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Communities and Crowds

Context

Communities and Crowds is an AHRC-funded, three-year research project which started in February 2021. The project is a collaboration between researchers and curators at the National Science and Media Museum, Bradford and the Zooniverse teams at Oxford University and the Adler Planetarium, Chicago. This research team will use participatory research methods and online crowdsourcing techniques to explore how members of the local community can work together with online volunteers from across the globe, to enhance the visibility and discoverability of archival objects that matter to them. Online citizen science projects have typically focused on broad but shallow engagement and have been developed from the top down, with researchers setting the questions and developing the tasks and online volunteers working digitally to complete them. Communities and Crowds will develop new processes and tools and experiment with how they might enable volunteers to lead the development and realisation of a citizen science project from the very beginning.

The National Science and Media Museum is working with a group of volunteers from Bradford who have an interest in African-Caribbean heritage to select and digitise a body of photographs from the Daily Herald Photographic Archive which they think should be made public and preserved. We will then work with the Zooniverse team to co-create a citizen science project from the digitised material, creating tasks whereby the online volunteering community can further enrich the data about these objects so they will be better catalogued and more discoverable online. In the final year of the project the research team will test out the process we develop with a second collection, based at a different institution.

Aim

Through Communities and Crowds we aim to address two key challenges: how to open up the museum’s collection to citizen research; and how to make those objects that resonate most strongly with the everyday lives and experiences of our diverse communities easier to search for and discover.

Online citizen science projects have typically provided broad but shallow engagement and have been developed from the top down, with researchers setting the questions and developing the tasks and online volunteers working digitally to complete them. Communities and Crowds aims to open up and democratise the process of digitising and researching collections, by involving both local, in-person and online, global volunteers in leading and developing the work. We will investigate how new processes (such as a streamlined approach to inventorying and digitisation) and new tools (such as an improved talk function) could create a more engaging and active participatory experience by enabling volunteers to lead the development and realisation of a citizen science project from the beginning, right through to the moderation of the Zooniverse platform.

In turn, we will explore how enabling volunteer-led input and leadership earlier in the process can enhance our understanding, classification and interpretation of our collection, by, for example, addressing questions of ethnic and racial inequality, and approaches to the publication of sensitive images and problematic language.

Outcomes

The outcomes for the project will include:

  • A new volunteer-led digitisation pipeline for SMG
  • A citizen science platform focused on our collections
  • Improvements to the ‘talk’ function on Zooniverse which will enable citizen scientists to engage with the research project at an earlier stage
  • A joint publication with the PIs, Co-Is and volunteers

Project team

Name: Dr Geoff Belknap
Job title: Head Curator
Organisation: National Science and Media Museum
Project role: Principal Investigator

Name: Dr Sam Blickhan
Job title: Humanities Lead
Organisation: Zooniverse/The Adler Planetarium, Chicago
Project role: Principal Investigator

Name: Professor Chris Lintott
Job title: Professor of Astrophysics and Citizen Science Lead
Organisation: University of Oxford/Zooniverse
Project role: Co-Investigator

Name: Dr Lynn Wray
Job title: Research Fellow
Organisation: National Science and Media Museum
Project role: Co-Investigator

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