Have you ever managed a group of volunteers for some job-related effort—perhaps collecting water quality samples or applying labels to local storm drains? It can be rewarding and incredibly frustrating at the same time. Volunteers come in all ages, from elementary school groups to college students to senior citizens, and with a wide range of experience, from graduate-level training to exactly no experience. Frankly, some are more committed to the task than others. But there are a few ways to make the experience easier and more satisfying for everyone.
The article, Meters, Metrics, and People Power, in this issue includes several examples of volunteers working with stormwater monitoring programs. The type of equipment available for them to use is a big factor in how well things go. In general, simple, robust tools—which are abundant on the market these days—are essential, and as some of the people interviewed point out, it often helps to have a multitasker. “In other programs, we have had to use several pieces of equipment to monitor the various parameters,” notes Alev Bilginsoy, who leads groups of volunteers with a watershed council in California. The sheer variety of instruments, the time needed to learn how to use each one, and even the inconvenience of carrying several pieces of hardware from place to place made the whole process less effi cient, she says, but a multiparameter sonde has helped. Now, instead of spending so much time on logistics, she says, “we can have the conversation about what dissolved oxygen means and what the conductivity readings mean.”
A professor of environmental studies who works with groups of college students on monitoring projects adds that autonomous operation is a plus. “Here’s the nice thing about loggers: they sit out there collecting data all day long,” she says. “Students tend to graduate before the projects get finished.”
Sometimes the critical factor is matching the right person or group to the right project—one that lets them accomplish something meaningful but isn’t too big or complex to handle with the time and resources that they’re able to dedicate to it. An article coming up in our March/April issue features an Adopt-A-Channel program that’s using online tools to convey information. Just as companies or community groups can “adopt” and clean up a section of highway, here, they can claim a stretch of a creek or flood channel. A GIS-based application shows them maps, text, photos, and video of what they might be getting themselves into—how much trash and graffi ti there actually is, what equipment they will need, and how much of the work has already been done. “They can visually see what would be involved in it,” says the program’s manager. “We’ve characterized what the problems are and we can steer them to sites that fit their interest and capabilities.”
What has your experience been with volunteer groups? Do you have any advice for making things go more smoothly? Share your stories by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment on our website.