Planning crowdsourcing events
This chapter provides an overview of different types of events that can help create specific experiences, communities, or data. Crowdsourcing is often thought of as an online activity undertaken by individuals working to their own schedule, but online and in-person events can deliver, enhance, or complement other crowdsourcing activities.
A crowdsourcing event can be a physical gathering where people get together in one space to work on something together, at the same time. An event could also take place online, bringing people together to work on a joint task, usually at the same time. Events can take place at any time during a project: at the beginning, to launch and publicize the project and attract participants; as an integrated or additional feature during the running of a project; or at the end, to celebrate what has been done and move into the next phase, whatever that may be. Events can also be a mini-project in themselves, perhaps as a concentrated effort to solve a particular problem, perform an isolated task, or to test an approach that may later be developed and turned into a longer project.
Events can be organized and delivered by a project team, in collaboration with other departments, venues, or with volunteers, or run by groups outside the core project team but in consultation with them. Distributed organizing is discussed below. Events are also discussed in the chapters on “Supporting participants” and “Connecting with communities.”
Why run events?
Online and in-person events have been mentioned throughout this book as they help meet common goals around attracting and retaining participants, forming communities, and providing different ways to engage with cultural heritage collections and knowledge.
Events can also be fun, provide opportunities for project teams to meet new and current participants (and vice versa), or provide publicity for ongoing projects. They can also help widen participation and achieve tasks that cannot be done online or alone. You can plan events to support usability tests or gather feedback on project plans or interfaces. For some participants, being involved is a social activity. Events can provide that sense of connection to a larger group.
Events can generate new ideas or directions for a project. They can encourage new partnerships and relationships, and deepen or reignite existing ones. For funders or senior institutional leadership, an event can help frame the behind-the-scenes work on a crowdsourcing project that so often goes unseen and under-appreciated. For colleagues and educators at other institutions, an event provides a vehicle for recruiting their patrons or students to participate in projects. (We know that many libraries and schools are eager for ready-made programs and teaching materials.) Finally, opening up participation in your project through an event lets you take advantage of the existing channels for promoting events at schools, institutions, and other distribution venues.
Sometimes events may be the main form of participation in a project or provide an invitation to contribute. Events may attract a different audience from the crowd that would otherwise engage with your project. For some, attending an in-person event is the only opportunity they have to participate. They may not have access to the required technology (such as a computer and an internet connection) or lack the skills or confidence to contribute on their own. By enabling this possibility of taking part in an event, you can widen the participation in your project and open it up to new audiences.
Events can help lower barriers to participation in a project. Some projects can appear open to anyone, but it can be quite hard for newcomers to find entry points. This is particularly true for Wikimedia projects which are vast and do not have centrally managed micro-tasks for newcomers. Events can introduce a project and provide training so that new participants can learn about the project and can try it out with help and support ready at hand. Some people may find it easier to get started if they can do so in an environment where they can engage with others, ask questions, and receive support.
Participants can work together, sitting at the same computer, with one typing while they both read and discuss the project. In-person pairing can help overcome technical limitations. This can work especially well with mixed-age pairs, if, for example, the older participant is better able to read cursive script, an endangered language, or identify people in old photographs, while the younger participant may be more confident at typing and navigating the platform. However, fostering an inclusive environment at events also means not making assumptions about people’s skills and knowledge based on external factors, such as equating youth with having high technical competencies.
Events can help bring disparate communities together. For example, Historypin was created in 2011, in part as a web platform to support local, volunteer-led community projects that helped digitize photos, and collect stories and oral histories. This included events where school children sat with older people to record their stories on the platform as part of their campaign to get people from different generations to spend more time together.
Connections made between participants at events can be long-lasting. For example, the 1940 US Census indexing effort encouraged volunteer groups to meet regularly. In some cases, the participants wanted to continue even after the Census was fully indexed. This group transitioned together to other crowdsourcing projects.
A crowdsourcing project can be an experience unto itself. Remarkably, you have brought so many people and materials together! When your project is ready to grow, why not host an event to focus on enthusiasm, activity, and collective experience?
