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4. Identifying, aligning, and enacting values in your project

Published onApr 29, 2021
4. Identifying, aligning, and enacting values in your project

Identifying, aligning, and enacting values in your project

This book argues for human-centered projects that deliver benefits to all involved, but what does that mean in your particular context? Establishing values at a project’s outset can empower project organizers to consistently make decisions that support those values and to understand the basis for making such decisions. Equally, it empowers all project stakeholders — team members and participants alike — to challenge behavior or actions that are not aligned with those values.

This chapter provides a framing for understanding the significance, responsibilities, and opportunities that emerge when defining a project’s values. We advocate for project design that includes the explicit definition of values in dialog with project goals and objectives.

We need to talk about values

Articulating and sharing the project’s values helps to prioritize activities, allocate resources, define metrics for success, and enable participation on an equal footing. Defining the values together helps shape the kinds of relationships the project will create and foster. Agreeing on a shared understanding of values between all project stakeholders — including team members as well as participants — strengthens the team and builds trust, a multi-directional and constantly negotiated dimension to any shared project.

We all want participants to enjoy a project and to succeed in their tasks, and for projects to succeed in their objectives. If participants can agree upon shared values and are clear about how the project goals are consistent with these values, the project is more likely to be successful. The values discussed in this chapter may guide institutions as they face the challenges of sharing authority and supporting true co-creation.

Throughout this book, we prompt reflection on the ways power and privilege can be replicated in collective projects. By encouraging these forms of reflection, and with the call to establish a project’s values in dialog with iterative design and assessment, we hope to empower people undertaking crowdsourcing projects to create equitable and transformative spaces, communication, and activities.

Projects provide many opportunities to uphold values, sometimes in less obvious situations.

We reflect on conversations with stakeholders including content specialists, colleagues in your organization, and technical experts as discussions in which communicating values early in the collaborative process have been important. Examples in our collective experience include:

  • Advocating against external sign-on that uses federated identity, such as Facebook or Google

  • Declining to share Personally Identifiable Information (PII), such as contributor email addresses, with colleagues responsible for other activities within a cultural heritage organization, for example, events offices

  • Selecting what metrics to include or omit in reports to funders or senior managers, for example withholding participant demographics that include PII

  • Advocating for a high-quality user experience at the cost of creating more work for software developers and data processes

In these instances, the conversation brought a decision or action in dialog with the project’s values. Together, the people making this decision had first to recognize that a value was being encountered, understand the potential challenge to that value, and negotiate the best way to uphold the value.

What happens if we do not identify or establish values?

Values as a guide for your project

Where people are working together, there will be values — culture eats strategy for breakfast, as they say. If you choose not to engage explicitly by defining your project values, some other set of values — organizational, disciplinary, cultural — will determine the ground rules of your project. Values are expressed through the series of choices you make in your design, communication, and project prioritization. Defining values can guide you as projects become overwhelming or when encountering unexpected challenges. Failing to articulate what is important, and how you will demonstrate it, will lead to you missing a vital component of how your project is organized.

Setting up a crowdsourcing project, no matter how simple, is a design process. As with all designed processes, values are embedded in them consciously or unconsciously. Even working within established crowdsourcing platforms, such as FromThePage or Zooniverse, decisions must be made by the project team. From an opening conversation about whether a piece of work could become a crowdsourcing project, values are asserted.

Doing nothing is also a decision. Doing nothing in this context, by choosing not to engage with values, is likely to support the status quo, including existing power structures, instead of taking the opportunity for challenge and consciously course-setting. You can read more about power and inclusion in the “Why work with crowdsourcing in cultural heritage?” chapter.

Articulating and setting values

In this book, we hope to share insights into the unique contexts of crowdsourcing in cultural heritage and humanities that affect how we identify, align, and enact values. These include values inherited from a parent organization, the GLAM community, academia, funders, the technologies we interact with, and wider social structures.

