Projects on iNaturalist

Modified on Thu, 01 Feb 2024 at 05:02 PM


Introduction


On iNaturalist, a Project is a way to collate and group a set of observations. Each project has its own page, as well as a journal that can be used to communicate with project members. 


While projects can be useful and beneficial, it is not necessary to create or contribute to a project to use iNaturalist in a meaningful way. Making observations and identifying observations are by far the most important part of iNaturalist. If you are new to iNaturalist, making a project should be a secondary or tertiary goal.


Before you decide to create a project, we recommend you spend several weeks or months using iNaturalist and becoming an active member of the community by regularly adding IDs, comments, and observations - those are the core aspects of iNaturalist. You should be very familiar with iNaturalist before creating a project.

 

Remember that running a successful project requires engagement with project members, which takes time and energy as well as someone on your team who's willing to do it. This article in Nature goes over some of the necessities of successfully collecting data via community science.  

 

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering creating an ongoing project, or if you have one already. 


Should I Start a Project?


If your reason for wanting to start a project is to simply keep track of all observations recorded in a particular geographic area, you may find that using the filters on the Explore page is sufficient for your needs. For example, if you just want to keep track of all of the plants in Florida, you can just use the Observations page filtered by taxon: Plantae and place: Florida. There are many existing Places with defined boundaries in iNaturalist. If you need to add a new place (e.g. a local park), you must first have at least 50 verifiable observations.


If you want to make a public face for such a search, then a Collection project can be used in these cases, but it is not necessary to create one. Creating and maintaining a successful project requires consistent engagement and outreach - make sure you can devote the necessary time and energy to a project.


Reasons to create a project include:

  • To track and display a set of observations If you would like to have a central page that displays all the observations made within a location, or all observations made by a group (such as for a class, or for a group of friends on a trip), or perhaps all butterflies in your country, then a Collection project would be a good fit here. Any observation that fits the requirements of the project will be displayed on the project’s page.

  • To run a bioblitz: A bioblitz is an effort to record as many species as possible within a designated space and period of time. Use a Collection project to track observations for a bioblitz.

  • To communicate with project participants: If you want to actively recruit participants and communicate updates to them under the brand/logo of one or more organizations, a project is appropriate. Nearly all projects that are successful on iNaturalist are due to the dedicated effort of the project leader to cultivate a sense of community within iNaturalist and often also in person! This happens by adding identifications, comments, and journal posts within your project and by generally being engaged in the community to encourage more activity in your area of interest. If you create a project but aren’t active on iNaturalist yourself, your project probably won’t get much attention. Consider recruiting additional admins, managers, or curators to your project to help with identifications and community-building. Good examples of community-building and effective iNaturalist projects include Vermont Atlas of Life, Herps of Texas, Elmer Oliver Nature Park (Texas).

  • To view private coordinates: Filtering on the Explore page does not currently display observations with private or obscured coordinates. You can create a Traditional project or a Collection project and, depending on a user’s selection when joining the project, this can allow for project admins, managers, and curators to be able to see the true coordinates of obscured and private locations. This requires more attention to ask users to join the project and possibly change their privacy settings, as well as to check the accuracy of locations.
      

  • To collect additional data: You may want to collect data that is not typically documented in iNaturalist observations through the use of additional "Observation Fields." For example, the approximate area in square meters of an invasive plant infestation or the temperature and relative humidity during a calling frog survey. Required Observation Fields may be an annoyance to some users. Be sure to avoid Observation Fields that are redundant with data that iNaturalist already collects such as time or location. Currently, only Traditional projects can require Observation Fields.
      

  • To curate observations not searchable through the Observation page filters: Try to think outside the box of just place/taxa-type projects. For instance, the Amazing Aberrants project does a lot of good by bringing together a bunch of observations that wouldn’t otherwise be found via search filters.  


What Not to Do

  • Don’t create a project and just expect something to happen. You need to make some observations yourself, add some identifications, and get to know the community. The "if you build it, they will come" mentality doesn’t work. Making the project on iNaturalist is the easy part. Getting people to contribute is much more work and you’ll need to plan accordingly! See ideas for project outreach below.

  • Don’t try to develop a new portal or app that submits data to iNaturalist unless you have an enormous budget. It’s not something that can be done cheaply. @carrieseltzer is happy to talk about her experience doing this with the Great Nature Project to try and steer you away from that path.  


Creating a Project


To create a Project, go to the Start a Project page. You will the see large green buttons for starting a Collection or Umbrella project. If you meet the requirements to create a Traditional project, look for a link in the bottom paragraph of that page.



Project Types


As of January 2024, iNaturalist offers three types of projects: Collection, Umbrella, and Traditional. Here’s a description of each type and uses for which they are best suited:


Collection Projects


A Collection project is, in essence, a saved Explore search that looks snappy and offers useful outreach features, such as a banner and icon, a creator-determined URL, and a journal which can be used to communicate with those who are following the project. 


When creating a Collection project, you will choose a set of requirements for the project, such as taxa, place(s), users, dates, and quality grade. Every time the project’s page is loaded, iNaturalist will perform a quick search and display all observations that match the project’s requirements. It is an easy way to display a set of observations, such as for a class project, a park, or a bioblitz without making participants take the extra step of manually adding their observations to a project.