Types of events
Events may include crowdsourced tasks or more social or celebratory events such as launch parties, promotional events, or conferences discussing project outcomes. Here, we focus on events that have a crowdsourcing element; where participants take part in a project activity — for example, doing transcriptions, digitizing items or sharing their stories or objects. Some different types of events are presented briefly below, with links to examples and further resources. Events may include a range of activities, or use different names for the same kinds of things — labels do not matter as long as it works for you and your project.
Transcribeathons are events where people gather to transcribe simultaneously on a crowdsourcing project held at an archive, museum, library, school, or other institution. They can be held virtually or in-person. They generally take place in a library or other publicly accessible building which provides computers for participants (or invites them to bring their own). They are usually facilitated by project organizers or mentors. Mentors can guide participants through new tasks and software platforms. Typically mentors are familiar with the content of a project and share confidence and enthusiasm with participants.
Case study: distributed transcribeathons with Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC)
The Early Modern Recipes Online Collective (EMROC) has organized distributed transcribathons every year from 2015 to 2021. The public participation portion of the transcribathon is strictly limited; most recently from 8am to 4pm EST; 1pm to 9pm GMT. Project organizers promote the project in advance, recruiting from students of early modern English literature and scholars of food culture. The transcribathons work with a limited number of texts taken from the broader collection: in 2021 two manuscripts were chosen, with a third added after the initial texts were completed early. The 2021 EMROC transcribathon attracted 171 participants (including project organizers) who transcribed 324 pages of early modern text during the eight-hour event.
Other crowdsourcing events include Douglass Day and WeDigBio, both of which bring people together for annual distributed transcribeathon events (a detailed description and case studies about Douglass Day can be found in the “Outreach and Community Management”chapter).
Sometimes transcribeathons are organized around individual projects, such as Scribes of the Cairo Geniza, or around a specific collection or effort, such as Transcribe Bond.
If you are interested in getting involved in an event (or helping others to get involved with your event), both Douglass Day and WeDigBio offer organizing and event planning resources on their respective websites. FromThePage also provides resources on hosting transcribeathons, both in person and online.
When people gather to work simultaneously to edit or improve existing resources, for example, Wikipedia articles. They often have a thematic focus, such as improving coverage of women and people of color. They can be held virtually or in-person. There is also a range of similar contribution formats along with other Wikimedia projects (e.g., adding photos to Wikimedia Commons). Guides with how-to information are available online.
For an online project such as Wikimedia, interestingly, a majority of its outreach and community events have been run in-person. In this way a lot of crowdsourced guides and advice presuppose an offline venue, providing computers and refreshments, running Wikipedia training in-person. Wikipedia provides a comprehensive overview with a lot of practical advice for running such an event.
2020 meant canceling most in-person events and moving editathons exclusively online. This has led to some reflections on the practice and structure of events. At Wikimedia UK, for example, our online training sessions are now shorter than in-person events and may take place in segments over an extended period. We have experimented with different formats and pared down the amount of information being presented to suit the online format.
When people gather to work on a defined problem or data set(s), and depending on the size of the event, participants may work collectively or split into teams. This type of event can often require technical expertise but non-coders can be integrated into teams as well. These events help generate ideas for using data created through crowdsourcing while encouraging the use of open cultural data.
For example, Europeana held hackathons around Europe in 2011 to encourage software developers to use its cultural heritage metadata. The Library of Virginia hosts a yearly Virginia Governor’s Datathon that leverages data sets hosted in the Virginia Open Data Portal to address a particular topic, such as the governmental response to the COVID-19 pandemic (2020) or the opioid addiction crisis (2017). The Library runs this event as a two-day sprint in partnership with other state agencies and provides digital access to the Open Data Portal.
Framing parts of a crowdsourcing project as a challenge, often time-limited, can increase participation. Some successful projects only take place over a few days or weeks, with a shorter time frame and quantifiable goal framing the challenge. These events could be online or in person. Even where they are online and could extend indefinitely, limiting the time available can encourage a concentration of participant engagement. Many potential participants are hesitant to make an unbounded commitment. Limiting a project to a particular week or day can allow busy people to participate, knowing they can contribute meaningfully then return to their prior commitments. Time-limited projects can also be attached to conferences or commemorative events since the specific dates provide an external justification and clear messaging for outreach.