Institutions might already have their own sets of values, either explicitly articulated or perhaps implied by a mission and/or vision statement. These values help organizations allocate resources to meet their goals, including making collections available for research, display, contextualization, and entertainment. As you design a crowdsourcing project, sometimes you will have the opportunity to assess your parent organization’s values critically, rather than blindly adopting them. The project’s channels of public engagement might offer new opportunities and new pitfalls that you would like to recognize in the statement of values. You might also reflect that in your project you could go further than your organization’s values, for example towards inclusivity or addressing bias. The values of the people and populations from which materials, collections, and forms of knowledge have come may be relevant to the project. We discuss the potential tensions between the values of stakeholders — the organization, the originators of materials, project partners, and more — later in this chapter.

Choosing crowdsourcing in cultural heritage as a framework brings certain values into play. Many of these values underpin our discussion in the “Why work with crowdsourcing in cultural heritage?” chapter. In our experience, values that may be present and can promote equitable crowdsourcing projects in cultural heritage include:


  • Design for accessibility — consider how the design choices you make can support, inhibit, or prevent potential participation

  • Respect for relationships — devote sufficient time, attention, and care to communicate, problem-solve, and build trust

  • Embrace of enjoyment — frame the activity in ways likely to spark curiosity, excitement, and joy

  • Advancement of participants — make sure your next steps for engagement in scholarship are made clear to participants, including where there are no plans for this particular project to be continued

  • Acknowledgment of participants — give credit for a project’s products to those involved in their creation at all levels


  • Deepening of understanding — support participants through the contextualization of subject content. Consider including lesson plans for formal education settings.

  • Transformation of scholarship — conversations with participants enable discovery

Open and transparent:

  • Openness to participation — extend a wide invitation to co-create data, information, and/or knowledge and even the project itself. Cast a similarly wide net when considering who the project community will be.

  • Recognition of norms — articulate standards for inclusive and respectful shared spaces

  • Transparency about products — clarity about intended end uses, archiving, and licensing enable informed participation


  • Care in scoping — ensure your project is thoughtfully circumscribed and milestones are identified for frequent celebration

  • Design for rigor — protocols, training, and support will result in fit-for-use products

  • Improve in the iteration — include regular formative evaluation of the experience and the data, information, and/or knowledge

Values in practice

Expressing values is a promise. In the previous section, we outlined areas for consideration when defining a project’s values. Here we turn to what those values might look like in practice, and how they can be designed into all aspects of the work to ensure an equitable project. Part of this design can include building mechanisms into the project to enact these values, including opportunities to check that they are working in practice.

What do values look like once they are established?

Project values can appear as a list of principles, as written and signed agreements, as well-developed user stories, as a community covenant, or as a code of conduct.1 We find the framework and toolkit described by the Citizen Science Ethics workgroup2 useful when designing ethical principles and have taken their headings as main bullet points, with our suggestions as to further areas to explore presented as sub-points. Depending on a project’s area of cultural heritage, it may be that not all of these sections are relevant.

Community partnership ethics

  • Take a human-centered approach

  • Respect all project members

  • Acknowledge and honor contributions

  • Build and sustain trust

  • Protect participant privacy as a default, and certainly when requested3

  • Never waste participants’ time

  • Remember that participation in online projects can have real-world effects

Biodiversity and environmental ethics

  • Consider both the value and the risk involved in sharing location information of rare or exploited species

  • Recognize and minimize or mitigate environmental impact

Social justice ethics

  • Equity in design

  • Transparency

  • Accountability

  • Recognize digital labor

Publication ethics

  • Look at Terms of Service through the lens of a project’s values, even where they are inherited from the chosen platform,4 or a legal or copyright team: if the values are contradicted, can steps be taken to better align them? For further discussion of this, see the “Aligning tasks, platforms, and goals” chapter

  • State clearly the publication plan and intellectual property rights for outputs from the project

Human subject ethics

  • Check whether you need to apply to an Institutional Review Board (IRB).5 Ethics Committee, or similar process for working with “human subjects of research.” This may be particularly relevant when working with academics

Data ethics

  • Define early and clearly the rights around resulting data, communications around the project, and other elements

How to identify your project’s values

Using your goals, objectives, and organizational mission, you may begin to map the boundaries of what is in and out of bounds for stakeholder behavior, project management, technical design, and community outreach.

For some projects, connecting the values to your organization’s mission may help align and gain support for your work across the organization. At times this wider support can be vital in managing the impact of your project on other areas of the organization. Involving stakeholders in articulating the project values helps them understand the trade-offs involved in projects while also creating opportunities for them to buy into those values.

