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Outreach Strategies to Engage Citizen Scientists: Insights from the Biodiversity Heritage Library


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Presentation delivered at the joint SPNHC.TDWG 2018 conference on Dunedin, NZ regarding outreach strategies used by the Biodiversity Heritage Library to engage citizen scientists with projects.

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Outreach Strategies to Engage Citizen Scientists: Insights from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

  1. 1. Outreach Strategies to Engage Citizen Scientists Insights from the Biodiversity Heritage Library Grace Costantino SPNHC.TDWG 2018 28 August 2018 @BHLCommMgr & @BioDivLibrary BHL Outreach and Communication Manager
  2. 2. LEVERAGING THE CROWD AND CITIZEN SCIENTISTS Citizen science and crowdsourcing are increasingly being embraced as a way to… Gather data to tackle research questions Enhance existing collection data Make scientific and cultural heritage collections more discoverable/shareable
  3. 3. LEARN MORE: Transcribing Fieldnotes • Several BHL partners are using crowdsourcing to transcribe fieldnotes digitized for BHL. • Smithsonian Transcription Center ( Smithsonian Institution Archives and Smithsonian Libraries (stats = 20,000+ pages) • DigiVol ( BHL Australia partners including Museums Victoria (stats = 5,000+ pages) and Geoscience Australia (stats = 5,700+ pages | 6,800+ geology slides) Tagging Images in Flickr ( • Volunteers add machine tags for species, artist, and geo locations. • 36,000+ images machine tagged to date. • Originally developed in partnership with Encyclopedia of Life and later expanded as part of BHL’s Art of Life project. • More info: BHL CITIZEN SCIENCE + CROWDSOURCING PROJECTS
  4. 4. LEARN MORE: Science Gossip on Zooniverse ( • Designed to increase the discoverability of images in BHL by having volunteers describe images from 19th century periodicals by tagging species, artist, image type, and more. • Hosted on Zooniverse ( – a major platform for building and hosting citizen science projects, with hundreds of thousands of volunteers. • Developed in partnership with Constructing Scientific Communities (ConSciCom) as part of the National Endowment for the Humanities-funded Art of Life project (2012-2015). The project was designed to enhance the description and improve discovery of images in BHL. • Lead institution: Missouri Botanical Garden. Participating institutions: Indianapolis Museum of Art; University of Colorado, Boulder; and Smithsonian Libraries. • Project Director: Trish Rose-Sandler at Missouri Botanical Garden. • Stats = 10,000+ participants, 150,000+ pages completed BHL CITIZEN SCIENCE + CROWDSOURCING PROJECTS
  5. 5. BHL CITIZEN SCIENCE + CROWDSOURCING PROJECTS LEARN MORE: Crowdsourcing OCR Correction via Gaming • Two typing-based games, Smorball ( and Beanstalk ( were created to help crowdsource the correction of BHL’s OCR. • Developed by Tiltfactor ( as part of the Institute of Museum and Library Services-funded Purposeful Gaming project (2013-2015). The project was designed to demonstrate whether or not digital games are a successful tool for analyzing and improving digital outputs from OCR and transcription activities. • Tiltfactor, based at Dartmouth College, is an “interdisciplinary innovation studio dedicated to designing & studying games for social impact”. • Lead institution: Missouri Botanical Garden. Participating institutions: Harvard University, Cornell University, and The New York Botanical Garden. • Project Director: Trish Rose-Sandler at Missouri Botanical Garden. • Stats = 5,000+ participants, 140,000+ words typed during grant period.
  6. 6. How can you engage citizen scientists in your projects and maintain contributions over time? Outreach strategies from the First up? Strategies to engage volunteers with projects!
  7. 7. PRODUCE SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS BHL has had great success with coordinated social media campaigns as a way to generate excitement and engagement in projects. PARTICIPATING BHL INSTITUTIONS AMNH Field Museum California Academy of Sciences Chicago Botanic Garden Cornell University Harvard, Ernst Mayr Library, Museum of Comparative Zoology MBLWHOI Natural History Museum, Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, London The New York Botanical Garden Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew Smithsonian United States Geological Survey TOTAL: 13 …with transcription challenge! SMITHSONIAN TRANSCRIPTION CENTER SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION ARCHIVES The Challenge? Transcribe 9 fieldbooks from 3 Smithsonian paleontologists in 1 week
  8. 8. PRODUCE SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS Local field note-book no. 2 of Lester F. Ward, October 16, 1892 to May 7, 1893. Digitized by Smithsonian Institution Archives. #FossilFossick Results? 252 PAGES TRANSCRIBED IN 3.5 DAYS WITH VOLUNTEERS FROM 48COUNTRIES
  9. 9. PRODUCE SOCIAL MEDIA CAMPAIGNS Key Takeaways? Embrace social media to promote your projects! Be sure to provide more information about the materials in your projects and how they relate to broader scientific fields. This helps fulfill volunteer motivations to learn new things (West and Pateman 2016), especially about subjects that interest them (Rotman et al. 2014), and build a deeper connection to the material (Parilla and Ferriter 2016). Look for opportunities to partner with other organizations on campaigns. This helps increase the reach of your messages to broad and diverse audiences. You can divide outreach responsibilities (and therefore resource costs!) amongst multiple parties.