Case study: Image du Monde challenge/La Sfera challenge
Laura Morreale and Ben Albritton have conducted four “transcription challenges,” in which participants transcribe and annotate a medieval scientific text (Goro Datti’s La Sfera and Gossuin de Metz’s Image du Monde) in two weeks. Morreale credits the limited period as a key element of the success of the projects since the participants — including archivists, academics, graduate students, and retirees — ”know exactly what they’re signing up for.”
A wide range of events where people gather to create new resources, digitize materials, or document marginalized histories may be particularly useful when looking to engage under-served communities. They can also be called collection events, roadshows, family history days, oral history events, or history harvests.
Examples include Queering the Map, Monument Lab, Paper Monuments, Community Curation, Lest We Forget, StoryCorps, and other oral history projects.
The Europeana web portal brings together millions of cultural heritage artifacts from archives, libraries, and museums across Europe. As a means to “cultivate new ways for users to participate in their cultural heritage,” the organization started including physical events in their digital projects in 2011. People are invited to bring their physical objects to an event to be digitized there and then by the project team. In addition to capturing the object, information and stories that the participants share are also recorded. The material is then added to the growing Europeana portal. In the Europeana 1914-1918 project, collecting material related to the First World War, participants often said that they would not have been able to take part digitally because they did not have the necessary equipment (computer, digital camera, internet connection) or skills. Many of those were elderly and had fascinating, first-hand stories to tell of what it was like growing up in the shadow of the War. These valuable contributions would not have been captured without the events. Europeana has also run events around other themes, such as migration, which attracted a different audience, but at times the audience has been equally unable to contribute independently online.
By providing opportunities for people to contribute to the projects in different ways, the collections become richer and more varied. An added benefit of running the events is that they give people involved in the project a chance to meet and talk, and share ideas and perspectives directly. That helps participants to relate to the project as a whole and see how their contributions fit in and form a valuable part of the greater whole. Organisers and project teams get a better understanding of the material that is shared, as well as an ever-increasing appreciation of those who take the time and effort to contribute, be that online or at an event.
Partnerships and distributed organizing for events — what is it and how can it help my project?
Involving other organizations as hosts or co-organizers can open up new channels of communication for your project, helping you to reach new audiences. Co-organizers may also benefit from widening their contact base, and may also find that, for example, hosting a crowdsourcing event brings attention to their venue, organization, or work.
Distributed organizing is an approach that encourages people to organize groups within their communities to join your project’s activity. Rather than recruiting participants directly, distributed organizing taps our various professional and personal networks to see who might be interested in taking on leadership positions on a local level. The focus of recruitment shifts from recruiting and supporting individuals to supporting the organizers/participants.
At first, this approach can be scary. Distributing the work of inviting people to join our projects requires us to cede control over some of the messaging and much of the delivery. We have to grant authority and place our trust in people who choose to work with us and those who spring up to drive resources and local organizing.
It can also be transformative. It holds the potential for exponential growth in our volunteer communities. If we can grant some control to local organizers, then they will have the ability to adapt and elaborate on your central planning for their local audiences and partners. a project based in New York, for example, can provide materials that help a university-based group in Tennessee go out and build new relationships with a local Black civic organization. A library in Michigan can invite community leaders to campus for an informal transcribeathon event that culminates in a formal conversation about cross-community partnerships. A museum in Oklahoma can expand a transcribeathon to include a poetry workshop for local schools and arts communities. A technical group in Oxford can reach people around the UK.
Distributed organizing, of course, does not just mean throwing open the doors. It does mean creating an event that is an invitation to broader groups of people to consider participating in your event. Distributed organizing recognizes the complex power dynamics that are in play when we organize a crowdsourced project and allows us to interrogate and complicate already existing power relationships and dynamics that align with our values.
For some governance tensions entailed in this bottom-up organizing, see the section on governance in the “Connecting with communities” chapter.
Case study: distributed collecting events: Lest We Forget
For small organizations and communities, being able to collect and preserve material held by its members is an attractive but daunting idea. The Lest We Forget initiative, launched by the University of Oxford following a successful crowdfunding campaign, set up a structure to allow small, local organizations to run events where they captured and digitized objects and stories held by their community. The captured material was then added to a centrally hosted platform, archived, and made available online. To support the local organizations, the project not only set up and ran the collection platform but also provided training, guidance, and support, including online and offline training events, written documentation, template forms, and checklists.
