The BBC recently ran a lengthy report on an interesting and hugely beneficial public-inclusive science project called the Open Air Laboratories (Opal). This was a five-year effort (although they hope to continue) whose aim was to get the public “outdoors and involved in scientific research.” It worked, and involved over 500,000 people and 25,000 surveys.
Although data collection – concerning the surrounding local and area wildlife –was an objective to the project the main impetus was “just to get people out and enjoying the outdoors, ” said Dr. Linda Davies, Opal project director. This has proven to be a big hit with the public and one that is arguably necessary now more than ever. There seems to be a big disconnect between our lives and that of ‘life outside,’ namely nature and the environment; it’s as if many of us believe we’re renting a room from nature, like a hotel, and don’t actually live in the same house with ‘it.’
With Opal, the idea was to involve common people, not researchers, but get them involved in a way that was participatory and not exclusive to the scientific community. Unsurprisingly, with the British love of gardening, much new data has emerged about a variety of species in many people’s back yards. This brought home the important lesson of biodiversity and nature’s role in everything we do. Interconnectivity is perhaps a notion that has been hijacked by the increasingly popular IT and computer community; with this program, the public is able to get its hands dirty with the realities of life and see the constant interaction many species have with us. This is a great idea and one that many nations like the U.S. could hugely benefit from, particularly with its obesity problem. Get outside and see what is around you! Sage advice.