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The volunteer perspective on 'What makes a crowdsourcing / citizen research / online volunteering project great?'

As promised, here are the responses to one of the two key questions we asked volunteers on crowdsourcing, citizen science, citizen history, digital / online volunteer projects, programmes, tools or platforms with cultural heritage collections. Our thanks to everyone who contributed and helped spread the word!

Context: this survey had 71 responses, and this question (being compulsory) also had 71 responses. The first response was on February 9 and the last response was March 1, 2021. It represents a sample of convenience, dependent on the team's reach on social media, and the membership of mailing lists and newsletters we posted to. There's further information about these informal surveys at 'We want to hear from you!', and we're happy to answer questions about our project. We've tagged our survey results posts for quick reference.

What makes a crowdsourcing / citizen research / online volunteering project great?
Doing something useful and absorbing, getting to see collections or think about research I'd never normally be hands-on with
leadership
Subject is of personal interest/chance to learn/improve skills/good feedback
The content
The result! But also, it has been extraordinary helpful to mental health in lockdown, and at all times for people who are housebound for example. 
Measurable progress and meaningful contribution to research endeavors.
Clear instructions thanks, reward after you do s lot
Communication and a sense of community
– A really good interface
– Friendly and welcoming community of volunteers
– Regular updates from the researchers
– Make it possible to contribute a little bit at a time
easy to do
An open mind.
Interesting topics, a chance to learn about new areas of knowledge
I can do it from home. I'm a retired science librarian and love biology, geography, and data gathering and transcription. In working on the Invertebrate Time Machine project I'm learning a lot about natural history specimen collection and world geography. I have to think and get to do research on my own to figure out some of the information needed. The project managers are wonderful and prompt in responding to questions. They are so appreciative. I feel like I am part of a community.
Knowing that there are others out there that value the same things that I do. It's also great that we can unlock data for science & history in a short time and for a low cost to the people who can really put it to use. It sort of the same ethos as open source software; people giving their time and energy to contribute without the expectation of great personal gain.
Open reuse status of contributions, Engagement between the provider and the contributor, ability to see how the provider uses your work and how your work makes an impact / makes the world better. 
Helping science, learning, making data available to people who otherwise wouldn't have known it existed, (online) meeting people from all over the globe
don't have an opinion
You feel like you are contributing to the greater knowledge, and also learn things yourself.
flexible way to contribute – learning a bit more about the subject and the satisfaction of completing items (don't always get that with the day job. 
Being able to contribute to making the world a better place and furthering the growth of human knowledge.
It's easy to do – those ones become like flicking through FB but are a more productive use of my time. and you get a good sense of accomplishment when you can tick off lots of checks. But I will put in harder work on projects I feel passionate about.
1. The project will make an obvious impact on something I care about (e.g. Bash the Bug (tuberculosis treatments)).

