through inspiring programs that encourage everyone to explore the nature right outside their doors. Not only are these experiences empowering to the people participating, but when shared with NHM’s researchers, their observations become data points in studies that inform public policy about sustainable land use and turn everyday Angelenos into advocates for the green spaces in their communities.

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What does your organization do?

The Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM) is dedicated to inspiring wonder, discovery, and responsibility for our natural and cultural worlds.

Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

From the casual snail-spotter who has contributed only one observation to the all-stars who have posted over 14,000 photos, community scientists have enabled our researchers to document new species, add to Museum collections, and make important scientific discoveries. Each new story illustrates how community science has the potential to show all Angelenos, even those with no seeming interest in venturing outside, that exploring nature is a fun, easy, and enlightening endeavor.

At Leo Politi Elementary School, just two miles from downtown LA, we support Principal Brad Rumble in his efforts to connect students and their families with nature on campus. NHM staff visit the school to conduct wildlife surveys and to train teachers and students on how to use iNaturalist, camera traps, and insect collecting tools. Together, we’ve written blog posts, tested community science kits for local libraries, and created a bilingual local pollinator guide. The Museum even showcases a student’s stories about his neighborhood wildlife encounters permanently within our Nature Lab exhibit.

At just twelve years old, Reece Bernstein became a published scientist when his observation skills and obsession with geckos led to an incredible discovery. Reece had become well acquainted with LA’s reptiles and amphibians as he searched for them in the backyard, schoolyard, and on every family hike. So when Reece came upon a gecko that looked unlike any he’d seen before, he uploaded a photo to NHM’s Reptiles and Amphibians of Southern California (RASCals) project. Greg Pauly, NHM’s Associate Curator of Herpetology, confirmed this was an important scientific discovery—the first time anyone had found an established population of the species in LA—and worked with Reece and his dad to share the news with other scientists in a co-authored research paper.

Partnering with local non-profit, Heal the Bay, NHM hosted a bioblitz and cleanup event along Compton Creek. The event focused on finding, identifying, and documenting wildlife with a secondary goal of cleaning up the surrounding area. Over 60 participants and staff showed up to participate and removed over 470 lbs. of trash in the process.

Which of the play metrics will your submission impact?​

  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play
  • Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities
  • Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park

Will your proposal impact any other LA2050 goal categories?

  • LA is the best place to CONNECT

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South LA
  • Westside
  • South Bay
  • County of Los Angeles
  • LAUSD

How will your project make LA the best place to play?

NHM is challenging the popular misconception of nature as a far-away place, out of reach for those without the resources to get there. Through our network of community scientists, we’re spearheading a movement to reclaim “nature” for all. Community science is a uniquely effective way for NHM’s researchers, educators, and the general public to connect with each other using mobile app technology. The nature observations made by families, teachers, and students that are shared with NHM using the iNaturalist app provide our scientists with important wildlife data points from areas that are too vast and inaccessible to explore on their own. These hands-on learning experiences are inspiring thousands of Angelenos every year to connect to their neighborhoods with a new passion and perspective.

To ensure that people of all ages, backgrounds, and levels of science literacy can participate, NHM offers a wide variety of engagement strategies that respond to the needs of different communities. Designed and facilitated by a dedicated team of community science managers, these programs run continuously throughout the year. Support from LA2050 would increase our community science staffing and resources, enabling us to increase our outreach and impact, with the goal of doubling the number of people served annually.

With additional staff, NHM can activate more local parks and mobilize thousands of new community scientists every year. Partnering with LA County Parks & Recreation, we will train park staff and develop curriculum related to urban nature exploration for their annual ESTEAM camps. We can host more guided excursions, known as “bioblitzes,” that make nature more accessible in designated high-need neighborhoods across LA. We will add more Nature Days family programming at local libraries to spark new opportunities for intergenerational play. We will increase the number of monthly educator workshops that support hundreds of local teachers with professional development instruction on how to use community science in the classroom, and enhance the urban nature curriculum available to all teachers on our website.

In NHM’s Nature Lab and 3 ½ acre Nature Garden, we will introduce thousands more visitors to fascinating stories about local wildlife, while our new field guide, Wild LA, will provide readers with easy-to-use instructions on how to explore natural spaces in and around the city. At our annual Nature Fest and Bug Fair, we’ll invite visitors to engage in community science activities, while our Summer Nights in the Garden series will enable the local community to enjoy the space after hours and free of charge. All of the natural wonders that participants find during these outings and activities will be shared with the broader community on the LA Nature Map in our Nature Lab, in our “Nature in LA” blog and Naturalist quarterly magazine, on social media channels, and in academic papers authored by our scientists which inform public policy decisions.

In what stage of innovation is this project?

Expand existing program (expanding and continuing ongoing successful projects)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.

NHM’s institutional knowledge about community science has grown over the last seven years as researchers and educators worked with partners and the public to refine the program. With feedback from our vast network of community scientists, we will continue to improve our strategies and empower participants with the understanding that they can make a difference in promoting urban habitats in which all life can thrive. Our success will be measured both qualitatively and qualitatively.

Qualitative measurements include the increased levels of connection that community science participants will feel to the richness of the natural world, the enhanced neighborhood pride, and feelings of acceptance and inclusion found in NHM’s message that nature is everywhere and for everyone. With increased numbers of urban explorers mobilized throughout the city, our understanding of urban nature will grow exponentially. It is only through understanding that we can learn to better appreciate and protect it. The crowdsourced data that community scientists contribute enables city leaders and urban planners to make informed decisions about protecting LA’s natural spaces and ensuring that every community has sustainable places for outdoor play.

The quantitative impact of an LA2050 grant will be measured by tracking the numbers of community scientists enrolled, numbers of observations submitted through the iNaturalist app and tagged using #NatureinLA on social media, as well as program participation and attendance numbers both onsite at NHM and across LA County. This grant support will help make LA the best place to PLAY in the following ways:

(1) Increasing the number and quality of informal spaces for play by expanding our Community Science network by 3,000; training 70 more teachers in how to use the iNaturalist app; providing professional development in community science for 350 more teachers to bring back to their classrooms and schoolyards.

(2) Increasing the number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities by hosting more bioblitzes in parks and communities across LA County reaching 300 more participants; and hosting additional Nature Days at County Libraries serving 500 additional family members.

(3) Increasing the number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park by expanding community access to the Summer Nights in the Garden series to 4,000 more people, deepening engagement at Bug Fair for 1,000 people, and facilitating additional programming at Nature Fest for 1,000 people.

In total, support from LA2050 would enable NHM’s Community Science program to double its impact, connecting 10,000 more Angelenos to the nature in their neighborhoods.

In the near future, NHM will have even more effective ways for measuring the impacts of community science participation. Working with science practitioners and researchers from two natural history museums (NHMLA London and California Academy of Sciences), NHM is participating in LEARN CitSci, a 4-year, international research project which aims to better understand how youth learn science and develop Environmental Science Agency (ESA) through their participation in natural history museum citizen science programming. These findings will help science practitioners around the world design programs that can better educate, enable, and empower youth in science.

How can the LA2050 community and other stakeholders help your proposal succeed?

  • Access to LA2050 community
  • Host public events on the topic your organization’s issue area (e.g. access to capital, education reform, clean energy, etc.)
  • Communications support, including traditional media, social media, and LA2050 newsletter
  • Publicity/awareness
  • Strategy assistance and implementation

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