  10. 10. TAP INTO EXISTING COMMUNITIES Launching new projects on a citizen science platform that already has an existing audience can fast- track awareness of your project and attract volunteers. …hosted on …featured under Zooniverse nature projects!
  11. 11. Forum posts reveal that volunteers discovered Science Gossip thanks to their Zooniverse participation and began contributing because it matched their research interests (i.e. nature, illustrations, historic publications, etc.). TAP INTO EXISTING COMMUNITIES
  12. 12. Key Takeaway? Don’t build audiences from scratch if you don’t have to! See how you can tap into existing communities and garner attention for your project by appealing to volunteer motivations to indulge their personal interest in a subject (Parilla and Ferriter 2016; Ridge 2013; Rotman et al. 2014). TAP INTO EXISTING COMMUNITIES
  13. 13. EMBRACE MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES/OUTLETS FOR PROMOTION BHL uses its own outlets to promote citizen science opportunities (including social media, blog posts, newsletters), but also actively seeks opportunities to promote via third-party channels. …reach out to societies / organizations about featuring your projects in their newsletters. …BES-Net newsletter highlight alone drove 40 visits to our project page! …ask your active volunteers for ideas and contacts for promotion. …volunteer introduction led to outreach opportunity with Wisconsin Master Naturalist community! BHL citizen science volunteer Hollis Marriott. Photo Bonnie Heidel.
  14. 14. EMBRACE MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES/OUTLETS FOR PROMOTION …consider listing your opportunity in a citizen science project directory. DIRECTORIES TO CONSIDER • SciStarter • Project Finder from the ALA / Australian Citizen Science Association (for Australian CS projects) • Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Catalog from (for U.S. government-related projects) • Library Libguides • Ex: University of Illinois: science/find-a-project • UCLA: 1189883
  15. 15. EMBRACE MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES/OUTLETS FOR PROMOTION Key Takeaways? Actively seek outreach opportunities with other organizations/societies/citizen science organization/etc.! The key is to target organizations and communities whose audience interests align with your project(s).
  16. 16. EMBRACE MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES/OUTLETS FOR PROMOTION Key Takeaways? Encourage and empower your community to spread the word and attract new volunteers! Word of mouth marketing and recommendations from friends are more influential than brand (i.e. organizational) messaging (Keller 2013, 218-219; Nielsen 2015). Add share buttons to your project pages. Make newsletters and project emails easily shareable with forward and share buttons. …social sharing buttons on Smithsonian Transcription Center project pages. …add easy forward and social sharing buttons to your emails.
  17. 17. How can you engage citizen scientists in your projects and maintain contributions over time? Outreach strategies from the Next? Strategies to maintain engagement over time!
  18. 18. OFFER INCENTIVES LIKE LIVE, INTERACTIVE EVENTS We’ve had great success with hosting live, interactive events as a way to engage with volunteers and encourage continued participation in citizen science projects. …we originally used behind-the-scenes live events as reward incentives for completing a project challenge, like with our #FossilFossick transcription challenge. We hosted a live tour of the Smithsonian’s paleontology department with Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals, Dr. Nicholas Pyenson, on Periscope as the challenge reward. …while well-received, volunteers indicated that the prospect of these events as a reward was not the reason they participated in the challenge. However, the events did address things that were motivations for participation, like learning more about a topic of interest, project materials, and how their work would support real research.
  19. 19. OFFER INCENTIVES LIKE LIVE, INTERACTIVE EVENTS YouTube Live (via Google Hangouts on Air) hosted by Smithsonian Libraries during the 2016 #DigIntoDyar transcription challenge. Entomologist and Dyar biographer Dr. Marc Epstein shared more about Dyar’s work, the important research recorded in the field books being transcribed, and how volunteers’ work would benefit his research. …so we decided these events were good things to offer during the challenges themselves as ways to satisfy motivations for participating and stimulate continued engagement in the projects. Dr. Epstein explores the field books being transcribed during the YouTube Live event.