Whether you are stepping into an existing project or a new project based on previous work, you want to take stock of the ways values have been expressed and enacted. You may have inherited values that need to be refined or even foregrounded in the project. For example, projects that work in existing active spaces — perhaps a local history society project, or Wikipedians — might want to bring in their own sets of values that reprioritize or challenge participants.

You might begin by auditing the values your project shares with your organization and the ways those values are enacted in public-facing services, employee support, and communication with audiences. The Extraterrestrial Space Auditor thought experiment proposed by Mike Edson can be a useful prompt for this. It asks you to imagine that you are auditors from outer space (or out of town) whose only job is to “look at your organization and compare its stated mission with what you are actually doing every day: how you’re spending your time, investing resources, hiring, firing, the kinds of meetings you’re having, the pace and velocity in the organization — the outcomes you’re achieving in society.”6

Questions you might ask from this perspective include:

  • What kinds of knowledge and expertise do you value?

  • If you had to prioritize your objectives or goals, which are most important?

  • If your values are substantially different from those of the people represented in the collections, how can you acknowledge those values?

  • If your values are substantially different from those held by some participants, how can you acknowledge those values?

  • What do you know (or assume) about your participants, their motivations, and what they value?

  • How much time can you devote to community engagement?

  • How much time can you devote to processing and using data that results from the project?

These questions can be difficult to answer because they deal with complex issues. A project might come against the desire of its project team and participants to make content open, while the Indigenous People who created it restrict access to that content. This has echoes of organizations taking as a given that preserving cultural heritage is a common good, where the communities who created or hold or enact that heritage preferring it be kept “live” than “in a preserving jar.” How these clashes are acknowledged and a way forward for a project developed depends on the project’s values and is an embodiment of them.

Trying to identify a set of values can feel daunting, especially when there is disagreement about project goals or objectives. Even these tensions can be productive in generating a set of questions that help you articulate your project’s core values. Once you have identified practices that align with or reflect one or two values of your project, you can craft messaging that connects the project goals to your organizational practices. You can open opportunities for discussion or further interest in the project by using that connection as a hook.

When to define values

Knowing when to set the values is actually a bit of a trick. In practice, you do not “set” fixed values. Rather, values may evolve through a project. They are in a constant state of being reassessed, then reaffirmed, or refined.

Like the values themselves, if this reassessment is not conscious, it is likely that it is happening unconsciously, and that the values may inadvertently be moving away from a project’s original intentions. You reassess values because you care about them, especially if this leads to planning new ways to implement the project, entailing different ways of enacting the values. You may adapt and refine your project values as you engage more closely with your community. These ongoing changes should be documented to avoid leaving project team members behind and for future on-boarding of new staff. A group culture may emerge, with values that then need further work before they can be expressed or woven into the project’s core values.

Long-lived projects may have values that developed over time, or that represent the moment at which the project began. Involving the existing community in the process of reviewing and possibly updating those values is a way to ensure the values are representative of all project stakeholders, and affirms shared ownership of the project by participants and project team alike. Change may not be comfortable for everyone involved, but involving everyone in the discussions helps mitigate this.

Our experiences lead us to believe that discussing values sometimes leads to difficult conversations. However, that experience also shows that surfacing tensions early when engaging with stakeholders and in project design makes projects run better in the long run. At worst, clashes in values that cannot be agreed on might put a stop to an idea for the project — but that is better than realizing this further into a project. At best, partners in the project agree on their values and co-create a statement on them that can be shared with new project members as they join.

Enacting and aligning values

You enact your values at key points in the project including in choosing platforms (see “Aligning tasks, platforms, and goals” chapter); evaluation and metrics (see “Evaluating your crowdsourcing project” chapter); task design (see “Choosing tasks and workflows” chapter); and working with communities (see “Connecting with communities” chapter).

Actions that do not seem like they may require values often actually do. These can include choosing advisory boards and stakeholders, or designing reporting and governance structures (if you have a choice in these). Who you invite or choose not to invite is an embodiment of your values, and these are decisions to be made consciously. Working with your various communities, your relationship with other stakeholders, and how you advocate for participants’ voices also enacts your values.