A number of schools expressed an interest in being involved. They saw the events as an opportunity for students to engage closely with the subject of the War. Students would perform all the tasks at the event (supervised and supported by teachers and project team members), getting valuable experience of important skills such as how to handle and digitize objects, how to talk to participants and capture their stories, how to manage flows of tasks and people, and how to work together towards a shared goal, navigating and solving problems along the way. At some schools, the crowdsourcing event was combined with other themed activities, such as an exhibition of material from the time, guest lectures or other activities. Students might also work on the material they collected at the event, for example, researching the history of an event someone mentioned, placing locations where someone had been on a map, or creating something for their portfolios such as a text or artwork inspired by what they had seen. As such, the crowdsourcing event reaches beyond the project, adding value that is well worth embracing.
Several crowdsourcing projects have used distributed organizing to successfully connect with underserved groups. For example, the Wikimedia movement’s CEE (Central Eastern European) Spring is an annual competition to support article creation about every country in the region on every Wikipedia. The idea is community-led, and local competitions are organized by local teams and in every community, who know their contexts, aspects of underrepresentation, and what people need to be able to participate. This competition contrasts with university or college-backed projects and other GLAMs equipped with computer labs, high-speed internet, and other resources — and expands the limits of potential participants and partner organizations.
Case study: expanding opportunities for participation with Making History: Transcribe
The Library of Virginia offers Traveling Transcribeathons to Virginia public libraries, as well as other partner organizations, in support of the Making History: Transcribe project. Project staff arrive at the library with 16 laptops, Wi-Fi hotspots, a projector, external mice, powerstrips — everything you would need to conduct a transcribeathon at a remote location. Some smaller public libraries may have only a few computer workstations, which are needed by patrons for other tasks. Other partner organizations may not have any public computers. Locations may or may not have the internet capacity to support a community event. When working on documents from a particular location, we try to tap into local knowledge about families, locations, and history in the area to produce more accurate transcriptions as well as a sense of shared ownership of history. Despite the logistical challenges of hosting events off-site, the work is worth it to bring our project directly into communities.
Event planning is an art unto itself. If you have planned events in other contexts, you will find that much of that experience is relevant. Here, we have focused on event tips specific to crowdsourcing and community events.
All events need a venue (physical or online), a date, and a time. You will need other people to help you, and to let potential participants know when and why they should attend your event. You might find that local press are more interested in events than in your ongoing project, which can help with publicity.
Organizing an event in a cultural heritage or academic institution may provide a particular draw, but you may need to talk to security and other venue staff about after-hours or special access, restrictions on food and drink, coats, and bags, to name a few. If participants you would like to reach might be less likely to attend at a cultural venue, you could find a location that feels more inviting to them. You should also consider practical questions such as those to do with access from public transport, safety after dark, and accessibility.
What should you expect?
A useful way of thinking about live crowdsourcing events is that you are creating something that is simultaneously a hybrid between a live television or radio broadcast and an in-person live event. Live, synchronous events offer the opportunity to create spaces where people can interact with each other in real-time. They can learn more about the subject, the archives, the broader culture, discuss compelling historic and contemporary issues, celebrate the subject, and have a good time meeting new friends and interacting with a broad cross-section of people.
Your event should reflect your values, goals, the subject/content of your archive, and the interests and accessibility needs of your target audience. The work is the reason you have convened this crowdsourced event but the fun and camaraderie is what people will remember and will bring them back to your next event. Work! Celebrate! Communicate! Stay on schedule! But most importantly, have fun!
Plan your publicity ahead of time
Promote your event on different social media platforms. When you design graphics for each platform, keep in mind that each platform also has slightly different image sizes. Different platforms may cater more prominently to different demographics, so you may wish to focus your efforts on those most likely to be used by your target participants. Create a web page about your event that anticipates and answers common questions.
