Illustrations in support of Public Engagement with Research Awards

Child wearing a WW1 cap, plays with a WW1 telephone

“Halo, aký príbeh mi rozpovieš?” [“Hi, what story can you tell me?”] Inclusion of family faces, and children especially, are key for the interest of the news broadcasters in the Europeana 1914-1918 roadshows, like this one at Univerzitná knižnica v Bratislave, Bratislava (2013) – 1.

The Oxford University team involved in Europeana 1914-1918 have entered the Vice Chancellor’s Public Engagement with Research Awards (projects), 2016. Click on each photograph to see illustrations of some of the impact of the outreach and engagement activities as part of the work to crowdsource First World War family history from local communities and online, (using the principles of “The Oxford Community Collection Model“): Continue reading

Posted in case studies, digitisation & ugc | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Crowdsourcing: the essentials

This post was written by Liz Masterman for the ‘News from Academic IT” blog and kindly cross-posted here.

The term ‘crowdsourcing’ crops up almost daily in the media, but it’s probably a fair guess that many people have only a general idea about how it works. In this article we look briefly at some of the characteristics of crowdsourcing initiatives, illustrated by four current and past projects conducted at the University:

Galaxy Zoo

The first stage of classification in Galaxy Zoo

Zooniverse is a platform that supports a number of crowdsourcing projects led by Oxford researchers. The original project, Galaxy Zoo, invited the public to help classify over a million galaxies. Current projects include Penguin Watch and Shakespeare’s World.

The Medieval Texts Translation Project is a by-product of Fiona Whelan’s doctoral research. It brings together scholars, academics, students and amateurs to translate medieval texts in order to make them more accessible to both the academic community and the general public.

Art UK (previously Your Paintings) is a collaboration between the Public Catalogue Foundation and the BBC to tag digital copies of paintings in public collections around the UK. Dr Kathryn Eccles of the OII has been researching the ‘virtual volunteers’, or ‘taggers’, taking part in the project to explore their motivation and find out what impact participation has had on them.

The Great War Archive ran a campaign to build an online collection of family memorabilia to accompany an archive of digitised manuscripts by major poets of the First World War. Contributions were collected both electronically, with members of the public uploading images to the website themselves and face-to-face, through ‘roadshows’ to which people brought their artefacts to be photographed or scanned by the project team.

Which comes first: the crowd or the source?

It’s possible to distinguish two main approaches to crowdsourcing, which differ from each other in their starting-points: content and crowd.

1. Content as the starting-point
This approach covers ‘a diverse range of activities and projects involving the public doing something to, or with, content’ (Dunn and Hedges 2014). The output from such activities can be some form of improvement to the content (e.g. Medieval Texts, Art UK) or, when the crowd is participating in research, a body of research data (e.g. Zooniverse).

Percy Matthews sketch

Sketch by Percy Matthews contributed to the Great War Archive by his grandson

2. The crowd as the starting-point
In this approach the public is asked ‘to help contribute to shared goals’ (Ridge, 2014): for example, by contributing artefacts to a collection, or by recording actions or behaviours. Once again, these goals can be either content (a collection of artefacts: e.g. Great War Archive) or research data (e.g. the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch).

These two models are, of course, a simplification, and a number of variations can easily be identified. For example, digital images of memorabilia contributed by the crowd to the Great War Archive may serve as valuable sources for historians of the period.

All projects great and small…

One of the most striking characteristics of these crowdsourcing projects is their difference in scale. Galaxy Zoo attracted hundreds of thousands of contributors from across the world, yet Medieval Texts Translation achieved striking success with just a handful of contributors. Furthermore, technology (and the funding for it!) need not be a barrier: while Zooniverse and the Great War Archive run on purpose-built platforms, Fiona Whelan used an assemblage of free and open-source tools for her translation project: Google Docs, WordPress and Titanpad (a collaborative writing app), together with social media (Facebook and Twitter) to reach her community of volunteers.

Zooniverse projects

A selection of projects on the Zooniverse platform

Blazing the trail

Two projects in particular have eased the way for other organisations and individuals to follow in their footsteps.

With funding from Google, Zooniverse has developed a platform on which crowdsourcing sites can be set up very quickly and at no cost. It is currently hosting 10 live projects.

