Introducing the VOLCROWE Project [Download the Infographic]

This is a reposting of a guest post on VOLCROWE to Crowdsourcing Week submitted by Dr. Eun Young Oh, a senior research associate at the University of Portsmouth Business School. –LFF  

VOLCROWE (Volunteer and Crowdsourcing Economics) is a research collaboration between the Universities of Portsmouth, Oxford, Manchester and Leeds, funded by the EPSRC and NEMODE Network+. The goal of the project is to understand better the behaviours and motivations of participants in online crowdsourcing projects while also investigating the effective management and organisation of crowds. Our research particularly focuses on the collection of sites forming part of the Zooniverse; a group of crowdsourcing projects where participants volunteer their time to help professional scientists in their analysis of big data sets. These datasets typically contain complex visual information that would be difficult or impossible to analyse using a computer algorithm, but for which the human eye is a surprisingly effective means of extracting key information. Using the information provided by citizen scientists, Zooniverse projects help research teams to address significant questions relating to the nature of the universe, modelling climate change, identifying patterns of wildlife migration and even developing treatments for cancer.


Source: Introducing the VOLCROWE Project


Citizen science provides researchers means to gather or analyse large datasets. At the same time, citizen science projects offer an opportunity for non-scientists to be part of and learn from the scientific process. In the Dutch iSPEX project, a large number of citizens turned their smartphones into actual measurement devices to measure aerosols. This study examined participants’ motivation and perceived learning impacts of this unique project. Most respondents joined iSPEX because they wanted to contribute to the scientific goals of the project or because they were interested in the project topics (health and environmental impact of aerosols). In terms of learning impact, respondents reported a gain in knowledge about citizen science and the topics of the project. However, many respondents had an incomplete understanding of the science behind the project, possibly caused by the complexity of the measurements.

Source: Citizen science on a smartphone: Participants’ motivations and learning


Citizen science and participatory sensing are two models of human computation in which participant privacy is a key concern. Technological safeguards are important but partial solutions; a full and accurate description of policies explaining privacy practices must also be present so volunteers can make informed decisions regarding participation. Our study surveyed the policies of 30 participatory research projects to establish how privacy-related policies were presented, and how they aligned with actual practices. This paper contributes a description of the privacy-related elements of policies evident in these projects. We found that while the majority of projects demonstrated some understanding of the need for policies, many hosted incomplete policies or inaccurately described their practices. We discuss the implications for project management, design, and research or operational policy, both for projects in citizen science and participatory sensing, and for the larger field of human computation. We conclude by proposing a set of Ethical Practices for Participatory Research Design as guidelines to inform the development of policies and the design of technologies supporting participatory research.


Source: Privacy in Participatory Research: Advancing Policy to support Human Computation | Bowser-Livermore | Human Computation

Let’s deal with the big question first. Has Planet Hunters discovered aliens?

The answer is no. But that doesn’t mean that all of the press who have written about us in the last 48 hours, sending a flood of volunteers to the site, are completely misguided. Let me backtrack…

A few weeks ago we submitted the ninth planet hunters paper to the journal, and that paper is now available on the arXiv service. Led by Tabetha Boyajian at Yale, it describes a rather unusual system (what the Atlantic called the most interesting star in the Galaxy), which was identified by Planet Hunters, four of whom (Daryll, Kian, Abe, Sam) are named on the paper*. They spotted a series of transits – which is normally what signifies the presence of a planet – but these were unusual.

Source: Comets or Aliens? | Planet Hunters

The journal Nature published today an editorial on citizen science, titled ‘Rise of the citizen scientist’. It is very good editorial that addresses, head-on, some of the concerns that are raised about citizen science, but it is also have a problematic ending.

On the positive side, the editorial recognises that citizen scientists can do more than just data collection. The writer also demonstrated an inclusive understanding of citizen science that encompass both online and offline forms of participation. It also include volunteered computing in the list (with the reference for SETI@Home) and not dismiss it as outside the scope of citizen science.

It then show that concerns about the ability of citizen scientists to produce high quality data are not supported by research findings and as Caren Cooper noted, there are many other examples across multiple fields. My own minor contribution to this literature is to demonstrate that this is true for OpenStreetMap mappers. It also recognises the important of one of the common data assurance methods – the reliance on instrument reading as a reason to trust the data.

Finally, it recognise the need to credit citizen scientists properly, and the need to deal with their personal details (and location) carefully. So far, so good. 


Source: ‘Nature’ Editorial on Citizen Science | Po Ve Sham – Muki Haklay’s personal blog

Public participation in scientific research has surged in popularity and prominence in recent years through the connections of the world wide web, an explosion of smartphone pocket computing power, and a slow cultural change within professional science toward a more open and welcoming research environment.