The structure of a project makes it easier for some people to contribute while keeping others out or at least making joining in harder. As discussed in the “Why work with crowdsourcing in cultural heritage?” chapter, implicit or explicit power structures embedded in your project will have an impact on participation. Further consideration of the risks of replicating existing power structures in your project are also addressed later in this chapter.

Communicating values

Once you establish your project’s values, you may want to make them available to a range of interested parties connected to your project. Taking the time and effort to write concise, accessible text that is easy for stakeholders and participants to read and understand is in itself a demonstration of your values.

Some of that communication with others will implicitly occur through a project name, motto or tagline, publicity material, “about” pages, tutorials and instructions, and interactions on social media, newsletters, and forums. Reading drafts of all of these with your values in mind is a useful habit to develop.

You can also make your values explicit by publishing them online. Documenting your values can help newcomers understand appropriate behaviors. For some long-running projects, like Wikimedia, values have often been implicit, leaving newcomers to discover the values through trial and error (see the case study below on values in the Wikimedia community).

Who you explicitly choose to invite (or not) to participate in your project is an opportunity to express or reassess your values. Values can also be expressed through your onboarding process and task design. You also communicate your values through outreach and engagement activities. Some considerations for integrating values into these types of activities are shared in the case studies below.

Choosing not to communicate your values openly and deliberately is also a choice and one that may well not align with your values as you have defined them.

Case study: integrating values in the British Library’s In the Spotlight

The British Library’s In the Spotlight project was established to both generate text transcriptions to make specific difficult-to-OCR documents more discoverable, and to create a space for the public to encounter and learn more about historical playbills.7 These goals were consciously linked to the Library’s “research, inspiration and enjoyment” purposes. The task interface design includes links to the original playbill in the Library’s catalogue, and options to tag, discuss and download the item. Contributors can also leave comments as they complete tasks. When appropriate, these comments are shared on social media, highlighting activity and conversation around the collection and task. Both building in these interface elements, and regularly checking for comments add additional overhead to the project, and in taking time from tasks, could reduce the overall productivity of the project, but are aligned with the project values of creating space for learning and curiosity.8 In the annotated screenshot of the In the Spotlight interface, elements related to supporting curiosity and engagement, encouraging the re-use of data, and contributing to the core productive task are outlined. Red circles show elements that support curiosity and discussion, such as finding out more about the item shown, viewing it as part of the entire volume of playbills, discussing it on the forum, or sending a comment to the organizers. Blue circles show features that allow contributors to access all the data generated by the project or tag a playbill to find it later. The yellow circle shows the main productive task of transcribing the highlighted text.

In the Spotlight interface demonstrating participant-focused elements

Case study: communicating values in the Lone Rock Convict Stockade Project

The Lone Rock Convict Stockade Project9 transcribes records of imprisoned men forced to mine coal in late 19th-century Tennessee.10 Since these records describe racialized violence and exploitation, archaeologist and project organizer Camille Westmont has partnered with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society of Nashville to transcribe these records. This collaboration allows the descendant communities to add their own interpretation to the project and serve their own goals. Notably, the Lone Rock Convict Stockade Project is conducted within the framework of the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation at Sewannee University, a values-driven participatory research effort.11

Case study: communicating and integrating values in action: Wikimedia community

For 20 years, Wikimedians have worked together to build the largest free knowledge resource in human history, ignited from the start by the powerful vision of “A world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge.”12 During this time, the movement has grown from a small group of contributors to a diverse community of editors, developers, affiliates, readers, donors, and external partners. A lot of the original contributors came from various parts of the open-source movement and brought their values with them — such as openness, transparency, and “being bold.”

As the numbers of contributors and volume of content grew, so did the community-led policies intended to make the emerging culture explicit.13 For participants’ conduct, the key policies address things such as Civility,14 Consensus,15 (no) Ownership of content,16 and Dispute resolution.17 There is also a range of guidelines. While not policies, these guidelines are still taken quite seriously, for example, Assume good faith,18 Please do not bite the newcomers,19 and Conflict of interest (connected to issues of paid editing).20 These guidelines do not solve tensions, even if they provide a starting point for different contributor experiences. Indeed, many still operate using the typically bold policy to “Ignore all rules.”21

These values and rules are usually not explicit or immediately visible to the project’s newcomers. Joining the Wikimedia community can be challenging — the low barrier for entry from the early years has now become insurmountable for many newcomers, partly because of exponential growth of policies that are expected to be known when editing.22 The rules are peer-upheld by the core community. Participants may experience the values in action for the first time once their edits are sanctioned by other contributors.