A key legacy of The Great War Archive is the Oxford Community Collections Model and an accompanying service, RunCoCo, which helps those who wish to build digital collections using a combination of online crowdsourcing and targeted face-to-face interaction. The model has been used with a wide range of subsequent projects, both large and small, including Europeana 1914-18, Europeana 1989, Great Famine Voices, the Woruldhord collection of teaching materials for Old English and the Lower Umpqua Community Historical Archive.

The role of the crowd: collaboration and consensus

Medieval Texts poem

Extract from a poem in the Medieval Texts Translation Project

It can be tempting to focus on the eye-catching images and arresting texts that abound on crowdsourcing sites: colonies of comical-looking penguins, a soldier’s helmet pierced with shrapnel, a landscape so vivid one could step right into it, or the tale of the witch with her cow-sucking bag. But in many ways the real stars of the show are the members of the public who contribute their time, effort, ideas and artefacts. Their role vis-à-vis the research community is an active one: they are considered members of that community: ‘citizen scientists’, even though they may have few or no academic qualifications themselves.

Scientific decisions are often made on the basis of consensus. In Galaxy Zoo each galaxy is viewed by 40 volunteers and the final classification is determined on the basis of the majority judgement. The Medieval Texts Translation Project used a collaborative writing tool which supported discussion of, for example, vocabulary and interpretation. This enabled participants to engage with the project in different ways according to their preference; some would translate a whole poem from scratch, while others preferred to edit and comment on the translations already made.

Art UK

From the ‘Tagger’ page on Art UK

Both Fiona (from interacting with her participants) and Kathryn (through her research) emphasise the importance of building a sense of community among the volunteers in a project and, crucially, a sense of ownership in the collective work and of making a positive contribution to current and future scholarship. In Galaxy Zoo, this was taken to its logical conclusion in naming volunteers as co-authors of a research paper reporting the discovery of a new astrophysical object. (Interestingly, this discovery provides a strong argument against replacing human crowds with computers, even though some efforts have been made in that direction, such as the automated tagging of artworks.)

Even where participation doesn’t lead to scientific discovery, participants in crowdsourcing projects can derive great personal satisfaction from the experience. Contributors to the Europeana 1914-18 collection filmed for Irish TV news spoke of the gratification of being able to share a family treasure and the story associated with it with the world. In her research with the Art UK taggers, Kathryn found that participation increased their engagement with museums and galleries and a way to see paintings from galleries which they were unable to visit for themselves. Not only did they also grow in confidence in looking at art, they also found that their use of language improved overall. And for some, tagging fulfilled a therapeutic function, providing a welcome distraction from difficult personal situations. Virtual volunteering therefore, can open up possibilities for ‘anywhere, anytime’ volunteering, and with it a sense of purpose and personal value.

Ridge, M. (2014). Crowdsourcing our Cultural Heritage. London: Routledge.
Dunn, S. & Hedges, M. (2012). Crowd-Sourcing Scoping Study: Engaging the Crowd with Humanities Research. Arts & Humanities Research Council.

This article has been compiled from notes made at ‘Crowdsourcing for Impact’, a forum held on 4 March 2016 at IT Services as part of Academic IT’s annual Engage programme. The speakers were Dr Grant Miller (Zooniverse), Kate Lindsay (Great War Archive) and Dr Kathryn Eccles (Art UK research project). The convenor was Dr Ylva Berglund Prytz, who also presented on behalf of Dr Fiona Whelan. All interpretations and errors are mine.

Posted in case studies, digitisation & ugc, events (external), Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Suggested reading

Those interested in community collections, First World War material or history research may want to look at this article by our colleague and friend Dr. Stephen Bull. As the first in a series of three articles on crowdsourcing, Stephen discusses user-generated content (UCG) as ‘new history’.  Some nice examples from the work we have been doing for the last few years – crowdsourcing First World War material.

There is a genuine case to be made that, in the digital age, ‘User Generated Content’ (UGC) is ‘new history’. Its beauty is twofold: much of it has never been shared outside of a family or personal context, and now, being seen publicly for the first time, it can be marshalled into categories and mined for research.

