This paper reflects on the pros and cons of a mixed contributory, collaborative and co-creative model of community engagement (Bonney et al. 2009) with archaeology through crowdsourcing and crowd-funding. It arises from a recently initiated project entitled Crowd- and Community-fuelled Archaeological Research. This project is collaboration between University College London’s Institute of Archaeology and The British Museum and is codenamed MicroPasts. This project is developing a web platform to promote new online communities that span hitherto different kinds of archaeological enthusiasts, from ‘traditional academics’, to already established groups of volunteer interest such as archaeological societies, and a wider crowd of potential contributors.
These potentially diverse and international communities will have the opportunity of collaborating on one or more of three things:
1. Co-production of open licensed research data, such as 3D models of Bronze Age metal objects from England, or the tagging of historical photographs of early 20th century archaeological excavations in the Levant;
2. Collaborative development of completely new research projects, where several different kinds of contributor will be involved. The intellectual lead need not be an institutionally affiliated academic;
3. Crowd-funding of some of the latter projects alongside a number of other community archaeology initiatives. We hope to thereby formalise and build upon some pioneering but rather spontaneous experiments using crowdsourcing to co-design new research (e.g. Old Weather, or Herbaria@home; Ridge 2013). For example, we will begin with ‘scaffolded’ contributory activities where members of the public are invited to participate in research agendas already outlined by academics. It is then hoped that the contributors can develop these research agendas into a higher or even tangential direction.
On the MicroPasts platform, we hope to foster an ever increasing sequence of participation, by encouraging those involved in data co-production via standard crowd-sourcing to participate in follow-up co-design and also to perhaps fund their projects through crowd-funding initiatives. MicroPasts contributors are entirely free to focus their efforts on just one, or if they prefer, several of these areas. To our knowledge, this is the first model of participatory community engagement of this kind in the archaeology and cultural heritage sector. This paper will present both this overall project rationale and the technical choices we have made to turn it into reality.
All the software employed in this project will be open source and any modifications we make will be released to the open source community via an institutional GitHub account. For example, we will be using a British Museum hosted multi-site Wordpress installation for our main portal and for blogging about our research. We have already customised an instance of the CrowdCrafting platform (see Mansell 2012:8) and the first application to go live on this will allow transcription of the British Museum’s New Bronze Age II card index. For community interaction, we are using the Discourse platform for discussion and help to be dispensed by the contributors and facilitators. For the crowd-funding element of the project, we will be implementing an instance of the Neighborly community fund raising software (based on the successful Brazilian Catarse software.)
We will demonstrate how these software packages contribute to the holistic model of participatory archaeological research that we have in mind especially with regard to how the challenging task of effective co-design might be achieved. We will also discuss how different crowd-sourcing tasks have been incorporated into the CrowdCrafting platform, the challenges and obstacles we faced during this process (for example institutional opposition to micropayments), what influenced the choices that we made and how different tasks succeeded or failed. In so doing we hope to provide wider inspiration for others in the fields associated with Digital Humanities and a replicable model for anyone to copy. For instance, all the software created for this project could conceivably be reused by anyone with an interest in crowdsourcing or crowdfunding.
Finally, we will consider what kind of evaluative framework is suitable for understanding community engagement in such activities. We are interested in understanding the experiential, cultural and economic values behind contributors’ involvement in crowdsourcing and crowd-funding research into the human past. To achieve this aim, the following areas will be investigated individually and their inter-relational synthesis:
(a) Motivations for contributing;
(b) Dynamics of community building and the kinds of relationships that are built and sustained;
(c) Cultural and economic resources mobilised via community members.
Our analysis will address existing works on these topics within the science and cultural heritage domains, but will also look to deepen their insights with respect to archaeology and history in particular. For example, previous research such as Raddick et al. 2009, Haklay 2011 and Ridge 2013 can be built upon by closer attention to our contributors’ understanding of the subjects they engage in through our project.
The framework will be applied using a mixed quantitative and qualitative approach, and by combining more ‘traditional’ methods borrowed from the social sciences with “natively digital” ones (Rogers 2013) that (with due attention to ethical considerations) harvest cultural tastes and practices from social networks and try to understand how they influence community formation processes.
Bonney, R., H. Ballard, R. Jordan, E. McCallie, T. Phillips, J. Shirk, C.C. Wilderman. (2009). Public participation in scientific research: Defining the field and assessing its potential for informal science education. A CAISE Inquiry Group Report. Washington: Center for Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE).
Haklay, M. (2011). Classification of Citizen Science activities Available at: povesham.wordpress.com/2011/07/20/classificationofcitizenscienceactivities (accessed 31 October 2013).
Mansell, R. (2012). Promoting access to digital knowledge resources: managing in the commons. International journal of the commons, online. ISSN 18750281 (In Press).
Raddick, M., Jordan, G. Bracey, K. Carney, G. Gyuk, K. Borne, J. Wallin, S. Jacoby. (2009). Citizen science: Status and research directions for the coming decade. In Astro2010: The Astronomy and Astrophysics Decadal Survey, Vol. 2010.
Ridge, M. (2013). From Tagging to Theorizing: Deepening Engagement with Cultural Heritage through Crowdsourcing. Curator 56 (4): 435450.
Rogers, R. (2013). Digital Methods. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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