This discussion-led, argumentative style of the community can be off-putting to newcomers, which in turn restricts the diversity of new voices coming into the project.

Coming from a heritage organization, working with the Wikimedia movement means going into an existing community with its live operating values that have been generated from the bottom-up. Joining a project within the Wikimedia movement means doing some synchronizing work between your heritage organization values, the values of your project, and the wiki values. Some potential points of tension are: Open activism, where Wikimedia contributors may lean towards releasing all available content without subtler considerations of the heritage organization; focus on consensus — community prioritizes consensus as a method of arriving at a decision, which may be challenging for an institution, as it is not clear who to speak to make a full decision. There is also a certain porous nature of the projects run on Wikipedia  — e.g., wiki editors not directly involved with your project can come in and start editing (or deleting) and interacting with your project. That is the joy of working in the open, but it can take people some getting used to — especially if you’re working in a controlled “curated” content area.

In recent years, the Wikimedia movement has gone through a community-wide strategic process, which resulted in articulating a key new value for the movement of knowledge equity.23 Along with this, a set of principles was expressed, e.g., People-centeredness, Inclusivity & participatory decision-making, Safety of participants, and Subsidiarity.24 This speaks to how the movement has expanded from its origins, including new people, new perspectives, and also responding to the knowledge needs of new readers online25 (while this value is broadly embraced, it is not accepted evenly across the movement).

Productive tensions

The information above sets out what looks like a relatively straightforward process of discerning and operationalizing values. However, there are potential tensions and issues related to values that we have encountered in our own crowdsourcing projects that it may be helpful to acknowledge. For example, what happens if your community does not share your values? Or the values you would like are different from those of your institution? For example, a crowdsourcing project can be a radical, open process, which may feel alien to an organization more used to holding control and power over its content. In this case, pushing against the values of power and control can be difficult, but potentially transformative for the institution.

Navigating these tensions is not always about the perfect alignment of values of all stakeholders, but a process of negotiation that sometimes results in an uncomfortable transformation for your institution. In working with historical collections, crowdsourcing projects in cultural heritage also have to consider the impact of collection items with language or imagery now regarded as offensive. Problematic content within a collection might not be known until it appears in a crowdsourcing task, so considering a policy for problematic content in advance can guide your approach if this happens.

As described above, recognizing that you are undertaking work within an existing field of values may help you to refine what is considered essential to your project. Crowdsourcing projects in cultural heritage contexts may be influenced by the values established by organizations, collectives, and individuals engaging in this space over the last century-and-a-half. That mesh of values has been in constant negotiation but is also remarkably resilient in favor of structures of power. The mission-focused values of cultural heritage have been used to exclude, obscure, or diminish groups of people, types of knowledge, forms of language, and more harmful effects. The pressures on professional practice have also resulted in ‘more product, less process’ outcomes, such as those that lead to broadly described collections that obscure African American stories and prevent discovery of materials related to marginalized peoples.26

It can be useful to consider the ways that cultural heritage practices, collections, and organizations, as well as adjacent humanities practices, also serve as vehicles to reify the dominance of Western ideologies and colonizing practices. Through theorization and implementation, cultural heritage has necessarily reflected human biases in various forms of decision-making and design: classification, categorization, arrangement, interpretive description, preservation, and work toward coherence of these systems that support Western research and knowledge. The work of addressing these structures of power is difficult, tiring, and disproportionately falls upon people of color.27

Even deciding what counts as “knowledge” or “data” relies on a set of values. And values are not set in stone. Ideally, you would find the right values well before your project begins so that they can guide your decisions, but in reality, you might not spot gaps or issues with your values until your project has launched, or if your project is particularly long-lasting you might find that the values around you have moved on. Society changes, projects evolve, new groups of contributors might have new feedback — you need to be comfortable considering updating your values where necessary. Ideally, you would update your values in consultation with stakeholders and contributors to ensure that they are comfortable with their continued participation or support. If there is a gap between past and emerging values, participants may withdraw their labor. If this happens, having terms of service will help guide any requests to remove data from past contributions.

