Engaging crowds: citizen research and heritage data at scale

Lead Research Organisation: The National Archives
Department Name: Research and Academic Engagement

Abstract

Public participation in heritage research has the potential to engage new audiences, to enlist the crowd in analysing and generating data at scale, and to invite new perspectives on our national collections. Key to releasing this potential is effective engagement of diverse audiences, and the development of workflows for the creation and re-use of data within collection discovery platforms, for training automated systems, and to give access to the citizens and researchers.

We will identify ways of extending and deepening engagement across communities, proposing a best-practice framework for future citizen research projects with heritage data, informing their design and modelling. Citizen research and automation are two complementary methods for capturing and describing our increasing quantities of analogue, digital and digitised data. We propose articulating the synergies between them by developing workflows for the re-use of data beyond projects' initial focuses to provide current and future scholarship with the potential to address new research questions.

Led by three IROs with significant experience of citizen research, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh (RBGE), Royal Museums Greenwich (RMG) and The National Archives (TNA), and the world-leading citizen research expertise of the University of Oxford's Zooniverse with its distinctive free, open source infrastructure, community of 1.9 million volunteers worldwide, and technical expertise of having delivered over 190 crowdsourcing projects, this project is uniquely placed to research and prototype tools for deeper engagement with our collections through citizen research: to create a virtuous circle of increased and better informed public engagement that leads communities to create more collections data at scale.

The project will convene expertise from across sectors to expand our citizen research community and to ensure the effective re-use of crowd-sourced data. This will be achieved by addressing the following questions:

1. How can we best engage volunteers across the nation's communities with citizen research projects, to further a shared understanding of our collections? What existing methods and data are the most successful for measuring that engagement?

2. How does the ability to navigate one's own path through the data of a citizen research project affect engagement with the project?

3. How can we verify, assess, present, and value the contributions of citizen research?

4. How can we enable the re-use of crowd-sourced data within collection discovery platforms, for training automated systems, and to give access to citizens and researchers that supports and encourages further engagement, re-use and analysis?

5. Does easy access to data created by citizen research projects affect engagement with projects? What other tools are necessary to enable meaningful access to this data?

Planned Impact

This project will investigate the current and potential practice of citizen research with our national collections, and its implications for collection-holding organisations and for the volunteers who participate in them. It is anticipated that the project will have impacts on the practice of record-keeping professionals in heritage organisations and on the way that academic researchers and researchers from other domains, particularly those specialising in the machine-learning and Artificial Intelligence, engage with heritage institutions when they wish to study heritage collections at scale. The project will also impact the way that citizens themselves understand, access, use and re-use heritage data.

The National Archives, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh and Royal Museums Greenwich are well-placed to reach communities of citizen researchers, thanks to their heavily-used websites, blogs and extensive public programmes. As active members of the Independent Research Organisation Consortium, these IROs have strong contacts with other heritage institutions that collect and preserve large-scale heritage collections. Through their various academic programmes they also has strong links with the university and other research communities that employ computational approaches to heritage collections at scale. It also has strong engagement with different users of such collections, including public and family historians, government and policy-makers, and the general public.

The proposed project will enable heritage organisations to make best use of citizen research to create new and deeper understanding of our national heritage collections, by bringing together communities around each area of study, and create new insights into the selected collections. The project will engage the interest groups to find out their needs, thoughts and insights through our planned joint activities, such as workshops and focus groups, as described in our programme of work.

The project team will (i) create a prototype indexing tool that will enable navigation through a citizen research collection, (ii) explore different methods of increasing engagement with citizen research projects, (iii) create a platform for the data outputs of citizen research projects that will facilitate communication of data resources (iv) and provide recommendations and a metrics framework to help organisations incorporate their project's findings into their practice.

It aims to disseminate these findings and provide advice and guidelines to practitioners in different ways. The team will author accessible summaries for non-academic audiences, in the form of blogs, reports disseminated on the project's website and other programme members, and guest blog posts on other websites. The team is also targeting three academic conference series that encompass this academic range (Nordic Digital Humanities, Association for Cultural Heritage Computing, and DCDC) and will propose panels, contribute to conference workshops and present papers at these conferences. Team members will also publish in journals across this spectrum, such as at the Journal on Computing and Cultural Heritage (JOCCH) and Digital Humanities Quarterly. Research outcomes, such us the prototype, methods and platform, will be available from the project website, enabling others to extend and build on our research.