Bull, Stephen (2016): Europeana 1914-1918: Showcasing Crowdsourcing and User Generated Content as The ‘New’ History

Posted in digitisation & ugc | Leave a comment

IT Innovation

Webbanner120x400pixelsMany organisations and companies are aware that their members can have creative solutions to challenges and problems that the organisation is facing, but that they may find it difficult to get these raised and funded. As of last year, the University of Oxford is running a crowdsourcing scheme to encourage its members to offer ideas for small start-up digital projects that will bring benefit to the University.

A couple of times each year, the scheme launches a challenge and invites students and staff to share their ideas related to a particular theme (an open category is also included to allow for good ideas not matching the current theme).

A dedicated platform has been set up to allow staff and students to post their ideas, comment on and discuss them, and form teams for collaboration. The aim of this is to encourage open discussion, emerge ideas from across the University, and inspire collaborations between otherwise dispersed teams or units. Submitted ideas are evaluated by the IT Innovation Panel which consists of senior members from all divisions of the University. A shortlist is drawn up, and shortlisted ideas are invited to submit a project proposal where they show how their idea could be implemented as a project. The proposals are presented to the Panel which then decides which ones to fund.

Over its first year, the scheme has funded 25 innovative projects led by staff or students. The projects range from small projects involving one student working on something over the summer, to projects involving a team of participants from several departments working together for up to a year.

The Oxford IT Innovation Challenges forms part of the University’s IT Capital Plan and is administered by staff from IT Services (including RunCoCo).

More information:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Crowdsourcing for impact – a forum

A crowdCross-posted from the blog for the Engage programme: Digital technologies for public engagement, knowledge exchange and impact (University of Oxford)


Crowdsourcing is an increasingly popular concept, and crowdsourcing projects appear in many areas. As part of the 2016 Engage program, we will be running a panel session around the question of how crowdsourcing can be used for outreach and public engagement.

When: 4 March, 2-4pm
Where: Thames Suite, IT Services, 13 Banbury Rd

In the session, we will be hearing about a range of crowdsourcing projects, from small-scale projects run by a single individul to large projects involving a team of researchers and thousands of contributors. We will explore how projects have engaged with their audiences and what impact that has had. There will be time for discussion and opportunity to share thoughts and experiences, both in the session and over coffee afterwards.

To book a place, please register at the IT Training Courses website


Posted in events | Leave a comment

Working with local museums

Being placed in Oxford, RunCoCo are fortunate to have a number of excellent museums more or less on our doorstep. We do enjoy working with these when the opportunity arises. This summer we had the pleasure to be involved with the Museum of Oxford in their community collection of objects for their 40 years, 40 objects exhibition (see previous post). This autumn we were invited to the Museum of the History of Science to support their First World War community collection. The museum was running a series of events to tie in with their ‘Dear Harry’ exhibition, and decided to go with an idea we have had for a long time: running a community collection event in the Museum.

Community collection event in the gallery

Community collection event in the gallery

The History of Science Museum is based in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building which naturally poses some challenges when it comes to running an event which involves a large number of staff and visitors as well as digitisation equipment and computers. It is not only a question of finding the space for it all, making sure there is room and facilities to receive a potentially large number of visitors, but also the issue of how to incorporate the digital element. Seemingly simple matters like getting access to electric sockets pose a challenge in a 17th Century building. Luckily, the Museum team were able to meet the challenges and put on a very good event.


Digitisation crew at work

For RunCoCo, working with our local museums offers an opportunity to adapt our ideas about procedures and practices to different contexts. That in itself is not different from working with any organisation. What is different, however, is that working locally we can have a more immediate link to the physical space where an event is to take place, and we usually meet with the local team several times over a period of time. When we work with remote organisations, we communicate over email, phone, and online. If we meet, it is only for an intense planning and training session over a couple of days or less. Although that works very well, and offers the organiser an opportunity to focus on planning their event without distractions, it is interesting to also have the opportunity to work in a different way, engaging with the event organiser and their space over a longer period of time.

For the event at the Museum of History of Science, we first met with the organisers on a couple of occasions to discuss their ideas for the event and talk about how to make it all happen. We also provided two training sessions, one for event organisers and one for event volunteers. Although these were held in the Museum, they were open also to participants who were not involved in this particular event. This is part of the strategic plan to spread community collection expertise and encourage further collection initiatives. At the actual event, RunCoCo were there to lend a hand, and as it was a local event it was easy for the organisers to borrow some of our digitisation equipment.