Our understanding of privacy is contingent on our wider society and context. Decisions you make about privacy should reflect conscious choices — or those of institutions such as the American Library Association, whose core values state “[p]rivacy is essential to the exercise of free speech, free thought, and free association”28 — rather than the norms of venture capital-based software platforms. Online projects can seem to inhabit a fuzzily international space, but your project will be bound by local laws or norms about privacy, such as European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules. For example, you will have to make trade-offs between anonymous and registered participants in terms of being able to contact them by requiring an email address. If you collect no information about participants, you reduce your ability to understand whether they reflect the diversity of the wider social context, but you also protect the privacy of your contributors.

Case study: generative tensions in DigVentures and the Unloved Heritage? project

DigVentures is a  social enterprise that has embedded participatory values through all its crowdsourced projects, expanding civic engagement with archaeological research far beyond the usual groups who would typically get involved. Leading with these values has enabled the organization to seek creative methods to “design down the barriers” to participation, experimenting with crowdsourced interventions that aim for a depth rather than breadth of engagement.

The notion of breadth (making a small change for a large number of people) and depth (making a big change for a small number of people) came alive for us at DigVentures through the Unloved Heritage? project. We were commissioned by Cadw (the Welsh Government) and funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to be part of a team working on a project to connect young people in Wales with their community, history, and heritage. Rather than design crowdsourced activities that appealed to many hundreds of people from all walks of life and different ages, we worked with a hyper-local, small group of young people (Valley Kids Youth Group) who’d grown up around Treherbert in the Rhondda Valley in South Wales, adjacent to Fernhill Colliery.

The group learned how to make films about their heritage and community, created 3D models of the industrial landscape, and explored the valley through archival research and by annotating digital mapping. One of the main goals of the Blaenrhondda project was to digitally rebuild a demolished colliery and its surrounding landscape in Minecraft, a 3D brick-building video game. Using their annotated maps, the group recreated Fernhill Colliery in Minecraft – a once impressive and long since demolished colliery in the heart of the Rhondda Valley. Though we reached far fewer people than through one of our larger crowdsourced projects, the innovative combination of research and imaginative activities helped us connect with the young people of the Valley and their collective past – making a far deeper impact for participants than would otherwise have been possible.29

Risks of replicating existing structures of power and privilege through your project

Making a conscious effort to see, face, and sometimes replace your values is hard. It requires introspection, inspiration, vision, and clarity, but it is an essential first step to understanding the change you make in the world, and who you make it for. This level of awareness enables you to “design down the barriers” to participation (to borrow language from the case study above), and in this final section, we will reflect on four areas where the unconscious bias of power and privilege can become unintentionally embedded in a project design.

Keeping all the power within the heritage organization running the crowdsourcing project

It is important to consider how you design and structure your project, and what that says about how you see your relationship with the participant community. Do you set all the parameters, define values, specify outcomes? Or are you open to discussing, or even being led by what the contributing community is bringing to your project? When Wikimedia (see the “communicating and integrating values” case study above) groups partner with heritage communities to enrich Wikipedia with their knowledge, they are often led by the groups themselves in defining what is missing, what the best sources are, and what type of content would best represent their knowledge online. This level of openness requires a governance structure that many organizations are unable to support, and this challenge could lead to productive tension where the host organization adapts to create a more equitable, collaborative model.

Reestablishing colonial approaches (replicating harm and bias)

Reports of crowdsourcing initiatives tend towards the upbeat and positive, but how do you know whether or not your crowdsourcing project had any negative effects? Stemming from the post-colonial concerns of Western practitioners working within multicultural societies, a powerful critique has emerged in recent years that identifies the potential harm wrought by unconscious bias and expert privilege. An example of this in cultural heritage crowdsourcing might be harvesting the knowledge gained from communities, publishing a synthesis elsewhere, and not feeding the benefits of this collective effort back to the community. There may also be issues with the subject matter that crowdsourced projects choose to digitize or work with because the collections are already digitized. This is usually the most well-resourced, privileged content, which further reinforces what gets cited and used online, (re-)creating a canon of well-referenced work. These biases can be mitigated through a self-critical awareness of your values to include potentially conflicting viewpoints and interests.

