Collective Wisdom: the state of the art in cultural heritage crowdsourcing

Collective Wisdom: the state of the art in cultural heritage crowdsourcing

Collective Wisdom is led by Principal Investigator Mia Ridge (British Library) and Co-Investigators Meghan Ferriter (Library of Congress) and Sam Blickhan (Zooniverse). We are funded by an AHRC UK-US Partnership Development Grant.

Our overarching goals are:


Before COVID-19, we had organised a five day collaborative 'book sprint' (or writing workshop) at the Peale Center for Baltimore History and Architecture in April 2020. We had also planned an October 2020 workshop at the British Library for up to 25 participants. However, like so many others, we are adapting our plans.

Working with a to-be-determined number of other collaborators, we'll write a high-quality book that provides a comprehensive, practical and authoritative guide to crowdsourcing and digitally-enabled participation projects in the cultural heritage sector. We want to provide an effective road map for cultural institutions hoping to use crowdsourcing for the first time and a resource for institutions already using crowdsourcing to benchmark their work.

In the spirit of digital participation, we had planned to publish a commentable version of the book online with an open call for feedback from the extended international community of crowdsourcing practitioners, academics and volunteers. We were excited about including the expertise of those unable to attend the book sprint in our final open access publication - and now we have the opportunity to adapt the writing process to make the period of open review even more integral to the final publication. The book sprint will close with a short debrief session to capture suggestions about gaps in the field and sketch the agenda for the closing workshop.

We will hold a workshop to interrogate, refine and advance questions raised during the year and identify high priority gaps and emerging challenges in the field that could be addressed by future research collaborations. We had already planned some forms of remote participation alongside the in-person event, but now the entire event is likely to be online. Our plain to publish a white paper reporting on this workshop, outlining emerging, intractable and unsolved challenges that could be addressed by further funding for collaborative work remains.

Finally, we want this project to help foster the wonderful community of crowdsourcing practitioners, participants and researchers by hosting events and online discussion. Adapting to the global pandemic - and the increased interest in crowdsourcing, digital participation and access - makes this more important than ever.

Why now?

For several years, crowdsourcing has provided a framework for online participation with, and around, cultural heritage collections. This popularity leads to increased participant expectations while also attracting criticism such as accusations of ‘free labour’. Now, the introduction of machine learning and AI methods, and co-creation and new models of ownership and authorship present significant challenges for institutions used to managing interactions with collections on their own terms.

How can you get involved?

We held a call for participants in our April Book Sprint, and will be in contact with applicants when we have confirmed a timetable for the book sprint. The easiest way to get updates such as calls for contributors and links to blog posts is to sign up for the British Library's crowdsourcing newsletter or join the Crowdsourcing group on Humanities Commons. The JISCMail Crowdsourcing list has some discussion on starting and managing projects in the current context.

This project was funded by the AHRC as 'From crowdsourcing to digitally-enabled participation: the state of the art in collaboration, access, and inclusion for cultural heritage institutions'.