For example, if I wanted to make a project that showed all the bird observations in Alameda County, California for the year 2023, I would select Aves for taxa, Alameda County for place, and choose January 1st, 2023 and December 31st, 2023 for the date range.




When the project page is loaded, all bird observations made in the county during 2023 will appear. No one needs to manually add their observations to the project, they just need to make observations that fit the requirements.


Things to Keep in Mind about Collection Projects


  • Observations are never "in" a collection project; they either meet the project’s requirements and are displayed when the project page is loaded, or they don’t. You cannot manually add or remove individual observations from a collection project. However, note that you can always edit the project to tweak its settings. Because a Collection project is a saved Explore search, there is no way for you to exclude your observations from appearing on a Collection project’s page.

  • To see which of your observations qualify for a collection project, click on the "View Yours" button on the project’s page. If an observation meets the requirements of a project which the observer has joined, you will see a "badge" on the observation's page. Note that it can take a few minutes for new observations to be displayed on a collection project’s page, so be patient when uploading.

  • An observation appearing in a Collection project does not necessarily imply that the observer supports, endorses, or is even aware of the project.

  • Because an observation could potentially qualify for hundreds or thousands of Collection projects, a Collection project's badge will only appear on an observation's page if the observer has joined the project.


Collection Projects and Trust


In February, 2021 it became possible for collection project admins to turn on Trust for their project via the project’s edit page. This gives members of the project the option to allow the project’s admins access to the true coordinates of observations in the project that have a taxon geoprivacy setting of obscured and private.


Please carefully read the explanatory text for Trust on the project’s edit page before turning on “trust” for your project and make sure all project requirements are set correctly. If you change any project requirements, project members will be notified of the change and you will not be able to access any hidden coordinates for one week.

Note that Trust does not carry over if you convert a traditional project to a collection project.


Traditional Projects


Before April of 2018, this was the only type of project available on iNaturalist. Traditional projects have a few more features than collection projects do, such as the ability to use Observation Fields and Taxa Lists. And Traditional projects are not limited to search filters like collection projects are, meaning they can be used for more “outside the box” types of projects, such as Bee and Wasp Hotels or Bird Collision data - repositories for observations that cannot be automatically filtered via search.


However, observations must be manually added to a Traditional project, either during the upload stage or after the observation has been shared to iNaturalist. A user must also join a Traditional project in order to add their observations to it. In general, all of this means more outreach work for the project’s curators and admins.


To create a Traditional project, click on the link in the last paragraph of the new projects page



You must make at least 50 verifiable observations before you can create a new traditional project. Here's our reasoning for this requirement. 

 

Umbrella Projects


If you want to collate, compare, or promote a set of existing projects, then an Umbrella project is what you should use. For example the 2023 City Nature Challenge, which collated hundreds of Collection projects, made for a great landing page where anyone could compare and contrast each city’s observations. Both Collection and Traditional projects can be used in an Umbrella project, and up to 500 projects can be collated by an Umbrella project. Umbrella projects can only have one level of subprojects.


Best Practices for Managing Projects

  • Clearly communicate the rationale of the project within the community (e.g. confirming historic records, adding new species to the list).
      

  • Be willing to put in the work to curate the data and community. A little passion goes a long way.
      

  • Recruit additional admins, managers or curators to your project to help with identifications and community-building. Admins can be added on the Edit Project page for a Collection or Umbrella project. For a Traditional project, you can click on "Members" to make someone a manager or curator.
      

  • Run contests with modest rewards or organize meet ups, depending on the scale of your project. Themes like the "observation of the month" (e.g. Vermont Atlas of Life) or year-long challenges (e.g. Herps of Texas) encourage quality observations, interaction and friendly competition among project members. Please do not offer valuable prizes (e.g. cash, trips, or expensive equipment) for the most observations, species, or identifications as it can create incentives for lesser quality, careless, or false contributions.
      

  • Acknowledge community members for their findings, however significant or insignificant.
      

  • If possible, consolidate historic records and keep track of the progress of the project in confirming those records. It is a powerful tool for grounding objective statements about the accomplishments being made by participants in your project.  


Ideas for Project Outreach

  • Use other forms of social media and virtual events to extend the reach and actively recruit and orient new participants.

  • Track the project stats and communicate them through social and traditional media, to motivate participation. e.g. "To date the Galiano Community has documented 58% of the algae, bryophytes, and vascular plant species reported for Galiano Island, and added >200 new species to the list"; e.g. "13-yo community member Marlin Stewart added Claytonia exigua, new to the list of species known for Galiano Island, BC."

  • Promote project visibility in the community: signs, newspaper articles, presentation displays at community events, etc.
      

  • Organize events: community inventories of local parks, bioblitzes, pressing workshops, etc., etc.; don't just appeal to the scientist inside everyone; appeal to the artist, too.
      

  • Network with relevant conservation groups, regional authorities and experts in the local and global community to confirm species IDs.
      

  • Collect specimens where necessary (and legal) to improve rigor of the project; add collection numbers to observations and keep track using traditional methods, accessioning specimens in a formally annotated collection ledger; contributing specimens submitted by community members to local herbaria (with their name on them) can also be a way of gaining public support, by formally acknowledging and validating their contributions.
      

  • Work with parents and educators to get youth involved. This kind of news can really galvanize support for a community citizen science project.  





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