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Applications For 2021 Grass-roots Science Projects Are Now Open

Where are the kākā and are they safe? Why do some rat traps catch more rats than others? How can communities work together to improve their local stream health?

The funding round for the 2021 Otago Participatory Science Platform (PSP) is now open. All schools, community groups, marae and rūnaka, that have community questions like those above, or on other different research needs, are encouraged to apply.

“Otago PSP is all about grass-roots driven research, so that the questions being answered are ones that the community really cares about,” says Dr. Claire Concannon, the Otago PSP coordinator.

“Say you are concerned about how your region will be affected by climate change, or want to investigate mātauraka māori around mahika kai. We can help pair an interested community group such as a school, volunteer group or rūnaka with a scientist or science team, and together they can tackle the challenge.”

Groups can apply for up to $20,000 to help answer their research question. Any project must address a research question that matters to the local public; researchers and the community should work side-by-side to develop and run the project; and the project should actively share their research results as widely as possible. Either the community group, or their science partners, can apply for the funding.

Vision 2020, a collaboration between Tahuna Intermediate School and the School of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic, is one such project. Working together, school students and scientists have developed a peer vision screening tool for use in classrooms. By testing it in their own classrooms, students worked out who in their class had vision difficulties and didn’t know about it, as well as finding classmates with glasses who were reluctant to wear them. Students’ with vision difficulties were then directed to visit an optometrist. Project coordinator Professor Mary Butler, says, “Vision 2020 is a community-led science project that has been so successful we could potentially use the peer vision screening tool around NewZealand to support or supplement free nationwide testing provided by the Ministry of Health. Ideally we want to make sure that no child who needs glasses goes without.”

Another project, new to Otago PSP this year, is Soil Your Undies Otago. The research – investigating soil health using earthworms, dung beetles and cotton digestion (in the shape of underpants) as biological health indicators, has captured the imagination of the East and North Otago local schools and community groups involved. “This project is the first of it’s kind in New Zealand,” says Bridget McNally, North Otago Sustainable Land Management engagement officer. “Kids love the idea of burying underwear in the earth for two months before digging it up to see what’s happened to it – the more broken down and threadbare it is the better the health of the soil. This will allow us to build a local map of our soils.”

The Otago PSP is managed by Otago Science Into Action – a collaborative partnership involving the Otago Museum, University of Otago, Otago Polytechnic, Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and the NZ International Science Festival – with funding provided by the Minsitry for Business, Innovation & Employment under the Curious Minds initiative to engage more New Zealanders in science.

Since starting in 2015 the Otago PSP has funded 44 full projects and 22 seed projects across the Otago region.

This round of funding opens 23 November 2020 and closes on 10 March 2021.

People are also encouraged to get in touch at any time throughout the year, even if they only have a preliminary idea, as they can access Seed Funding (of up to $2000) to help develop this idea into a ‘project ready’ plan.

Interested groups should visit to view and download the application pack OR email Dr Claire Concannon, Otago PSP coordinator on for more information.

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