Today, the White House affirmed the potential for citizen science to engage the public directly in scientific discovery and the monitoring and management of our natural resources. In a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies, Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy John Holdren mandated that all federal agencies build capacity for citizen science and crowdsourcing while facilitating cooperation across agencies and with outside organizations.

To help guide program managers in deciding if citizen science is right for their organizations and how best to design citizen science projects to meet their organization’s goals, the Ecological Society of America (ESA) has released a report today summarizing how “Investing in Citizen Science can improve natural resource management and environmental protection.” The report is number 19 in ESA’s series Issues in Ecology and is included as a resource in the Federal Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit, released this morning in conjunction with Holdren’s policy memo and a Citizen Science Forum webcast live from the White House.

Source: Citizen science in a nutshell: A guide to expanding the reach of environmental research

With its striking orange and black coloring and transcontinental range, the monarch butterfly is probably the most recognizable insect in North America.  All pollinators are important to maintaining our food supply, but monarchs also have a key role in education; for decades schoolchildren across North America have been raising and releasing monarchs as part of their science lessons.  Unfortunately, while monarchs were once one of the most commonly seen pollinators in gardens and fields, in the past decade there has been a precipitous drop in the monarch population.  Just last week the World Wildlife Fund, in conjunction with the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Mexico, released the latest monarch population estimate– a number that was the second lowest on record for the population.

The annual estimates of the monarch population are taken at the monarch’s overwintering site in central Mexico.  Most of the monarchs in North America live east of the Rocky Mountains, and each fall they migrate thousands of miles south to their overwintering location in Mexico, where they cluster together on oyamel fir trees.  In the spring those same monarchs fly north, where they produce new generations that spread throughout the United States and Canada.  Their vast summer range can make it difficult to get precise estimates of the population size, but in winter the monarchs are bunched tightly together, making population estimates more feasible.  Instead of counting individual monarchs, scientists record the amount of land that the overwintering monarch population covers.

This year, the monarchs covered 1.13 hectares; that’s a little more than two football fields’ worth of land.  That might sound like a staggeringly small size, but it’s actually a 69 percent increase over last year’s population, which was the smallest on record (see graph). This increase offers some hope to counterbalance the fact that the current population size is the second smallest on record, but there is still much concern about the monarch.  In fact, the US Fish & Wildlife Service is currently evaluating the monarch for listing as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

A listing would provide the monarch with legal protections, but a decision is not expected for at least a year, and in the meantime, there are many things that the public can do right now to help monarchs!


Source: Declining monarch population means increased need for citizen scientists


Citizen science projects can collect a wealth of scientific data, but that data is only helpful if it is actually used. While previous citizen science research has mostly focused on designing effective capture interfaces and incentive mechanisms, in this paper we explore the application of HCI methods to ensure that the data itself is useful. To provide a focus for this exploration we designed and implemented Creek Watch, an iPhone application and website that allow volunteers to report information about waterways in order to aid water management programs. Working with state and local officials and private groups involved in water monitoring, we conducted a series of contextual inquiries to uncover what data they wanted, what data they could immediately use, and how to most effectively deliver that data to them. We iteratively developed the Creek Watch application and website based on our findings and conducted evaluations of it with both contributors and consumers of water data, including scientists at the city water resources department. Our study reveals that the data collected is indeed useful for their existing practices and is already in use in water and trash management programs. Our results suggest the application of HCI methods to design the data for the end users is just as important as their use in designing the user interface.


Source: Creek watch: pairing usefulness and usability for successful citizen science

Reposting from the online peer-reviewed journal First Monday.


Citizen science has seen enormous growth in recent years, in part due to the influence of the Internet, and a corresponding growth in interest. However, the few stand-out examples that have received attention from media and researchers are not representative of the diversity of the field as a whole, and therefore may not be the best models for those seeking to study or start a citizen science project. In this work, we present the results of a survey of citizen science project leaders, identifying sub-groups of project types according to a variety of features related to project design and management, including funding sources, goals, participant activities, data quality processes, and social interaction. These combined features highlight the diversity of citizen science, providing an overview of the breadth of the phenomenon and laying a foundation for comparison between citizen science projects and to other online communities.

Source: Surveying the citizen science landscape | Wiggins | First Monday


Online citizen science projects have the potential to engage thousands of participants with scientific research. A small number of projects such as Foldit use an online computer game format. Motivation to participate in Foldit was investigated in a group of 37 players using an online survey, semistructured interviews, and participant observation. Results suggest that contributing to scientific research and an interest in science were among the most important motivations for participation. Interaction with others within the community of participants and the intellectual challenge of the game were also key for the continuing involvement of this group of regular contributors.


Source: Motivation to Participate in an Online Citizen Science Game