February 12, 2014

Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

transcribe bentham

I'm currently pulling together examples of crowdsourcing for a digital humanities working lunch on Friday 28th February. I'm also pulling together examples on citizen science for Warwick's Public Engagement Network. So my head is very much in the realm of connecting "the public" with the work of researchers.

Pat Thomson asked "who is the public in public engagement?" and makes the point that "public" doesn't have to mean lowest common denominator. "The Public" includes highly educated well informed adults who just happen not to work as academics. And there are a lot of people who come under that category. Melvyn Bragg has suggested the term "mass intelligensia" to describe this phenomena.

At the same time, we have the web. The web is fantastic at connecting together people with an interest in the long tail. You might not be able to attract 50 people to your talk on [insert niche research topic here ;-)], but put that paper in an open access repository, blog about it, tweet it, and you may find 50 readers who not only want to hear what you have to say but they may even be able to add their own expertise. They might even be on the other side of the world and this is the only way they could have found your work. This is the revolution in research, enabled by open access, that is waiting to blossom.

It's in the two way communication that some really interesting research models are emerging. There is a long tradition of science communication and science education, but citizen science takes it one step further. Citizen science can potentially do some of the work of science. Voluntary labour on a massive scale, collecting and analysing data for use by scientists.

Treezillais a site where anyone can submit information about the trees around them. Its ambition is no less than "making a monster map of Britain's trees". It's a fantastic example of crowdsourcing and citizen science in action. And of course I'm very keen to hear from those Warwick Researchers already doing citizen science!

The humanities can do crowdsourcing too. There are range of approaches in use, but one of my favourites is Transcribe Bentham.

Transcribe Bentham logo

Transcribe Bentham is an online transcription desk that has so far transcribed nearly 7,000 manuscripts, marked up for machine readability and scholarly analysis. As Causer and Terras describe in their recent paper, it is "indicative of a new focus in digital humanities scholarship: reaching out to encourage user participation and engagement, whilst providing tools which can be repurposed for others". If you think this is just a novelty, think again: the signs are that funders are appreciating the benefits of these new methodologies.

We'll be having a look at this and several other humanities-based crowdsourcing projects on 28th February, 12-2 in the Wolfson Research Exchange, Lunch Provided, please let me know if you're coming so we can provide enough food!

I'm really looking forward to running this session, and I'd love to hear from Warwick researchers using these approaches already.


amber (dot) thomas @ warwick.ac.uk

@ambrouk


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