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Water: Monitoring & Assessment

Training Volunteer Monitors

Training should be an essential component of any volunteer stream monitoring project. When volunteers are properly trained in the goals of the volunteer project and its sampling and analytical methods, they:

  • Produce higher quality, more credible data.
  • Better understand their role in protecting water quality.
  • Are more motivated to continue monitoring.
  • Save program manager time and effort by becoming better monitors who require less supervision.
  • Feel more like part of a dedicated team.
Some of the key elements to consider in developing a training program for volunteers include the following:
  1. Plan ahead. When you are in the early stages of developing your training program, decide who will do the training, when training will occur, where it will be held, what equipment and handouts volunteers will receive, and what, in they end, they will learn. Plan on at least one initial training session at the start of the sampling season and a quality control session somewhat into the season (to see if volunteers are using the right methods, and to answer questions). If volunteers will be sampling many different chemical parameters or will be conducting intensive biological monitoring, you should probably schedule two initial training sessions-one to introduce volunteers to the program, and the other to cover sampling and analytical methods in detail. You might also want to plan a postseason session that encourages volunteers to air problems, exchange information, and make suggestions for the coming year. Make sure the program planning committee agrees to the training plan.
  2. Put it in writing. Once you've made these decisions, write them all down. Note the training specifics in the program's quality assurance project plan. It might also help to develop a "job description" for the volunteers that lists the tasks they will perform in the field and lab, and that identifies the obligations to which they will be held and the schedule they will follow. Hand this out at the first training session. Volunteers should leave the session knowing what is expected of them. If they decide not to join after all because the tasks are too onerous, it is better for you to find out after the first session than later in the sampling year.
  3. Be prepared. Nothing will discourage volunteers more than an illplanned, chaotic initial training session. The elements of a successful initial training session include:
    • Enthusiastic, knowledgeable trainers
    • Short presentations that encourage audience participation and don't strain attention spans
    • A low ratio of trainers to trainees
    • Presentations that include why the monitoring is needed, what the program hopes to accomplish, and what will be done with the data
    • An agenda that is followed (especially start and finish times)
    • Good acoustics, clear voices, and interesting audiovisual aids
    • Opportunities for all trainees to handle equipment, view demonstrations of sampling protocols, and practice sampling
    • Instruction on safety considerations
    • Refreshments and opportunities for trainees to meet one another, socialize, and have fun
    • Time for questions and answers.
  4. Conduct quality control checks. After your initial training session(s), schedule opportunities to "check up" on how your volunteers are performing. The purpose of these quality control checks is to ensure that all volunteers are monitoring using proper and consistent protocols, and to emphasize the importance of quality control measures. Some time into the sampling season, observe how volunteers are sampling, analyzing their samples, identifying macroinvertebrates, and recording their results. Either observe volunteers in small groups at their monitoring sites or bring them to a central location for an organized quality control session. If your program is involved in chemical monitoring, you might want all volunteers to analyze the same water sample using their own equipment, or hold a lab exercise in which volunteers read and record results from equipment and kits that have already been set up. For a biological monitoring program, have trainers or seasoned volunteers observe sampling methods in the field and provide preserved samples of macroinvertebrates for volunteers to identify. Reserve time to answer questions, talk about initial findings, and have some fun.
  5. Review the effectiveness of your training program. At the end of each training session, encourage volunteers to fill out a training evaluation form. This form should help you assess the effectiveness of individual trainers and their styles, the handouts and audiovisual aids, the general atmosphere of the training session, and what the volunteers liked most and least about the session. Use the results of the evaluation to revise training protocols as needed to best meet program and volunteer needs.


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