Moreton Bay Online (Moreton Bay Science) is part of a PhD project, and it is what we’d call a before-after-control-impact, or BACI “experiment”.
A simple statistical design
A BACI experiment takes measurements for two different groups, both before and after something changes. A simple diagram looks like this:
It’s a neat way to be fairly certain that any change in what’s measured is due to the intervention (treatment)made. Let’s imagine a silly experiment, where we start with a speculation that watering a shrub species with lemonade will increase its height. We would start with two sets of shrubs, all of them are the same species, age, live in the same environmental conditions, and have only been watered with water to date – everything about these two groups should be the same, except for the thing we want to test, which is the liquid they are watered with.
We would start by measuring the height of all the shrubs, and calculate an average (mean) for each group:
Maybe the mean height for each group is different, to start with – we note that too:
Then we start our lemonade-watering. We do this for long enough that we speculate it might or should make a difference, if it were going to. Now we take our after measurements. What have they told us? Here’s a few possibilities:
Ugh. The above is the one no scientist wants to see! Neither group changed in height, so our speculation (that lemonade will increase height) has not found support, from the evidence. Boooooooo.
What about this one?
Hmmm. Might have been good – but the control group (no lemonade) increased just as the impact group did (lemonade). There must be some other reason (variable) that both groups increased in height – something that affected both groups.
This is why we take note of the different means of each group, before the experiment. For example:
In this one, the group that’s been watered with lemonade is taller than the control group, and we might get excited about the change. BUT – it was taller even before the lemonade watering. So something else is at work here, and it’s affected both groups.
Here’s what will show our speculation (hypothesis) is well-founded:
In this case, we know that both groups started out the same height, and the only thing that changed was the lemonade. Yet the second (impact) group of shrubs is now much taller! This is where scientists start rejoicing. There is now evidence to support our hypothesis.
What does all this have to do with Moreton Bay?
Good question: the key part of this PhD is the hypothesis that social media – an essential part of our lives now, and new online tools, like interactive maps and podcasts, can do more than just entertain. When research finds negative effects of spending time online, we hear about it. But online communication is a neutral tool – so we would like to discover if we can build positive interactions between community members offline, by changing how we interact online. That’s why the Moreton Bay Online communities were set up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were set up, that’s the reason for this blog, and it’s the genesis for an upcoming podcast about Moreton Bay, too! This part of the research (Part 2) is the treatment.
But before that, we have to measure the existing community coastal capacity about the Moreton Bay environment, and that’s what our new survey hopes to discover – the before measurements. This is important, because we need to know if anything has changed through our treatment (the Moreton Bay Online social media accounts, and an upcoming podcast series).
We’re not just looking at knowledge – we’re also measuring the amount of trust people have in each other. This is less about finding out who is most and least trusted, and more about who is most and least trusting – for example, who are the people who don’t think marine park rangers are trustworthy? Are they young or old; do they live close to or far from the bay? The reason we want to find this information is so we might address the issue – perhaps by profiling a day in the life of a ranger, finding out what they do, how they came to be a ranger, what’s involved in their professional life.
Part 3, then, is to take our measurements again (before/after) and discover whether those people’s opinions have changed, and whether it’s because they were exposed to any of the Moreton Bay Online activities (control/impact).
Research doesn’t try to force results
We hope to see some change because of the Moreton Bay Online activities – because this will provide evidence that we can change the way stakeholders in the marine environment relate to each-other, and how much they learn from each other, by using these online tools. But if we can’t do that here, that also is a good result – because we learn that other methods might be better.
One thing’s for sure, though, getting to know the people of Moreton Bay, what matters to them, and how we feel about each other, can only be a good thing for the environment itself!