Crowdsourcing in academia and information science

On 29th Oct ’13 I went to a talk on citizen science and crowdsourcing in science and industry at the Humboldt University. A rough translation of the title is “achieve more together”, and it was delivered by Elisa Herrmann, in German. It’s one of the BBK series of seminars on information science themes at Humboldt’s department for information science (some are in German, some in English).

I love the German word “Schwarmintelligenz” for wisdom of the crowd, especially in the context of the German mosquito mapping site that Herrmann gave as an example of a citizen science project!

I’ve been rather remiss in not blogging about this talk sooner, but I believe it’s “better late than never”, and I can point here to some other things on the theme of crowdsourcing that I’ve noticed since then.

Such as…there was a conference on Crowdfunding in the University sector in London on 17th Jan. I wasn’t there, but I notice that it included themes of:

– attitudes to crowdfunding among business angels and venture capitalists;
– which universities have successfully used crowdfunding and for what reasons;
– which platforms are offering turnkey solutions that foster universities with crowdfunding;
– how crowdfunding is being used by organisations like the University of Edinburgh and the RSA
– what crowdfunding has done for student entrepreneurs at universities like Plymouth, Bristol and Bournemouth

The Times Higher Education reported on this event, and some names worth googling from the programme are : Professor Alan Barrell of the University of Cambridge; the UK Crowdfunding Association; CrowdMission; Crowdcure; Microryza; Syndicate Room; Crowdcube; Sponsorcraft; Seedrs; Crowdshed; the UK Business Angels Association; Joe Cox of the University of Portsmouth; and Midven.

Back to the talk at Humboldt, which was not really about crowd funding but focussed more on the citizen science model. Elisa Herrmann explained that the benefits of crowdsourcing can include:

  • a source of investment in terms of cash, expertise or resource,
  • engaging with the public (which would include the alumni mentioned by the crowdfunding conference page)

Herrmann talked through Rose Holley’s tips for crowdsourcing, from D-Lib in 2010:

  • Have a clear goal (the thing)
  • Make the contribution easy & fun, reliable and quick (the system)
  • Know your target group. Acknowledge and reward the contributors. Trust them (the crowd)
  • Offer interesting and new content, in large volume (the content)

Your target group might have their own goals to achieve with your content: can you help them to achieve those, whilst they help you to achieve yours?

Citizen science projects often build a community: making this rich and meaningful will help people to remain engaged with your project.

Howe’s crowdsourcing rules from 2009 were summarised thus:

  • Pick the right model
  • Pick the right crowd
  • Offer the right incentives
  • The community is always right
  • Ask what you can do for the crowd (not only/primarily what they can do for you)

A number of interesting sounding projects were described:

  • (Mosquito atlas of Germany) – citizens become mosquito hunters by collecting culicid mosquitoes, freezing and then sending them to research institutions.
  • ARTigo – play a game to describe images of works of art: score points when your tags match those of others!
  • – where over a million volunteers take part in various science projects.
  • SETI@home – contribute your computer’s power to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, through the analysis of radio telescope data.

All in all, a very interesting talk that made me think more about the potential of this way of working, for academic research.


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