iDigBio workshop on Public Participation in Digitization of Museum Specimens, 9/29/2012, Gainesville, FL
Watson, Bill. Chief of Onsite Learning, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,
The Smithsonian’s public engagement projects.
Smithsonian has daunting number of specimens, data, and other assets – existing and not yet collected – to digitize. They need help! Millions of people are hungry for relevant, exciting, and meaningful experiences, but main assets – collections and data – mostly lie dormant for public engagement.
What kinds of things do we do at natural history museums? Look at objects, hands-on exhibits to understand objects, classes and programs to learn more from scientists and others. Museum community agrees that they haven’t done a very good job of bringing research and data to the public. In the 21st century, still using 20th and 19th century approaches to public outreach.
Groundbreaking programs have still only scratched the surface. What do NMNH visitors want? Relevant, authentic, personalized, immersive, one of a kind, “awesome”. [personalized = autonomy] People enjoy experiences that provoke awe – dinosaurs and so on. Can’t think of better way to promote that than access to collections – people are interested in fieldwork and specimens.
Lots of excitement in natural history museums about bringing out data, science, research for engaging people. Thesis for conference on 21st century learning in NHM: NHM have unparalleled records of the natural world; used in very limited ways in science education and literacy; can’t do our work without inviting public to be part of the action, especially for digitization. The other side of “our work” is getting the public engaged and excited about what we do.
New possibilities: public use of digitized collections, public participation in digitizing collections. What would teachers need? Give access to the stuff and allow us to tailor to our/students’ needs. Built a way to display assets related to a taxon – example of ants – showed specimens, photos, digitized record cards, etc. Collections.si.edu – repository in collections browser, includes only objects, no digital assets like videos, archive records, etc. Still have to know what you’re looking for. Now building interfaces for public to access this without knowing what they’re looking for.
Part of 10K sq ft ed center building is digitizing 20K objects in the public collection. Providing a more intuitive interface, can add collections you find to your own “fieldbook” so you can have a self-curated collection. From digitization standpoint, using objects in a different way than before, opportunities for people to tag and submit their ideas to and about the objects. Way to test outcomes for people involved in adding tags, what does it mean for “real people” and “regular people” to have this experience? Maybe it inspires the thought that they can be a scientist too.
Smithsonian Wild – camera trapping project – more traditional cit sci project. People set up camera traps and capture data.
Checkpoint: is this public participation in digitizing collection? SI digitization strategic plan: “digitization…creates the potential for people the world over to add impressions, associations, and stories to the permanent record.” That democratizes digitization, not easy to think through logistically and philosophically but they’re trying. Conservative model of overlap between digitized collections and science literacy, underscores opportunity for public contribution and building their own experiences. More daring model: overlap between collection and PPSR. What’s a collections-based PPSR project?
Some of what people get out of PPSR is knowledge of research design and data interpretation, people start asking and answering their own questions. One of most expedient means for engaging people in science in a fun way, helps people see that their interests connect to science and science connects to their interests – connecting back to relevance and authenticity.
Collections-based projects are perfect entry-level PPSR for NHM. They bring in new audiences – untapped resources and new audiences for the field, like tech geeks, photographers, statisticians, who else? Models – untapped potential for unique, fun, huge, meaningful work; connect collections to real problems, connect digitization to those problems, digitization for democracy = groundwork for participation. Exciting new opportunities here, much to learn about and figure out how best to do this together.
Resources available to new projects that engage the public in science
Newman, Greg. CitSci.org Project, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Colorado State Univ., Fort Collins, Colorado.
The power of many: many people, many programs, and a common goal.
See USGS presentation.
Where is there help? Brief overview of places for support in creating projects. Resources – citizenscience.org, scistarter.com, citizenscienceacademy.org. Best practices – citizenscience.org, caise.insci.org; wiatri.net/cbm. Tools/platforms – many mentioned yesterday. Related working groups – DataONE WG on PPSR, USGS CDI cit sci working group.
Citizen science is complicated!
Lessons learned while developing successful public engagement projects
Flemons, Paul. Team Lead, Atlas of Living Australia Biodiversity Volunteer Portal. Australian Museum, Sydney, Australia.
EMu’s in the cloud—ruminations on interesting interfaces, efficient workflows and building an infrastructure for crowdsourced digitising that is open and integrated.
