Quality is a Verb

Quality is a Verb: The operationalization of data quality in a citizen science community

S. Andrew Sheppard, Loren Terveen
Wikisym '11

This paper describes a preliminary ethnographic study of the quality assurance practices of a community-based monitoring program based in the basin of the Red River of the North. Contrary to expectations, the rigorous QA practices appear to enhance, rather than hinder, the educational goals of the program. However, the research focused primarily on active participants, so it would be useful in future work to interview individuals that dropped out.

Note: To be clear, "quality" is not really a verb - it's a noun or an adjective depending on context. The title of this paper is a play on words, intended to reflect the idea that quality requires action and is not a static attribute.


Citizen science is becoming more valuable as a potential source of environmental data. Involving citizens in data collection has the added educational benefits of increased scientific awareness and local ownership of environmental concerns. However, a common concern among domain experts is the presumed lower quality of data submitted by volunteers. In this paper, we explore data quality assurance practices in River Watch, a community-based monitoring program in the Red River basin. We investigate how the participants in River Watch understand and prioritize data quality concerns. We found that data quality in River Watch is primarily maintained through universal adherence to standard operating procedures, but there remain areas where technological intervention may help. We also found that rigorous data quality assurance practices appear to enhance rather than hinder the educational goals of the program. We draw implications for the design of quality assurance mechanisms for River Watch and other citizen science projects.

Quality is a Verb: The operationalization of data quality in a citizen science community