As part of the Towards a National Collection programme, by laying the foundation for deeper exploration and further tool-building to increase citizen engagement in our national heritage and organising joint activities (workshops, focus groups and informal discussions), this project will benefit collection-holding organisations across the GLAM community in the UK and around the world, researchers who use these large-scale historical collections, citizen researchers, the academic community, government and policy-makers.

Publications

10 25 50
 
Description Partnership with Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh 
Organisation Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are supporting Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh to create a new citizen research project on the Zooniverse platform. We are also working with them on research into the crowdsourcing landscape. We helped them to organise a project workshop on the subject of data accessibility and reuse.
Collaborator Contribution Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh as a co-investigator on the project. They are using the Zooniverse Project Builder to create a new citizen research project based on their collections. They have also organised and delivered one of the project workshops, where we asked crowdsourcing practitioners to discus data accessibility and reuse.
Impact Blog post inviting expressions of interest for the workshop.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Partnership with Royal Museums Greenwich 
Organisation Royal Museums Greenwich
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution We are supporting Royal Museums Greenwich to create a new citizen research project on the Zooniverse platform. We are also working with them on research into the crowdsourcing landscape.
Collaborator Contribution Royal Museums Greenwich are a Co-Investigator on the project. They have created and tested a new citizen research project called HMS NHS. They are working with Zooniverse to integrate an indexing tool that will allow volunteers to choose a pathway through their citizen research project.
Impact Royal Museums Greenwich have developed a new citizen research project using the Zooniverse Project Builder. The HMS NHS project has been through beta testing where members of the public gave feedback on how it works. Royal Museums Greenwich have also published a blog post about their citizen research project.
Start Year 2020
 
Description Partnership with Zooniverse, University of Oxford 
Organisation Zooniverse
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We are working with Zooniverse to develop a new citizen research project, Scarlets and Blues where volunteers will be able to transcribe documents relating to the Royal Hospital Chelsea in WWI.
Collaborator Contribution Zooniverse at the University of Oxford are a Co-Investigator on the project. Zooniverse are developing an indexing tool that will be implemented into new citizen research projects to give volunteers the agency to choose their own pathway as they work. They are also contributing to project research into best practice in crowdsourcing.
Impact This work covers amendments to the software which powers the Zooniverse citizen science platform to suit engagement with archival collections. Specifically, we plan to enable volunteers to choose their own path through material. Zooniverse have given several presentations mentioning this work.
Start Year 2020
 
Title HMS NHS - citizen research project 
Description The Zooniverse team have created a clickable InVision prototype as well as user stories to help guide the active development process for a new indexing tool that will allow users to choose their own pathway through a project. Royal Museums Greenwich has created this citizen research project using the Zooniverse Project Builder and this indexing tool will be integrated into this project. The project has undergone alpha and beta testing and will be launched via the new Zooniverse front end. HMS NHS: The Nautical Health Service, is based on the records of Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital (RMG, DSH), a hospital for merchant seamen that existed in Greenwich for over 150 years (from 1826-1986), and the main clinical site for seafarers entering or leaving the busy port of London from all over the world. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact HMS NHS has been through beta testing and review. There have been 53 instances of feedback from the project and 793 classifications submitted so far. 
URL https://frontend.preview.zooniverse.org/projects/msalmon/hms-nhs-the-nautical-health-service
 
Title Scarlets and Blues - citizen research project 
Description The National Archives forthcoming citizen research project, Scarlets and Blues, takes a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of people at the Royal Hospital Chelsea during the First World War (TNA, WO 250). The project was built using the Zooniverse Project Builder and has been through alpha testing. 
Type Of Technology Webtool/Application 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact N/A 
URL https://frontend.preview.zooniverse.org/projects/bogden/scarlets-and-blues
 
Title Zooniverse: Panoptes for Engaging Crowds 
Description This work covers amendments to the software which powers the Zooniverse citizen science to suit engagement with archival collections. Specifically, we will enable volunteers to choose their own path through material. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2021 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact N/A 
 
Description Beta testing and review of citizen research project 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact HMS NHS, the citizen research project led by Royal Museums Greenwich on the Zooniverse platform, has been through beta testing. It was opened up to a select group of volunteers who tested the workflows and gave their feedback. 53 feedback responses were gathered and 793 classifications were made on the website. Royal Museums Greenwich are using this feedback to refine the project ready for its official launch.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://frontend.preview.zooniverse.org/projects/msalmon/hms-nhs-the-nautical-health-service
 
Description Blog post - invitation to express interest in workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact We published a blog post on Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh's blog encouraging people to express interest in a workshop which took place on 1 December 2020. The workshop focused on the question of ingesting and reusing data after the end of a citizen research project.