Two-stage approach – use onsite volunteers to image specimen labels, online volunteers to transcribe the information on those labels [which is a structure I keep advocating…]
Stage 1: DigiVol – volunteers capture images and “partial records” – species name, image, catalog number. Stage 2: put those data online, complete the record and georeference. Goes back out to the atlas as a full validated record.
Stage 1 required getting a room dedicated to volunteer workstations for imaging. Online manuals and training videos. Recruitment through traditional museum networks, customized training, and coordination and supervision by 2 PT staff. Current onsite volunteers – 60-70 volunteers, about 12 at any given time, low dropout – people passionate about it; 2:1 female/male, wide range of ages. Output of 1.2 FTE staff + volunteers = value of 3 staff.
Barriers to having lab of volunteers do label digitization – database permissions, union considerations about staff jobs, etc. Why not use staff for direct digitization? Productivity increase, engaging public and important outcome/goal of project.
Lessons learned: initially mgt and collections staff were uncomfortable, unsupportive and hostile initially – big change for them, trust issues. Ideally have process managed and incorporated into mgt structure of collection. Change mgt process – small steps, address concerns consistently, regular F2F communication, inclusivity in developing training materials and process. Start w/ activities that are least controversial (easily handled groups of specimens that aren’t as easily broken); as relationships grow and staff becomes more comfortable, then begin moving into more controversial activities like more fragile groups.
Volunteers can be very dedicated and passionate; important to get balance right between ownership, sense of community, meaningfulness, and maintaining enough control over the process. Can improve engagement through sense of community – increasing understanding and appreciation of collections and associated science through tours of collections and talks by staff and scientists. Rewards and tokens of membership – haven’t tried – t-shirts, birthday cards, etc.
Crowdsourcing lessons learned: at face value, crowdsourcing transcription and georeferencing of collections seems insane when considering mismatched tasks and resources. Key is balance between what institutions want and what volunteers want – great lists of priorities for each group. Ways to achieve such balance – low-level gamification like expedition themes, contribution-based team roles, leaderboard; FB group (not that functional); regular emails (takes too much time). Wants forums [very effective way to get volunteers to support one another.] Need effective workflow for volunteers. Doing “challenges” can really boost participation; some volunteers crossover between onsite and online. Volunteers don’t tolerate errors or bugs in software; they bail if you don’t respond.
Data quality – georeferencing much harder than simple transcription; variable understanding.
Bonter, David. eBird and FeederWatch, Lab of Ornithology, Cornell Univ., Ithaca, New York.
Engaging the public in ornithological research: Lessons learned from 50 years of citizen science at Cornell.
Primarily responsible for Project Feederwatch, have a whole suite of projects going back to the 1960s, nearly all focused on birds, national in scope and increasingly global.
Contributors are not robots, offer lots of resources to increase their own knowledge. Just celebrated 25th anniversary of PFW, 1.8M checklists, >l52K count sites, 4.2M hours of volunteer time, 2 books, 26 scientific papers. Important to build around a protocol with structure to make data valuable. Repeated counts every weekend all winter of max number of each species with weather & effort data – very valuable scientifically due to repeat locations.
Using these data, can now track invasive species (Eurasion collared dove), species of concern (Evening Grosbeaks disappearing). Range expansion evident in feeder birds, linked to habitat and climate change. Research platform to ask new, unanticipated questions – realtime tracking of avian conjunctivitis. PFW peeps noticed it first, turned them onto the disease showing up, so they started tracking it. Participants are key – data collected by public, fully funded with participant fees, 70% annual retention rate. 30% of participants give more than the participation fee – $75K a year in excess of costs. Recruitment a challenge – even with high retention, have to recruit 3K-5K new people per year. Try everything for recruitment; demographics are women over 50 and highly educated – Martha Stewart crowd.
PFW participants get resources to support identification, region-specific posters, online & print instructions and multimedia production for videos that are getting a lot more traction; “tricky bird” identification tips. Also provide participant support: online field guides, participant forum, photo IDs – 1500 emails/day, 15-20 phone calls during season, and in forums some vols become experts and help support one another, which takes burden off staff.