2. It is easy to do (e.g. "is there an animal in the picture", "transcribe the number in this box" "does this feature look more like this shape or that shape")
Variety in content/themes and types of projects. Good communication practices with participants.
For me it's historical data projects that interest me. I love reading up on old historical documents, or UK places or photographs and helping the next generation of historians make use of the data.
Stimulates the mind, constantly learning something new. See things differently. Although, I have also met "virtually" some really great people. 
What makes a crowd sourcing project great because people can be hands on and be able to learn while doing something. 
I like the opportunity to do something that actually contributes to science. I always wanted to pursue science as a career, but that didn't work out. Now that I'm retired, I love using my new free time to work on actual scientific research. A great project should let people do real science. It also should provide learning opportunities. The tutorial should give adequate background information for the volunteer to truly understand and feel connected with the project. The field guides should be clear, and helpful in carrying out the project. Questions to and communication with researchers should be responded to promptly. Results of research should be clearly and promptly conveyed to volunteers, who are, after all, an important part of the research effort. I like the projects that keep me up to date on what's going on, let me know when papers have been published, etc. 
It gives opportunity for normal citizens to actively take part in the research and also help speed up the research as millions of online volunteers will help the researcher.
something interesting for me; snaps of life stories behind the data I transcribe 
Certainly the number of people involved, plus there are programs for all tastes and for me a smart hobby.
It can help researchers analyse huge amounts of data by taking the help of the general public
What makes *crowdsourcing* so important, I think, is that there are many people who have unique ideas, talents, viewpoints, etc., which, most areas of the sciences, have been unable to utilize; I like to think of the little, Swiss, patent clerk, who, once, explained the the mechanics of the universe that we live in. Or, the janitor, at Mount Wilson observatory, who, eventually, became its director! (Milton Humason)
It allows non-researchers to become involved. It’s great for curious people, a way to learn. It’s less expensive than having all workers be scientists and researchers. It allows regular people to contribute and it allows more research projects to get done.
Being able to make an impact on your own time, from your own home. And also learning new things and skills at the same time, honestly.
It has gone a long way towards making me feel I can still make a valuable contribution to the planet through these extraordinary times.
The sense of community and contributing to create something for the community 
The threshold for participating is very low : Anyone who is interested and has a computer + internet access can participate. And although there have been some incidents (this type of thing will happen, whatever protective measures you put into place), I have found this community to be mostly very warm and welcoming and the mods/teams group to be very protective of their volunteers.
as someone with autism, the online contributions I can make give me relevant work experience and a way to connect with people (with similar interests as mine) that I'd otherwise find difficult to do in real life
on my timeline, let's me stretch my science brain, helps me contribute to the world and science 
The ability to make a substantive contribution to a project from my home at days and times convenient to me. It provides a feeling of usefulness as well as cognitive challenges and opportunities to learn.
Compelling content, clear tasks that can be completed in small increments, momentum and visible progress
I love the ones that I can connect with my daily life. I've worked on one classifying animals found on trail cams at a wildlife park near my home. I've also been working on one transcribing old survey information. I work regularly with surveyors, so this was fun and it was really neat to see how little has changed. The other thing I love is the interaction with other volunteers and the researchers. Everyone is so nice!
Being able to undertake a variety of tasks and feeling that you are working is benefiting the organisation/museum
It makes much more information available while making volunteers feel valuable for contributing.
An area in which I am interested, in this case history, and one which follows through a series of stages, providing interesting information along the way, i.e the WW1 burial cards actually tell you a lot about the person, similarly Every Name Counts gives basic information which can be used to read and research further. Fishing in the Past is pure relaxation, but also good for observation and checking out areas which are totally outside my area of expertise. 
The satisfaction of working with others for the common good of supporting scholarship. 
Most of the volunteering I do is, to a greater or lesser extent, based in preservation – from digital archiving of soon-to-be lost websites and files, to transcribing old letters and books and data into a digital format. I love uncovering little things as I read or otherwise explore the data being reformatted – synopses of plays lost to time, a vicar's wife trying (and failing) to invite her friends and sisters to tea at once. All of these things are a tiny snapshot of the world I never would have seen without it, and its wonderful.

There is also the academic use of them, and as a physicist I know the use of things such as a freshly digitised set of weather reports from a boat in the 1800s, but its less investing to read. Still you find things – notes in the margins, complains about the ever rain, a bit of ship's gossip scrawled in the notes box which really was supposed to be for writing about strange weather formations. Its all a wonderful snapshot into the world.
The communications, comradeship, new friendships and new learning
Interesting content to work on, variety. From the provider, clarity about what the job is, and a feeling that your work is valued. 
Each person brings something different to the party: skills in research, organization, deciphering handwriting; eyes for detail; openness to collaboration; computer skills on- & off-line.
collaboration
Able to contribute whenever you want to, and as little or a lot, depending on what you wish to donate. Fascinating insights into the documents and adds context to knowledge of that time frame. Nice to be part of saving that, and helping to make it more accessible. Opportunity to 'give back' quietly. No travel costs incurred. 
The fact that information is being archived safely and permanently then being made more accessible
1. Good instructions that have been beta tested. On some projects, I think the instruction set was written by someone who had not used the interface. A FAQ that could be edited by any project participant might be a good thing.
2. Monitored chat. Getting involved is easier and more fun if there is a lively, welcoming chat room. Project responsiveness to volunteers is crucial because GIGO. Projects are better served by participants who provide better and (crucially, I would think) more consistent data.
3. For me, projects that require more than just data entry are more interesting. If I'm going to spend time on a project, I want to be intellectually challenged. This is why I worked on Shakespeare's World to the bitter end and why I continue to this day with the Folger Shakespeare Library to transcribe 16th and 17th Century handwritten British documents. That project required volunteers to develop a set of skills, resolve unknowns, and help each other to decipher 500 year old handwriting. With the Ancient Lives and Cairo Geniza projects, I found myself neck deep in ancient Hebrew and Greek texts, and since am not a native speaker of either, both the challenge and reward were satisfying. The same was true for the Anti-slavery documents. But the African American Civil War Soldier, Planet 4, & Galaxy Zoo projects left me cold. They amounted to data entry, which is important, I get it, but required no gray matter from me. I'm sure there are people who enjoy that type of project, but I suppose this is why I like Zooniverse. It has something for just about anyone. 
The ability to transcribe text freely, without the need to underline or mark off lines you then transcribe. I really appreciated that with some of the projects I worked on–e.g., transcribing US soldiers survey comments from World War II.
I think that the input from so many people can really help to gain better understanding of the subject being studied, as well as getting many different perspectives and ideas on a certain thing. I think this community of volunteers and researchers combined, working together with a common goal and a multitude of ideas, is what makes a project a great one. 
It is an wonderful experience to read and almost touch documents from the past; to understand past generations; and in this work, at times, to honor and remember the history of those who "gave the last full measure of devotion"
Interest relevant to my hobbies/family history
Contributing to social and/or life science knowledge or research; learning more about a topic or seeing more of the world through naturecams or telescopic/microscopic images; progressing in skill or knowledge (either through direct feedback, or by reading the forums); interaction with researchers.
The ability to work on projects not seen before and contributing to the projects.
it reduces the intimidation factor for the public and helps everyone feel proud about science
Interesting subject matter, clear understanding of why the project is important, and easy to do small, discrete tasks (e.g., in 15 minute bursts, I can see I’ve accomplished something)
I was in the middle of Docent Training for the New Bedford, MA Whaling Museum after recently retiring when COVID 19 hit and the Museum had to close. When summer 2020 came the Museum was able to open, and we were able to finish our training on-line. Since I'm not ready to work inside the museum yet, being able to work on-line is perfect for my life right now. 
A great citizen research project improves or builds on my interest in the study subject (I love learning new things); it has ease of performance and is not glitchy or frustrating; I love the feeling that I am making a difference and I can see a purpose in the results.
First, the volunteers should have the ability to freely reuse not just the content being generated by the crowdsourcing project e.g. the crowd generated transcriptions, data, tags etc but also the content being worked on by volunteers during that project e.g. the digital surrogate images of herbarium sheets or digital surrogates of artworks, the datasets being collated etc. To be TRULY great the crowdsourcing project documentation e.g. instructions, work processes etc as well as such things as the software the crowdsourcing runs on, should also be openly licensed for reuse. This would enable other crowdsourcing projects to be more efficiently established and encourage the adaptation and improvement of crowdsourcing project documentation. 

