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Citizen science and the cultural sector area - research and relationships

To be more open, creative, participative and to demonstrate the own value for society: Cultural practice and research have to deal with these challenges due to the impact of globalisation and digitalisation. One creative and innovative solution is Citizen Science. Wiebke Rettberg, project manager at the German platform Buerger schaffen Wissen, and Kristin Oswald, editorial staff at artsmanagement.net, offer an insight into successful examples of this form of involvement of driven laymen from international cultural institutions.

You just woke up, radio on and suddenly it happens again: A catchy song is stuck in the head for the rest of the day. The research project #Hookedonmusic of the University of Amsterdam studies these songs. With them the scientists want to gain insights into our musical memory to potentially provide new impulses for the treatment of Alzheimer's and dementia. In cooperation with the Manchester Science Festival and the Museum of Science & Industry Manchester they developed an online game to collect information about the recognition of music with the participation of the largest possible number of people. Volunteers shall be motivated by earning points for correct answers and competing against other players on a leaderboard.

Citizen Science - Short-term trend or a new understanding of science?

"Citizen Science" is the collaboration of normal people – interested and dedicated to a certain topic – and researchers responsible for answering the scientific questions. A lot of them in and around the cultural spectrum hold detailed profound knowledge. To use such passion and knowledge in virtual surroundings offers new possibilities for the collection of data in the humanities, for cultural institutions doing research, and for museum depots with  hidden treasures that want to digitize their collections. The digitalisation thus simplifies the coordination and communication of stakeholders and creates a new level of flexibility, for example the independence of locations.

The opportunity to collect big data changes the range of research questions. Many of them could not be edited without the broad participation of volunteers. But there is more in Citizen Science than pragmatic feasibility aspects: a new appreciation. Laymen with interest in special topics enjoy to learn, want to be taken seriously and participate in the academic research in their field of passion. Also cultural institutions can benefit from this social resource – but it has hardly gotten the necessary attention yet. Passion for a topic, or fun on the contributing is thereby not to be mistaken for superficiality. It means also to feel part of something, interact with other people. Intense discussions can therefore fulfil scientific expectations similarly to the playful collection of data á la #Hookedonmusic.

How does a Citizen Science project work?

The answer is as complex as simple: Each project must find its own way depending on the underlying research question as well as factors such as budget, time, capacity and spatial localization. Citizen participation can have various forms:

  • Cooperation: Citizens can provide for example the power of their computers or smartphones. Thereby, the participation of the individual is minimal and limited to the provision of resources.
  • Collaboration: In such projects, citizens actively collect data and thus contribute to research.
  • Co-production: Citizens research together with scientists. Depending on the complexity a training or specific knowledge are needed.
  • Co-Design: Scientists and citizens working together on equal terms, to define new research questions or design projects.

Well done! Commitment needs recognition

If someone took part in a Citizen Science project he or she wants to be appreciated for that, to be informed about news, to interact with the researchers and to gain insight into the research process, methods, questions and results. To address as much potential participants as possible and keep them up-to-date, each project needs to design a well thought (digital) communication strategy. By this means, Citizen Science fosters the principle of transparent feedback in the direction of "Open Science" and "Open Culture": An opening towards the exchange of experts and citizens which is accompanied by a democratization and participation of knowledge, new visitors and supporters.

Citizen Science in the Culture

Citizen science applications are often based on playful principles that aim to reach a wide public to assist in research. These "games with a purpose" (GWAP) work mostly under the heading of "collaboration", i.e. the participants collect data on an issue the scientists have developed. Internationally this potential is mainly used   by museums for research because with their own collections they already have the basis for such projects in-house.

The Ethnological Museum Berlin developed the open source app "tag.check.score." together with Fraunhofer Fokus to keyword its large digital photo collection. This lacked additional informations about the pictures. Therefore it was decided to pack up the objects into a game. Here expertise was inserted by interested laymen as well as employees of other ethnological museums or students. The resulting collection of several million words is now be prepared for further academic use by an algorithm which coveres the more-eyes principle. Thus, the project has been a great time saver for the museum and a great benefit in terms of visitor binding and engagement.

The online game "ARTIGO" also relies on this principles and extends the art-historical analysis of images by non-scientific players annotations. Basis is the art collection of the Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich. Quality control is here also guaranteed in an automated check that only saves terms in the database if they were mentioned several times. The aim of the project initiators was also to see how people keyword art images. This knowledge can be applied to search options for image databases on the internet. The success of the project encouraged other houses to add their collections to ARTIGO.

In the project "micro pasts", the British Museum wants to collect new data on the history of the island using active participants - for example, to exactly locate archaeological sites or add information about unknown pieces from the archives. In another project, the museum asks participants to transcribe old manuscripts using high-resolution images or to submit their own photographs of historic sites or objects. Ultimate ambition is to raise awareness of the importance of historical places and cultural heritage by involving volunteers directly into the museums' work. Similarly, data for the Archaeology Data Service (ADS) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, projects of the Council for British Archaeology (CBA), are added by scientists and laymen as well.
 

Do know further Citizen Science projects in the field of culture and the humanities, maybe even aside from the museum sector? We'd be glad to receive an e-mail about it at office(at)artsmanagement(dot)net.
 

Author/Source: Wiebke Rettberg dealt first with the issue of participation at the Cultural Studies Institute at the University Lüneburg, Germany. As a project manager she is currently working for the German Project Science in dialogue (WiD) and its Citizen Science online platform Buerger schaffen Wissen. In addition, she continues with citizen participation in a joint project with the Museum of Natural History, Berlin.
Management Topic: Policy & Research
Cultural Area: Public+Academic Sector
Submitted by editor-in-chief on Oct 20, 2014