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AHRC Crowd sourcing study

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Numerous enterprises, both inside academia and outside have employed crowd-sourcing, which is defined here as mass participation in the gathering, processing or interpretation of information in some directed manner. The primary aim of this study, funded by the AHRC under its Connected Communities programme between February and November 2012, is to research different crowd-sourcing models which have emerged; and to understand better how wider communities can  create information and knowledge. It will examine a wide range of academic sources to develop a better  understanding of the significance, both current and potential, of crowd-sourcing methods in the humanities, and what barriers (technological, academic, financial etc) exist for humanities researchers who might benefit from application of those methods. The study aims to identify specific research areas in the humanities that will benefit most from adopting and repurposing crowd-sourcing methods, and will attempt  to understand crowd-sourcing methods themselves better in the context of academia. The project will also examine how humanities research data which has been produced or enchanced by crowd-sourcing stands in the context of scholarly standards, recognition in the REF and in peer-review.  

The study will undertake a desk-based assessment of the literature examining crowd-sourcing as a model in academic research, and will review any case studies that have been produced by other researchers. The project will also undertake a series of surveys and interviews of practitioners and contributors to crowd-sourcing projects.

Two workshops will be convened. The first, to be held in London on May 28th and 29th 2012, will bring together experts from across the humanities and arts, and other subjects too, who have made use of crowd-sourcing in their research. The second, to be held in September 2012, will bring together members of interest communities who have contributed knowledge to these projects. In both cases, common questions will be approached from the two perspectives: why do research projects employ crowd-sourcing, how does it translate in to high quality research, what attracts people to contribute crowd-sourced information, in what ways do such people see themselves as part of a community, and how do they and their knowledge relate and connect to one another.

First workshop, May 2012

The project’s first workshop was held on May 28th and 29th at KCL.

List of Participants

The following key questions were identified:

  • How do we address the supposed dichotomy of professionalism “versus” amateurism? How should the two spheres interact?
  • How do we cross the ‘digital divide’? We must avoid assuming that everyone who may wish to contribute to a crowd-sourcing project has unlimited internet access.
  • What types of question are particularly amenable to crowd sourcing approaches
  • Does crowd-sourcing best address closed or open ended questions?
  • What motivates people to contribute?
  • How do motivations vary with different types of activity?
  • How do we (as researchers) capture and document motivations? This has been tried before in several projects, but approaches are tailored to particular types of contributor community.
  • How can funders collaborate with researchers in getting the most out of academic crowd-sourcing?
  • Issues of data quality are extremely important – how can we ensure quality, and what does quality mean?
  • How can crowd-sourcing projects, and the data they create, be sustained? How do we preserve the effort people have put in?

Position papers and slides of the presenters:

Nick Stanhope, HistoryPin:   position paper;  presentation

Kimberly Kowal, British Library
British Library Georeferencer: Crowdsourcing Map Data
position paper;  presentation

Tim Causer, UCL
Transcribe Bentham: A Participatory Initiative
position paper;  presentation

Philip Brohan, Met Office
New Uses for Old Weather
position paper

Stella Wisdom and Andrew Gray, British Library
Crowd-Sourcing Activities at the British Library

Erin Sullivan, Shakespeare Institute
Shakespeare’s Global Communities
position paper

Anthony Masinton, Archaeology Data Service
Human Guinea Pigs and Casual Collaborators: Crowd Sourcing Data for Archaeology
position paper;  presentation

Contact us

Dr Mark Hedges

Principal Investigator

+44 (0)20 7848 2784

Dr Stuart Dunn


+44(0) 207 848 2709