Lucy Robinson (Citizen Science Manager, NHM) began by introducing the Darwin Centre and the Citizen Science Programme, which supports volunteer research projects. A Digital Collections Programme is also underway at NHM, a cross-museum programme to transcribe labels and interpret specimens, the goal being 20 million specimens accessible online within 5 years…! So research was undertaken on crowdsourcing, which is the enlisting of an online community to provide direct creation and interpretation of digital data. Many crowdsourcing platforms exist and two were piloted, Herbaria@home – for a ‘Take notes from Nature’ project focusing on accession register transcription, and Zooniverse – which was chosen for the Orchid Observers project.
The opportunities of crowdsourcing were summed up as the potential to showcase collections; the expertise of the crowd; and potential to keep visitors engaged beyond a site visit. The challenges were the choice of platform; the need to scale up for volume of data whilst still providing a quality experience for crowd visitors; and the additional work involved in integrating sourced data back to the database.
Kath Castillo (Project Officer (Scientific Communities), NHM) went into detail about the AHRC-funded Orchid Observers project. She explained how a 2011 journal article had explored the effects of global warming by mapping one species of spider orchid over 100 years using historic specimens, showing flowering now 6 days earlier. Inspired by this, Orchid Observers aimed to map 29 species using 140 years of historic museum specimens, 45 years of field records/photographs and new 2015 data – all created and collated via crowdsourcing. At the same time, the communication and collaboration potential of crowdsourcing for citizen scientists was to be assessed.
The project was launched in April 2015 and over a 5-month flowering season, with over 1,000 registered users, they obtained: 31,253 online classifications, 2,250 uploaded images and 1800 field records including 200 new. A talk forum also proved very successful, with users communicating and interacting independently.
Initial data analysis confirms earlier flowering in two species, with much still to explore including temperature data mapping. In terms of process, crowdsourcing was key and a great success, but intensive for staff.
The talk concluded with confirmation that the project was also great fun for all concerned – with a beautiful smiling bee orchid image to prove it.
In the question session, integration of data back into the main database was confirmed as a significant task but the Zooniverse metadata should be downloadable directly into EMu. However, the Smithsonian’s system has been recently redesigned to include a direct interface with EMu, and so may in fact prove a better platform long term, with this specific feature.
Lucy and Kath also expanded on data quality control. In this case, a mainly known pool of users allowed for a high level of trust, but the process can be tailored, for example running data through checkers as well as the initial transcriber, with disagreement resulting in a flag to a curator.