Reinforcing Western perceptions of knowledge (Enlightenment values, classifying knowledge neatly)

We recommend considering what a project says about the knowledge and heritage being explored. For example, Wikipedia’s characteristics (i.e., a community has traditionally been based firmly on Western concepts of knowledge) have produced a successful encyclopedic, descriptive, and fact-based written body of knowledge, but they also have limited the content it can include. For example, because of an inability to comply with notability30 and sourcing policies, some topics regarding un- and under-represented communities, such as Indigenous People who have not historically held positions of power and could not build the infrastructure to document it by the same methods, are left out. The policies about what notability means and what are to be considered reliable resources are written with primarily dominant culture populations/communities/language in mind. Often content about underrepresented cultures are considered not notable because 1) their sources are not considered relevant or neutral and 2) there are no dominant culture sources to support it.

Further, they continue to be left out as the existing community grapples with the issues of how to expand the project’s scope while maintaining and protecting its integrity and value. There is now a strong trend to change this, however, under a strategic vision of knowledge equity at Wikimedia 2030.31 Within that framing, “Equity is achieved by treating everyone justly based upon their circumstances and with consideration of the barriers that prevent them from having the same level of achievement. It cannot be accomplished by treating everyone equally.” Implementing this strategic vision will involve bringing in new contributor communities and changing policies that determine what type of knowledge is included in the project — while working with some of the existing community to address pushback.

Restricting access to the forms of data and information created through your project

In general, we value access to freely re-usable data and believe that any data created through a project should be available to contributors, if not to all. However, in some contexts, entirely open access is not appropriate. Collecting projects might have to consider their values around data protection and privacy. What can one family member consent to on behalf of other descendants? Can digitization inadvertently reveal “protected characteristics” for living individuals?

The Documenting the Now project32 has highlighted the ethical implications of collecting and preserving social media and contributed to debates about taking and publishing photographs from protests, in an era of algorithmic policing and face detection.33 Museums are increasingly acknowledging that colonial history continues to affect the communities whose images and material culture are displayed.34 Founded in 2007, Mukurtu35 is a free, open source “community archive platform” that meets the needs of Indigenous communities and institutions with collections related to these communities. It is designed as a digital safekeeping place, enabling communities to compose and attach their own interpretations and meanings to digitized records.36 From this perspective, alternative worldviews are not a source of compromising error or distortion, but a resource for improving what we know, bringing diverse viewpoints to bear on our taken-for-granted assumptions. This level of openness may be too far-reaching for many organizations, but it demonstrates how a purposeful and reflective engagement with values can help you design an equitable space, and ultimately empower your crowd.


The goal of this chapter was to help frame what we mean by values in crowdsourcing, a topic that led to a long discussion amongst the authors, and a determination to show how values color all our decisions at every stage of a crowdsourcing project. Just as our Book Sprint group commenced with an explicit definition of our values, goals, and objectives in writing this book, we would advocate that it is the responsibility of any project working with the crowd to do the same. This is not a static task, but an active process of putting values into action, encouraging the type of honest reflection that helps empower people undertaking crowdsourcing, ultimately helping to create accessible, welcoming, and rewarding experiences.

In our view, values underpin all other design and outreach decisions, so we invite you to hold this chapter in mind regardless of which content you explore next.

Johan Oomen:

tbh - its unclear to me why this second list is included as there seems to be some overlap with the one above.

Johan Oomen:

Question: do any of these listed below cover the examples above? (F.i. “Advocating against external sign-on that uses federated identity, such as Facebook or Google”).

Caitlin Haynes:
Caitlin Haynes:

This entire section (Productive Tensions) is so helpful and important, especially when articulating and justifying plans, goals, values, etc. to leadership. thank you all so much for laying this out.

Caitlin Haynes:

wow I love, love this! These case studies sprinkled in are incredibly useful, and I’m especially excited by this color-coding of elements to engage participants and encourage additional feedback.