  20. 20. OFFER INCENTIVES LIKE LIVE, INTERACTIVE EVENTS Key Takeaway? Embrace opportunities to interact with your volunteers in a live format! Major options for live video broadcasting: Useful guide to these platforms: Remember, contributing to science is a major motivator for citizen science volunteers (Singh et al. 2014; Raddick et al. 2013; West and Pateman 2016; Flemons et al. 2015), so this is a great opportunity to explain how volunteer efforts will benefit research. If volunteers feel their efforts are worthwhile, they’re more likely to continue contributing (Bruyere and Rappe 2007; Flemons et al. 2015). How to choose the right platform for you? Find out where your audience is already active.
  21. 21. HIGHLIGHT VOLUNTEER CONTRIBUTIONS Make sure you regularly recognize volunteer contributions and highlight their work and discoveries during projects. …DigiVol uses methods like formal honor boards, contribution feeds, and appreciation awards to recognize volunteers. …or consider sharing volunteer contributions on your own social media feeds. …or encourage volunteers to share their discoveries via their own social feeds and reshare from your accounts. The Smithsonian Transcription Center is a great example of this.
  22. 22. HIGHLIGHT VOLUNTEER CONTRIBUTIONS Key Takeaway? Recognizing the contributions of your volunteers is critical for fostering sustained engagement in citizen science projects. Not feeling like they and their work are valued has been cited as a main reason why volunteers stop contributing (Locke et al. 2003).
  23. 23. FOSTER COMMUNITY BUILDING AND DISCUSSION Strong communities foster healthy citizen science projects and sustained engagement. Build ways for your volunteers to develop a community and interact with one another. …Science Gossip volunteers actively use the talk forum to ask questions and engage in conversations about content on the site. Volunteers have even used the forum boards to drive self-directed classification projects. Ex: Identify female contributor content. …content tagged with #female is aggregated into a subject collection for Female Contributors.
  24. 24. FOSTER COMMUNITY BUILDING AND DISCUSSION Key Takeaways? Make sure you provide a mechanism appropriate for your particular audience to foster discussion and community-building. The desire to be part of a community and connect with like-minded people has been identified as a major motivator for participation and sustained engagement in citizen science projects (West and Pateman 2016; Parilla and Ferriter 2016; Van Den Berg et al. 2009; Locke et al. 2003; Asah et al. 2014). Platform doesn’t have a built-in talk/forum option? Try using a third-party application like Disqus. Or you can create a Facebook Group or hashtag for community discussions on Twitter (eg. #volunpeer for Smithsonian Transcription Center volunteers). If feasible, host in-person networking/community events. Communities can provide valuable project support by answering questions or providing tips to other volunteers. Discussion platforms provide project staff with a convenient way to communicate with volunteers.
  25. 25. STRATEGIES TO ENGAGE CITIZEN SCIENTISTS 1. Produce social media campaigns 2. Tap into existing citizen science communities 3. Embrace multiple opportunities and outlets for promotion 4. Offer incentives like live, interactive events 5. Highlight volunteer contributions 6. Foster community building and discussion Outreach strategies from the
  26. 26. ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Thanks to Nicole Kearney (Museums Victoria), who managed the Museums Victoria transcription projects on DigiVol and provided guidance on the Geoscience Australia projects. Thanks to Jane Black (now at Australian Botanic Gardens in Canberra) for managing the Geoscience Australia transcription projects. Thanks to Nicole for providing insights from her experience. Learn more about this work: Thanks to Dr. Meghan Ferriter (former Community Manager for the Smithsonian Transcription Center, now Senior Innovation Specialist for National Digital Initiatives at Library of Congress), Lesley Parilla (cataloger at Smithsonian Libraries, formerly with the Smithsonian Field Book Project), and Erin Rushing (Outreach Librarian, Smithsonian Libraries) for their work to help produce, promote, and engage volunteers in the Smithsonian-related transcription activities on the Smithsonian Transcription Center. Thanks to the entire Art of Life ( and Purposeful Gaming ( project teams for all of your work to make these projects a reality. Thanks to Trish Rose-Sandler (Missouri Botanical Garden) for providing insights from those projects, for which she served as the project lead and managed much of the projects’ design, support and publicity for Smorball, Beanstalk, and Science Gossip. Thanks also to William Ulate who provided project management and coordination support on both projects. Thanks to Patrick Randall (formerly Ernst Mayr Library, MCZ, Harvard), who managed outreach for the Purposeful Gaming projects and related publicity for the games. Thanks also to Tiltfactor (especially Senior Game Designer Max J. Seidman and Tiltfactor Director Mary Flanagan) for all of their support building and publicizing the games. Thanks to Dr. Geoffrey Belknap (former fellow on the Constructing Scientific Communities project at Leicester University, currently at the National Science and Media Museum), Dr. Victoria Van Hyning (former Digital Humanities Postdoctoral Fellow at Zooniverse), and Jim O’Donnell (Web Developer for Zooniverse) for all their contributions to building, supporting outreach for, and managing the discussion forums for Science Gossip (along with Trish Rose- Sandler). Thanks to ConSciCom and Zooniverse for all of their support building and promoting Science Gossip.