Cultural heritage practitioners and researchers from a range of disciplines were invited to express their interest in participating in the workshop, including historians, curators and collections specialists, anyone whose research engages with collections, web designers, Collection Management System (CMS) developers, citizen research platform developers, data scientists, Human-Computer Interaction researchers, social scientists, and more, who work within the heritage, academic, industrial, or third sectors.

We received over 50 submissions from people who wanted to participate in the workshop, most of whom took part on the day.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/34186
 
Description Blog post - report on citizen research project 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This was a blog post describing Royal Museum Greenwich's citizen research project, HMS NHS. It was intended to publicise the project and invite volunteers who might like to get involved once the project launches.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/blog/library-archive/hms-nhs-nautical-health-service-volunteer-project
 
Description Blog post - summary of Engaging Crowds 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact We published a blog post on The National Archives' blog to introduce the Engaging Crowds project and let potential volunteers know that new citizen research projects would be forthcoming. Following the publication of the blog post, we received several enquiries from people who were interested in volunteering. We asked these people to subscribe to our mailing list, so they could be informed when our citizen research projects launched.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://blog.nationalarchives.gov.uk/exploring-the-possibilities-of-citizen-research-and-heritage-da...
 
Description Conference paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The PI and project manager presented the work of the project at the 5th Connected Communities Heritage symposium, to about 80 people. It sparked questions and contributed to the day's discussions on the theme of connected communities and heritage. Presentations are available online via Facebook, where discussions continue.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.facebook.com/HeritageNetwork
 
Description Podcast interview, by Aoyama Vision Initiative/Japan Society for the Promotion of Science 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact This podcast discussion between the PI and a professor at Aoyama Gakuin University, Japan was part of a series that aims to demystify digital approaches to library and archive collections, and literary studies, and promote public participation in collections. It is part of wider activities to promote these fields across Japan's university and cultural heritage sectors, and within the host university, where the podcasts are used as teaching materials. Post-pandemic, an in-person symposium that brings these audiences together in discussion is planned.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gj6yza09dkY&t=34s
 
Description Project website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The Engaging Crowds website is a central point for all information about the project. We share information about project milestones and have added documents including our interim report and minutes of our advisory board meeting.

We used the project website to put out call for crowdsourcing practitioners to share publications, reports and projects that we might not be aware of. We received over 25 responses, which will be fed into our final report on the state of the field.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://tanc-ahrc.github.io/EngagingCrowds/
 
Description Public lecture 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact A public lecture given by the PI that included a description of progress on this project was hosted by the University of Exeter and attended virtually by about 80 people. Questions and discussion afterwards centred on public participation in collections research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
URL https://www.exeter.ac.uk/news/events/details/index.php?event=10914
 
Description Webinar long paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact A long paper was presented by the PI during an AHRC Towards a National Collection webinar to about 150 people. It sparked questions and discussion, related both to this project and drawing commonalities and discussing differences of approach with the other Foundation project that was presented, Provisional Semantics. It is intended that this sharing of progress on projects will lead into further related work.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
 
Description Webinar paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over 100 people attended a webinar hosted by the AHRC's Towards a National Collection where the PI presented the work of this project. It sparked questions and discussion, and was followed by 6 approaches to the project to share information about crowdsourcing or citizen research projects in other cultural heritage settings, requests for reports arising from the project, and requests to collaborate in future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
 
Description Workshop with crowdsourcing practitioners 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The workshop 'After the crowds disperse: Crowdsourced data rediscovered and researched' has hosted online by Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The workshop lasted 2.5 hours, with short presentations, break-out room discussion and then shared feedback.

The workshop looked at the hurdles that must be overcome after a citizen research project ends, in order to achieve seamless movement of data between institutional collection management systems (CMS) and crowdsourcing platforms and back again.

Crowdsourcing practitioners gave presentations about their work and then participants split into break-out rooms to discuss questions around data accessibility, ingestion and reuse.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://stories.rbge.org.uk/archives/34186
 
Description Zoom Talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A total of 24 talks given online during the pandemic. Mean audience 72.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020,2021