Complex and evolving data validation system. Feedback is critical – people don’t put data into black holes forever, they want something out of it. All programs have explore data section to see past counts, all data and summaries completely open to the public. People love having their photos featured for rare birds – if they get featured, they have them for life! Lots of maps to query for what they’re interested in, top 25 feeder birds by state & province (media loves this), training graphs. Annual season summary that goes out to 50K people.
Global coverage is all well and good, but people care about their local areas. Partner with other groups to create portals for other orgs, people more likely to submit to local projects.
Newman, Sarah. Citizen Science Coordinator, NEON, Inc., Boulder, Colorado.
Lessons Learned from NEON’s Project BudBurst: a national citizen science program.
Main focus is education, want to engage public and make it accessible. Provide local focus through partnerships – hard to be relevant locally when you’re national. Primary goal – education/outreach, secondary – useful scientific data. Entirely online – don’t give talks to small groups very often. Data freely available to all (not the same as accessible), contributory category – data collection. Variety of ways that people can make observations.
Lots of great tidbits for lessons learned from yesterday – key observations from experience based on comments by speakers. Techniques that work well at national and local levels. Know your audience, different audiences for online and offline participation, different ages need different structures, etc. Start small – pilot, see how it works, test it with the audience, see what opportunities and needs come from participants. Word spreads and expansion happens organically, especially through partners. Pilot ideas – citizenscienceacademy.org.
Reduce barriers to participation, hopefully come through in pilot – things emerge that you did and didn’t think about, e.g. available technology, skills to use tech, language, terminology, web usability, time commitment, family resources and engagement, culture, make the work transparent and simple. Example of participant in Timbuktu who has a really slow dial-up connection. Raj Pandya’s article – family engagement key for some audiences such as underserved communities, a problem many cit sci projects haven’t fully tackled.
Retention, always a challenge. Must find middle ground, shared community and discussion forums seem to work – newsletters, meetings/conferences, social media (time intensive), tiered participation (level up!), attach research question to specimens being transcribed. Recognition of contributors – always important. Lots of ways to do it, different strategies for different audiences – certificates for kids, awards for outstanding achievements for adults, acknowledgments in article credits, massive list of contributors. Partnerships – TCNs already doing this; leverage those existing networks, adding on smaller communities. Examples of building on existing models, e.g. BudBurst at the Refuges replicated in BudBurst at the Gardens and BudBurst at the Parks – perhaps at museums. Partners are bread and butter for providing local relevance. Speak multiple languages – not just language translation, but must speak the language of the communities you reach out to and work with, e.g. formal educators, informal educators, kids, scientists, other languages and cultures.
Other techniques – gamification, targeted events, make it fun, blog with fun content of BudBurst roadshow – people have spun off their own versions of this. An idea for making transcription more exciting, e.g. transcription trekker. Challenges of foresight with technologies – be nimble.
Young, Alison. Citizen Science Educator, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California.
Documenting California biodiversity with citizen scientists: lessons learned through a year of planning.
Cal Academy lessons from planning project. #1: Focus – defining citizen science at the Academy, specific goals, criteria, and guidelines for what they wanted to accomplish – what’s their brand? #2: Equal collaboration between education and research. Collaborate between these divisions directly, coordinator on both sides of the coin, core team with weekly meetings. #3: careful planning – don’t just launch a program; got a year-long planning grant from Bechtel foundation to figure out ways to answer real RQs about CA biodiversity, use historical collections, test cases, series of meetings to learn from others.
Each test case (2 of them, terrestrial and intertidal) had specific goals to test how well they can meet their goals, partner goals, and produce usable project. Volunteers recruited through existing networks, local colleges, meetup.com conservation photography group, word of mouth. Not currently wide open since it’s a test case, not ready to handle full load and didn’t want to start entirely from scratch. That really skewed participant demographics – still female, older, caucasian, 50% with grad degrees, 70% had collected data for other studies, etc.
Successes so far – 3-day events. Example of water district: had 650 observations, 350 species, documented 1/3 of watershed, more than 450 specimens and 80+ participants.
#4: don’t be afraid to get it wrong! Listen to volunteers and check data. Pouring rain on first day surfaced some problems right away. Smartphone thing didn’t catch with their vols, but other ways of participation worked just fine. Originally thought they could cover entire watershed in a year, realized it would take 3 years. Number one complaint on first day wasn’t rain, it was figuring out where to go and how far to stray from trail. Offered opportunity to work with herbarium specimens – no one volunteered, very different groups want to be out hiking versus detailed work mounting herbarium specimens.