  27. 27. REFERENCES Asah, Stanley T., Miku M. Lenentine, Dale J. Blahna. 2014. “Benefits of urban landscape eco-volunteerism: Mixed methods segmentation analysis and implications for volunteer retention.” Landscape and Urban Planning, March 2014: 108–113. Bruyere, Brett and Silas Rappe. 2007. “Identifying the motivations of environmental volunteers.” Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 50(4): 503–516. Flanagan, Mary, Sukdith Punjasthitkul, Max Seidman, Geoff Kaufman. 2013. “Citizen Archivists at Play: Game Design for Gathering Metadata for Cultural Heritage Institutions.” Proceedings of DiGRA 2013. Flemons, Paul , Simon Bear, David Baird, David Martin, Rhiannon Stephens, Leonie Prater. 2015. “DigiVol: A New Way of Volunteering.” Presentation for Ignite Volunteering Conference, June 1, 2015. Accessed on August 17, 2018. content/uploads/2015/06/Paul-Flemons-DigiVol-a-new-way-of-volunteering-CFV-Conference-2015.pdf Keller, Kevin Lane. 2013. Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity. 4th Ed. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc. Locke, Michael, Angela Ellis, and Justin Davis Smith. 2003. “Hold on to what you’ve got: The volunteer retention literature.” Voluntary Action, 5(3): 81–99.
  28. 28. REFERENCES Nielsen. 2015. “Recommendations from Friends Remain Most Credible Form of Advertising Among Consumers.” Press Room, September 28. Accessed on August 17, 2018. advertising.html. Parilla, Lesley and ,Meghan Ferriter. 2016. “Social Media and Crowdsourced Transcription of Historical Materials at the Smithsonian Institution: Methods for Strengthening Community Engagement and Its Tie to Transcription Output.” The American Archivist, 79(2): 212-234. Raddick, M. Jordan, Georgia Bracey, Pamela L. Gay, Chris J. Lintott, Carie Cardamone, Phil Murray, Kevin Schawinski, Alexander S. Szalay, and Jan Vandenberg. 2013. “Galaxy Zoo: Motivations of Citizen Scientists.” Astronomy Education Review, 12(1). stable?au=pgg3ztfcv7h. Ridge, Mia M. 2013. “From Tagging to Theorizing: Deepening Engagement with Cultural Heritage through Crowdsourcing.” Curator: The Museum Journal, 56(4): 435–50. Rotman, Dana, Jen Hammock, Jenny Preece, Derek Hansen, Carol Boston, Anne Bowser, and Yurong He. 2014. “Motivations Affecting Initial and Long-Term Participation in Citizen Science Projects in Three Countries.” iConference 2014 Proceedings: 110–124. doi:10.9776/14054. Simperl, Elena, Neal Reeves, Chris Phethean, Todd Lynes, and Ramine Tinati. 2018. “Is Virtual Citizen Science A Game?.” ACM Transactions on Social Computing, 1(2), no. 6.
  29. 29. REFERENCES Singh, Navinder J., Kjell Danell, Lars Edenius and Göran Ericsson. 2014. “Tackling the motivation to monitor: Success and sustainability of a participatory monitoring program.” Ecology and Society, 19(4): 7. Van Den Berg, Heather A., Shari L. Dann, and John M. Dirkx. 2009. “Motivations of adults for non-formal conservation education and volunteerism: Implications for programming.” Applied Environmental Education & Communication, 8(1): 6–17. West, Sarah and Rachel Pateman. 2016. “Recruiting and Retaining Participants in Citizen Science: What Can Be Learned from the Volunteering Literature?.” Citizen Science: Theory and Practice, 1(2): 15.
  30. 30. Thank You! Grace Costantino @BHLCommMgr SPNHC.TDWG 2018 28 August 2018 Stay Connected with BHL! Follow @BioDivLibrary on social media Join our Mailing List: