See the video case study on Oxford Podcasts or the LTG YouTube Channel.
Channelling the power of the public through the internet is a new opportunity for research. Community-sourced collection online is an inventive, mutually-beneficial engagement between academic institutions and the public. Since 2008 the University of Oxford have engaged over 2100 members of the public in the UK and mainland Europe to capture over 30,000 images of personally-owned memorabilia from the First World War. The public were invited to contribute online, or via collection ‘roadshow’ days to a repository of digitized material. RunCoCo “how to Run a Community Collection online” is an innovative, crowd-sourcing model that started in 2008 with the JISC-funded Great War Archive. RunCoCo delivers training and guidance to other projects and is now working with Europeana 1914-1918 to produce the largest online archive on the First World War. The archive is freely available for all to explore and reuse.
The primary aim of RunCoCo is to facilitate community contributed collections. Digitisation offers a way for images and objects to live on beyond the mutable documents that contain them. But traditional large digitization projects demand massive resources. Through community collection projects, enabled by easy access to cameras, scanners, and web tools, the cost and effort of digitising photographs or films or documents is spread out across the community. RunCoCo demonstrates how successful collections can be built by smaller individual units through involving the public. Community collections can offer academics and the public access to an astounding wealth of previously undiscovered material and knowledge at greatly reduced costs.
To date IT Services has run three major projects through community collection. These are the Great War Archive (2008), in which over 6,500 photos, audio interviews, songs, and histories were collected; Woruldhord (2010), which collected around 4,500 digital objects from 400 people and institutions; and finally the current partnership with the Europeana 1914-1918 project (2009-present). Europeana has benefitted from a more intense working relationship with the media, galvanised by on-project media and PR teams. This has resulted in 600% capacity attendance at some of the collection days.
After the Great War Archive RunCoCo created collection software, called CoCoCo, available as open source software from the RunCoCo website. Antiques Roadshow-style submission days were run to bolster awareness of the website, and increase online contributions. JISC -funding has supported workshops to introduce the concepts of crowdsourcing and community collections to universities, local authorities and voluntary organisations in 2010. The presentations from these workshops are also available from the website.
This last project is a case study of the potential for impact through community collection. The Europeana project aims to add to the material available for researchers and teachers of the First World War, something that IT Services, as a computing department, have been involved in since the mid-1990s. At Higher Education level there is continuous, contentious reassessment of the First World War. But at a school level the curriculum provides only the same simplified facts, and the stories of a few, celebrated poets and British soldiers. The social memory is cemented in the selection of broadcasts, like Downton Abbey, Blackadder Goes Forth or Birdsong. Alun Edwards, Manager for Research Technologies, University of Oxford, explains:
“We’re all familiar with the WW1 pictures that everyone has seen; the photos that are used in lessons and broadcasts. We were trying to break free: to add something new.”
Use of the RunCoCo model has delivered both short and longer term impact. For long-established projects like the Great War Archive there is continued and expanded use and reuse of materials, without heavy promotion.
For other projects new audiences and widespread, even global engagement has developed, for example RunCoCo expansion through Europeana 1914-1918. More than 300 news pieces have been published online around the world covering RunCoCo’s work with Europeana 1914-1918 this year.
Crowd-sourcing has been found to be increasingly resource-efficient. For example, each item cost around £3.50 to collect, catalogue, QA, and distribute in the Great War Archive digitization project, much less than the £40.00 to digitise each image of rare items held in museums and libraries. The Great War Archive was also highly commended at the Times Higher Educational Awards 2008 for ‘Outstanding ICT Initiative’.
1. Remember that building a community collection also builds a community, which may need guidance and organisation.
2. Make use of free guidelines and work-flows to help set up, run, and sustain a community collection that RunCoCo has developed. You can find these on the RunCoCo website where you can also download RunCoCo’s open-source software or join a support network.
Lindsay, K., Keen, A. (2010) Debate: Should the general public be involved in academic research? [online] JISC Inform, issue 27, Spring 2010
Lee, S., Lindsay, K. (2009) “If You Build It They Will Scan” [online] EDUCAUSE Quarterly, Volume 32, Summer 2009