#5: feedback, reinforcement, & appreciation. Rapid feedback reinforces role in bigger picture – data viz, results, emails, photos. Wanted responsive sophisticated system but couldn’t do it for a one-year project. Volunteers really liked email updates on progress and outcomes, even though they can’t really read map labels, they liked to see how much was accomplished in just 3 days. Showed them comparison of herbarium specimens to show value of modern data compared to sparsity of historical data. Appreciation: lots of gratitude messages, swag, unique opportunities like camping on Mt Tamalpais, appreciation events.
#6: Evaluate! Get detailed feedback – are we really increasing science literacy, do they understand why the project is being done, do they understand the process, etc? Regular questions like motivation – contribute to scientific research; curiosity about local environment, plants, animals; spend time outside; connect to/support colleagues; meet others with similar interests. How important to see analysis or results? 44% said very important, 0% said not important. People want to know how they are contributing to bigger picture.
#7: Learn from others. Don’t reinvent the wheel – 3 days of cit sci meetings. Invited practitioners, biodiversity researchers, conservation organizations, data managers, citizen scientists. Goals were learning from others’ experiences, discuss best practices, identify common goals, needs, logical next steps. Different topics each day with speakers and panels, spent every afternoon discussing what did and didn’t work in their own experiences – turned into 60-pg proceedings.
What’s next? Hoping 3-year grant next time, expanding current projects, create additional projects, focus on goals not fully addressed in case studies (tiered involvement, multiple entry points, mobile/digital media). Want to design strategy for digitizing CA specimens, especially those from survey locations, eventually for specimens, for research and engagement. Want to help connect people to the history of their place. Want to use specimens not only for research, but for further engaging and motivating participants. Ongoing evaluation – meeting goals, meeting participant needs? 2014 biodiversity exhibit, want to include citizen science component and get people engaged from the public floor of the Academy. Future: CA regional cit sci network, including science centers; don’t want to do this alone. Eventually national/international if they find a model that works really well.
Hill, Andrew. Vizzuality.
Stories in the data: lessons from developing citizen science applications at Vizzuality.
Work with Zooniverse, small company that started with a blog. Mission-driven company, that got them into citizen science, working with Citizen Science Alliance. Works on small set of their projects.
Things they have noticed… #1: rewards you can offer helps define what you can do – task complexity is related to that. Planet Hunters example: draw boxes around graphs – so how to motivate people to find planets in graphs? Discovery alone is major motivator, leads to coauthorship. Good press goes a long way. Worked with BBC Stargazing, in 48 hours, got over 1M classifications, went a long way.
#2: long tail curve of participation. Worked with NASA to markup underwater astronaut training images, lasted only about 1.5 weeks in conjunction with the mission of astronauts. Made a game of it, in 1 week got 450+ volunteers, 15K biodiversity observations. But found that a few people at the top did so much more than others, #1 volunteer did more than double the tasks of #3. NASA staff and Vizzuality staff couldn’t keep up with volunteers. Made it a race to the end, let people show others also marking up. Sometimes most dedicated volunteers are experts themselves.
#3: things we think will motivate users are NOT what motivates users. Example of Old Weather, digitizing ship logs. Some people motivated by science, others interested in genealogy and search for relatives thrown overboard, naval history buffs, normal history buffs (e.g. one interested in sports being discussed, movement of Spanish influenza), data buffs. Forums were really powerful, let people ask others if they’d seen relatives mentioned, allowed people to organize themselves around their own interests and expectations of what they would get out of it.
Where will we learn from next? Starting with Notes from Nature: expert interfaces, badging, user profiles. Also interested in other models, like EcoHack NYC, started 3 years ago. Idea is that people have more to contribute than data and analysis, great software engineers and hardware hackers who are interested in working on scientific problems, so they partnered with an org to make these opportunities available. Lets people think outside the box in ways scientists haven’t done about how to design interesting projects. Had ignite-style 5 minute presentations about from scientists about interests for doing tasks, then groups form organically around what they’re interested in, and got a lot done in a day.
Thing that is hardest about EcoHacks is getting scientists, please spread the word! Great opportunity for participants to learn what scientists are doing.