Caitlin Haynes:

yes! Love this inclusion, but could this be drawn out and explored further? It’s not that simple - i.e. between open access as a common good vs. Indigenous groups wanting to keep heritage “live.” I think especially for those of us in large cultural institutions, we have a responsibility to critically and thoughtfully think about Indigenous and Native/First Nations content in the digital realm and especially in crowdsourcing projects. This is complex. Can you include examples of institutions or projects who are collaborating with Native communities? Or examples of how individuals in crowdsourcing programs can learn more about best practices for cultural collaboration and shared stewardship? I know Mukurtu CMS is included as an example below, but it seems a bit disjointed, or maybe I just found myself wanting more exploration (although this entire chapter is INCREDIBLE) of what content is indeed appropriate for crowdsourcing projects from a cultural sensitivity perspective and where practitioners can go to learn more about how to navigate this.

Caitlin Haynes:

what about the ethical and cultural concerns / risks involved in sharing location information of human remains, archaeological sites, etc. and the need to consider protocols for the treatment of archival materials and museum collections related to Native American and Indigenous communities? How do crowdsourcing projects put an extra spotlight on cultural content and Indigenous knowledge that may or may not be appropriate to share on a wide-public scale? What considerations should be made when including cultural content of any marginalized group in a crowdsourcing project, not only when we think about the additional direct engagement inherent in a crowdsourcing task, but also in terms of accuracy and human error. I.e. what impact does an inaccurate transcription, translation, tag, description, etc. (even unintentional) have on source communities represented in those collections? What responsibility do we have as crowdsourcing program staff and community managers to contextualize historical content, provide information on policies related to cultural sensitivity, and acknowledge the emotional labor of marginalized or source communities working with these collections or engaging with “crowdsourced” data? Even if we as program and community managers do not technically steward the collections we launch in a crowdsourcing platform (I know we do not, for instance in the Smithsonian Transcription Center, and the same can be said for the Library of Congress By the People staff), I wonder what role we have in ensuring that more harm is not done by incorrectly or inadequately contextualizing a collection/project on our platforms, or by launching certain materials at all. (sorry for the long-windedness, I have lots of thoughts on this and would love to hear all of yours!)

Samantha Blickhan:

Never apologize for being thorough — it’s a great point. I wonder if there’s a term we could add here around this; it’s complex given the provenance of some of these collections — I wonder if it might be appropriate under ‘Publication ethics’? We’ll make sure to discuss this as we go through and make these edits. Thanks for this (all my responses will end with ‘thank you’ — once really isn’t enough!!)

Vahur Puik:

What about the process of implementing the universal code of conduct?

Mia Ridge:

Thanks for your question, I’ve asked Daria to take a look

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Vahur Puik:

When I am actually reading the book linearly then this suggestion seems awkward as I have already read the chapter then…

Mia Ridge:

Thanks for the suggestion - we could signpost it more generically as ‘discussed in x chapter’. Because the chapters are available separately online we had to assume that a certain number of readers might only encounter one of them in isolation.

Siobhan Leachman:

This is such a key element in designing a project and in my view needs to be addressed as clearly and as visually as possible to volunteers prior to them starting to contribute. I frequently check an institutions intentions regarding intellectual property rights for the outputs of the project. I tend to boycott those that are not openly licensing the project outputs. Even if a crowdsourcing project picks a “non commercial use” creative commons license, I’ll likely refuse to donate my time. Often the institution is unaware of just how restrictive that copyright license is. Often project designers have no expertise or understanding of copyright either in the original source material or the resulting crowdsourced outputs.

Mia Ridge:

Could we perhaps quote you on that? (I think you also mention it in your survey response, which will be available on the BL’s repository)

Lauren Algee:

Perhaps just “recognize labor”? Crowdsourcing requires a wide range of work outside of the technical development and platform and IMHO those non-digital forms of labor are perhaps even more likely to be overlooked

Lauren Algee:

May also be worth calling out that should include both the labor of volunteers as well as all institutional contributors.

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Christina Crowder:

Personal reflection: It’s a relief to see this articulated here after having lived through the technical consequences of the same choice.

Mia Ridge:

Thank you - it’s really validating to learn that it resonates with others

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Collective Wisdom Project:

Do you have examples of decisions made in projects that intentionally or unintentionally reflect your values?

Kurt Luther:

In the figure below, “deadlines” has an extra “s”

Collective Wisdom Project:

Thanks Kurt - we requested and got an updated version from the Book Sprints illustrators

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