Collective Wisdom

The state of the art in cultural heritage crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is a form of digitally-enabled participation that promises deeper, more engaged relationships with the public via meaningful tasks with cultural heritage collections. This project brings together world-leading experts from the UK and the US to document the state of the art in designing, managing and integrating crowdsourcing activities, and to look ahead to future challenges and unresolved issues that could be addressed by larger, longer-term collaboration on methods for digitally-enabled participation.

The Collective Wisdom Project is led by Principal Investigator Mia Ridge (British Library) and Co-Investigators Meghan Ferriter (then Library of Congress) and Sam Blickhan (Zooniverse).

Our overarching goals are to:

  • Foster an international community of practice in crowdsourcing in cultural heritage
  • Capture and disseminate the state of the art and promote knowledge exchange in crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation
  • Set a research agenda and generate shared understandings of unsolved or tricky problems that could lead to future funding applications

Activities and objectives

We planned two activities to reach our goals:

  • two week-long collaborative ‘sprints’ (or writing workshops) designed to produce an authoritative book within a month – this became online Book Sprints over March 15 – 19 and March 29 – April 2, 2021
  • a follow-up workshop to interrogate, refine and advance questions from this thematic area and agree upon high priority issues for future work, laying the foundations for future collaboration and providing input for the white paper – held over two days on October 20 and 21, 2021

These activities are designed to produce the following results:

Why now?

For several years, crowdsourcing has provided a framework for online participation with, and around, cultural heritage collections. This popularity leads to increased participant expectations while also attracting criticism such as accusations of ‘free labour’. Now, the introduction of machine learning and AI methods, and co-creation and new models of ownership and authorship present significant challenges for institutions used to managing interactions with collections on their own terms.

We want this project to help foster the wonderful community of crowdsourcing practitioners, participants and researchers by hosting events and online discussion. Adapting to the global pandemic – and the increased interest in crowdsourcing, digital participation and access – makes this more important than ever.

How can you get involved?

*NEW* The Collective Wisdom White Paper: You’ll have the chance to contribute to community review of the Collective Wisdom White Paper and its 5 keys recommendations from now through August 2023. There are a few ways that readers can leave a trace on documents on the pubpub platform – you can highlight text, comment on specific lines, or comment on a document as a whole. You'll need to create a free pubpub account to do this – If preferable, you can also send email feedback to Mia Ridge at

The Collective Wisdom Handbook: We have now closed our 'community peer review' period, but the commentable version of the book will remain online indefinitely at The Collective Wisdom Handbook: perspectives on crowdsourcing in cultural heritage.

We published this first version of our collaborative text to provide early access to our work, and to invite comment and discussion from anyone interested in crowdsourcing, citizen science, citizen history, digital / online volunteer projects, programmes, tools or platforms with cultural heritage collections.

We previously held a call for participants in our Book Sprint, and asked for responses to two short surveys with people who volunteer for or work 'behind the scenes' in crowdsourcing, citizen science, citizen history, digital / online volunteer projects, programmes, tools or platforms with cultural heritage collections. The survey results are available on this site.

The easiest way to get updates such as calls for contributors and links to blog posts is to sign up for the British Library's crowdsourcing newsletter or join the Crowdsourcing group on Humanities Commons. If you're generally interested in crowdsourcing and online participation in digital cultural heritage, the JISCMail Crowdsourcing list has some discussion on starting and managing projects in the current context.

We're using the #CollectiveWisdomAHRC hashtag on twitter and posting updates on this site.

Funded by the AHRC

We are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council for funding as an AHRC UK-US Partnership Development Grant for our proposal, 'From crowdsourcing to digitally-enabled participation: the state of the art in collaboration, access, and inclusion for cultural heritage institutions', AH/T013052/1.

Photo of a group of men and women walking together
Palmer's Mystery Hike No. 2, 1932, Powerhouse Museum Collection