Engaging Crowds: Citizen research and heritage data at scale

Members of the research community understand the tremendous benefits and rewards that can come from engaging volunteers in heritage research projects. Involving volunteers can help bring to life projects that might not have been possible due to limited time, resources and staff. Not only does citizen research enrich our understanding of heritage material, it gives volunteers the opportunity to work on passion projects they may not have imagined or received an education in previously. Digital spaces have opened up new opportunities for volunteers to help classify, annotate or transcribe collections, reaching milestones that would be very difficult with just a small team of staff or limited funding.

Engaging Crowds: Citizen research and heritage data at scale recognises the vital contribution of volunteer researchers and aims to investigate the practice of citizen research in the heritage sector.  This project explores the current and potential practice of engaging diverse audiences with the creation, use and reuse of heritage data.

It asks:

  • How do audiences currently engage with citizen research projects?
  • How do different institutions assess, present and value the work of volunteers?
  • What is the best way to engage volunteers in these projects in the future?

Engaging Crowds will hold several workshops with groups that receive data volunteers produce: collections-holding organisations, machine-learning algorithms, and the citizens themselves. It will also develop a new indexing tool that gives volunteers the agency to choose their own pathway through a project, which will then be evaluated by three new citizen research projects. A report based on these findings together will recommend the best ways of encouraging and supporting meaningful public interaction with heritage collections.

The project is led by The National Archives, with the Zooniverse team at the University of Oxford, Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, and National Maritime Museum. All partners have significant experience of conducting citizen research projects, not least using Zooniverse, a free, open source platform with more than 1.9 million volunteers worldwide.

Engaging Crowds aims to promote open discovery and research, inter-disciplinary working across sectors and equality, diversity and inclusion. Engaging Crowds is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council as part of the research programme Towards a National Collection: Opening UK Heritage to the World.

Volunteer recruitment will begin shortly. Check this page for more information or subscribe to the Research newsletter by emailing us.