Second, the project must contribute to the public good by enhancing knowledge or the ability to generate knowledge or the ability to link knowledge. To be great this “Why” for the existence of the project should be succinctly communicated to volunteers prior to their commencing work. It should underpin and be the guiding light for the project. This “Why” for existing should also encapsulate information on the workflow for the project – giving volunteers clear information about how the project will shephard the resulting crowdsourced knowledge through to the appropriate organisations or researchers. The project would show the volunteers the practical steps that the project will undertake to resolve the “why”.  

Third, the crowdsourcing project should actively encourage and enable volunteers to serendipitously explore the information and knowledge to which they’ve been led by participating in the crowdsourcing project. This exploration might take the form of asking further questions or raising issues with project organisers or it may take the form of more external engagement, such as volunteer initiated research into topics they have been inspired to investigate via their participation in the crowdsourcing project. This deeper engagement by volunteers, although possibly reducing the volunteers time assisting the project to achieve its first goal, its “why” for existing, is in my eyes an equally valid if not even more important outcome of a crowdsourcing project. A great project offers up and encourages this serendipitous engagement as a reward to volunteers who participate.

Fourthly, a great project supports and encourages engagement and contact not just between the volunteers and the folk running the project but also actively supports and encourages engagement between its volunteers. The social aspect of a crowdsourcing project is yet another of the intangible rewards offered to volunteers who give their free time and effort to participate in a crowdsourcing project.

Finally a great crowdsourcing project should have an exit strategy established right from its creation. To be great the project will have a plan for what it will do when, for any reason, it is required to wind up or halt the project. The project should ensure that the volunteer work product is not lost or unable to be traced after the project has been wound up. This may entail such considerations as digital archiving of the volunteer work product at the hosting institution but also ensuring the work product of the volunteers at various external repositories, or saving the project website url to the Internet archive, etc. To be great the project should also have a plan of what to do with the volunteers once the project has been wound up. Eg suggesting a similar crowdsourcing project to participate in, sending a letter of thanks explaining the progress and intended use of the volunteer contributions etc
The generosity of spirit I generally find among non-academic researchers. Highlighting and publicising hidden treasures found in archives, chatting on line with archivists. 
Being able to help out in fields that are not my expertise and learning something new by doing so. Contact with research teams and other volunteers even if only through online forums.
Lots of things! But key is that it must be a shared endeavour – a sense of community and collective identity is therefore crucial, particularly with remote work, where in all likelihood you won't actually meet many or any of your fellow contributors in person.

Importantly, all parties need to get something out of it. That might (probably will!) be different things, and they can vary over time. To achieve that, flexibility, openness, trust and respect are fundamental.

A recognition of the expertise that each each person brings to the project is really important, too – on 'Railway Work, Life & Death' we've gained so much through listening and working with volunteers and contributors from different research backgrounds (academic, enthusiast, family history, local history, current rail industry … and on). We couldn't possibly cover the variety we've managed to, and to make that research public, without the input of the many volunteers.
Beautiful humans, making something bigger than themselves.
Learning about history and contributing to genealogical data are the main reasons that I enjoy volunteering as well as assisting in science data collection
A great way to learn new things while assisting with research

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