Citizen scientist: Helping scientists help themselves

Sep 20, 2010

We are all scientists now, thanks to SETI@home, Galaxy Zoo, The Great Sunflower Project, Folding@home and counltess other projects that allow individuals to take part in scientific research directly or indirectly. In the case of SETI@home and Folding@home one shares one's computer CPU with the researchers, whereas Galaxy Zoo is more about active involvement with the classification of stellar objects in images of the night sky, for instance.

Now, writing in the International Journal of Organisational Design and Engineering, US researchers have mapped out an approach to virtual organizations that might allow scientific advances made in part by citizen scientists to move forward much more quickly.

"Citizen science is a form of organisation design for collaborative scientific research involving scientists and volunteers, for which internet-based modes of participation enable massive virtual collaboration by thousands of members of the public," explains Andrea Wiggins of Syracuse University, New York, who works in the research group of Kevin Crowston. Earlier work on virtual organizations, the team points out has focused on distributed collaboration among scientists and related professionals. However, the rapidly increasing power of personal computers, the connectivity afforded by the internet and social media, as well as an apparent growing interest in scientific discovery means there is much greater access to for non-scientists than ever before.

The team explains that, "Citizen science projects conducted via web technologies can yield massive virtual collaborations based on voluntary contributions by diverse participants. The increasing scale of citizen science projects, some of which involve hundreds of thousands of members of the public in distributed data collection and analysis, suggests a need for additional research. In particular, designing organisations to support this form of production requires understanding the effects of organisation and task design on the scientific outcomes of citizen science projects."

The team has used an existing theoretical framework borrowed from the social sciences and normally used for small organizational groups to build a new model of how best to organize the volunteers in a distributed, collaborative scientific experiment. The approach has allowed them to look at how volunteers might register, interact and reveal the results due to their efforts.

"The theoretical model highlights some key aspects of organizing and running citizen science projects," explains Wiggins. "This could assist people creating new projects or designing supporting technologies for them in better understanding the complex relationships between the diverse elements that go into generating good outcomes, both in terms of volunteer experiences and scientific results." She points out that, "Many project organizers are initially surprised by the extent and variety of the decisions that go into setting up a large-scale project to engage the public in science, so we hope this model provides a starting point to help promote intentional design and decision-making to better support learning and discovery."

Explore further: Austrian computer visionary Zemanek dies aged 94

More information: "Developing a conceptual model of virtual organisations for citizen science " in Int. J. Organisational Design and Engineering, 2010, 1, 148-162

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Enlisting more nonscientists can boost confidence in research

May 04, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- In an era of public skepticism about science and high-stakes decisions based on it, involving more nonscientists in research projects can boost public acceptance, understanding and the quality of the scientific ...

NASA Invites Public to Take Virtual Walk on Moon

May 11, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- More than 37 years after humans last walked on the moon, planetary scientists are inviting members of the public to return to the lunar surface as "virtual astronauts" to help answer important ...

PCs around the world unite to map the Milky Way

Feb 10, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- At this very moment, tens of thousands of home computers around the world are quietly working together to solve the largest and most basic mysteries of our galaxy.

Open Science Grid receives $30 million award

Sep 25, 2006

Scientists on the track to discovery got good news this month when a powerful computing tool received critical government funding. A five-year, $30 million award to the Open Science Grid Consortium, announced by the National ...

Gravestones Talking through Time

Dec 08, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- A visit to your local graveyard can provide not only a history lesson, but a science lesson as well. Historians know that gravestones can reflect the lives of people whose memories are lost ...

Recommended for you

User comments : 0