The community collection day at the Museum of the History of Science went very well and both visitors and staff found it a rewarding experience. From RunCoCo’s side, the best feedback is to hear that the Museum may be thinking about doing it again. Next time they will not need our training and support but know exactly what to do and how to make it work for them. That is, of course, exactly how it should be, but I for one must admit that it will be hard to stay away if I hear that there will be another community collection event in one of our local museums. Where is the volunteer sign-up sheet, please?


The first Museum of the History of Science collection event was held on the 26th of September. The RunCoCo training sessions were supported by the Van Houten Bequest through the strategic funding for Oxford’s First World War Centenary

Posted in digitisation & ugc, events (external) | Leave a comment

40 Years, 40 Objects: Celebrating the Stories of a City and its People

Table w 'Welcome desk' sign

All is ready. Welcome!

This weekend, the Museum of Oxford held their first ever Community Collecting Day. The people of Oxford were asked to search their attics and bottom drawers for objects that hold personal memories of the city from the last 40 years and bring these to the event where Museum staff and volunteers were on hand to record the stories and digitise the objects.

The event is one of the activities that the Museum is running to mark its 40th anniversary. All objects brought to the Collecting Day will be included in a digital exhibition. A selection of the objects will also be included in the forthcoming ’40 Years, 40 Objects’ exhibition to open in September. The exhibition will feature everyday objects, historic artefacts and personal mementoes selected by local people and community groups to reflect their experiences and memories of Oxford over the past four decades.

Museum of Oxford Community Engagement Officer, Antonia Harland-Lang says: “This is a new way to bring the history of the city to life. We are excited to see what the people of Oxford will share and are looking forward to creating a new kind of exhibition.”

The range of objects brought to the first collection event was considerable. Some were old, some were new, some were unique and some were mass produced. What they all have in common is that they tell a story about the city and its people, told by the citizens themselves.

Tables and chairs set up in museum

All set for the interviews

For RunCoCo it was interesting to see how the processes and guidelines we have developed were put to use in new context with equally good result. As always, careful planning, competent and efficient staff, and generous, enthusiastic contributors make for an enjoyable and rewarding event. And that is even before considering what has been collected.

People gathering for briefing

Briefing – the most important part of the day?

Woman looking at item from box-file

Exploring a contribution

Posted in digitisation & ugc, events (external) | Leave a comment

Community sourcing at the Museums and the Web 2015

Workshop participants

Workshop in full-swing

The workshop I ran and the professional forum I helped lead at MW2015 earlier this month in Chicago went down very well with the enthusiastic participants.

What follows are photos (in a very low resolution) and some reflections on work done and some work to do. Continue reading

Posted in events (external), project news | Leave a comment

Museums and the Web 2015 workshop references

These are the references from my workshop “Crowdsourcing user-generated content: using the Oxford Community Collection Model to engage audiences and create collections” (at MW2015, the annual conference of Museums and the Web, April 8-11, 2015, Chicago).

Chicago river front

I will occasionally be tweeting from the conference, especially around the professional forum I’ll be participating in about gathering user-generated content of the US in the First World War. Alun Edwards, Academic IT, University of Oxford

Support for crowdsourcing, community collections and social media:

Continue reading

Posted in digitisation & ugc, events (external) | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ready for MW15 Workshop, Chicago

Slide from workshop: Marilyn Monroe, Slovenian farmer, Angela Merkel, school pupils in the trenches at the Lancs Museum

Engaging audiences online and in-person

Finally, RunCoCo is ready for the workshop “Crowdsourcing user-generated content: using the Oxford Community Collection Model to engage audiences and create collections” (at MW2015, the annual conference of Museums and the Web, April 8-11, 2015, Chicago).

Alun Edwards, Academic IT, University of Oxford – representing RunCoCo will occasionally be tweeting from the conference, especially around the professional forum he’ll be participating in about gathering user-generated content of the US in the First World War.

Watch this space for the references and links from the workshop, and if time some reflections on the conference itself.

“Wish me luck as you wave me goodbye…!”

Posted in events (external) | Tagged , | Leave a comment