When Scientists Become Social Scientists: How Citizen Science Projects Learn About Volunteers
Online citizen science projects involve recruitment of volunteers to assist researchers with the creation, curation, and analysis of large datasets. Enhancing the quality of these data products is a fundamental concern for teams running citizen science projects. Decisions about a project’s design and operations have a critical effect both on whether the project recruits and retains enough volunteers, and on the quality of volunteers’ work. The processes by which the team running a project learn about their volunteers play a critical role in these decisions. Improving these processes will enhance decision-making, resulting in better quality datasets, and more successful outcomes for citizen science projects. This paper presents a qualitative case study, involving interviews and long-term observation, of how the team running Galaxy Zoo, a major citizen science project in astronomy, came to know their volunteers and how this knowledge shaped their decision-making processes. This paper presents three instances that played significant roles in shaping Galaxy Zoo team members’ understandings of volunteers. Team members integrated heterogeneous sources of information to derive new insights into the volunteers. Project metrics and formal studies of volunteers combined with tacit understandings gained through on- and offline interactions with volunteers. This paper presents a number of recommendations for practice. These recommendations include strategies for improving how citizen science project team members learn about volunteers, and how teams can more effectively circulate among themselves what they learn.
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