If your institution has a media relations office, contact them as early as possible. Ask if they can help craft a press release, media backgrounder, or any audiovisual materials. Perhaps your organization might highlight the work you are doing to engage so many people! If you have contacts in groups you want to work with, ask them to share information about their event in newsletters and notice boards, for example.
Provide online gathering places
Whether you are planning your own event, taking part in a bigger set of events, or coordinating events organized by others, your event team and participants might want to share their experiences online. For example, you might want to:
Use an event hashtag on Twitter or Instagram and encourage people to post photos, reactions, cool finds, and others
Offer a virtual help desk, for example, on Slack
Broadcast a livestream with speakers, performances, live tutorials, and more (YouTube Live, Instagram Live, Facebook Live, or even work with a local public media outlet)
Run a contest with prizes to provide a fun way to connect across multi-location events
Make use of the existing spaces if working with an existing community — as always, go where the audience already is
If you are expecting activity on social media, you could plan in advance to archive or capture some of this. This helps record the history of your project and gives you material for use in future publicity or reporting.
Focusing on people
Creating an interesting event has several key components: deep knowledge of subject matter, targeted communities, host institutions, budget, chosen mediums (Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and more), the length of your event — hours, days, weeks — and the capacity of your team. Frank discussions with your team about the goals and expectations of the organizers, partners, and your potential community networks is critical in the early planning stages of your event. Knowing what is expected and communicating what is possible helps to avoid confusion, disappointment, and frustration at all levels of planning and implementation.
If you are planning an event that will center an archive that was created by a specific heritage community, you will want to know information about that community ranging from important calendar dates, symbols, local community leaders/institutions, rituals, social organizing, and aspects to consider as you plan. You may also be able to include members of those communities or their descendants. You will need to be thoughtful about the people, places, and or symbols you choose to center. This early and careful thinking informs the values on which you will build your event.
Scheduling activities within an event
Setting the length of a synchronous event is a balance between the attention span of participants, the stamina of the project team, what you hope to achieve while together, as well as logistical and practical considerations. Orienting participants in advance of the event itself can help make the most of your time together. If you are working with a specific platform, you may want to provide information or time in advance to help newcomers get to grips with the basics. This might include live demonstrations and/or pre-recorded tutorials explaining the process of creating or logging into an account, or completing an example task.
Activities chosen for the event will be governed by the length of your event and how much time you will want your participants to devote to actively working together both virtually and in real-time. Planning out the welcome, introductions, speeches, and the block or blocks of dedicated transcription time will leave surprisingly less time than you think. You might want to include brief but informative talks from people skilled in the subject/subject area/archive/culture, or ask relevant staff to talk about how the event will benefit the community of users of the collections. Like tutorials, these could be presented live or pre-recorded.
Carefully plan your event by centering, keeping, and building the attention of your live and virtual participants. It is best to break up blocks of passive content with breaks of interaction between participants and/or active content. If you need participants to learn certain skills during the event, you should also allow time for questions after or during presentations or tutorials.
Tutorials should always be scheduled right before transcribing/editing — to help your participants approach the work feeling supported. Information about the subject/archive should come before and in between working blocks, if your schedule will allow for more than one block of working. It is very helpful to have a designated host or MC who will be the “face” of your event to make announcements, explain the schedule, fill in if and when something unexpected happens, introduce the people who will present, and be the bridge between the segments of your event. This could be the community coordinator for the project, someone from the hosting organization if working off-site, an advisory board member, or another community member.
Planning activities so that the largest amount of time is dedicated to core activities may require some discipline and iteration. If you are running a large-scale or particularly important event you may want to run a pilot first, and adjust after feedback. In the end, your event should reflect the deepest values of your team and the goals of the crowdsourced event you have planned together. As an example, you could include artistic presentations ranging from choirs singing, to dramatic orations, recitations of poetry, dance performances, group singalongs and other activities relevant to your event and participants. Douglass Day has included just about all of these activities and many more! Your project team, advisory board, and partners can determine what your targeted participants would enjoy learning, seeing, and doing together that aligns with the project values and goals.
In some cases, food is important to the success and failure of your live event. If food will be available at your onsite event, let people know what will be available in advance, and make sure the food you provide is accessible to as many participants as possible. We suggest emphasizing vegan and vegetarian options, sugary and non-sugary drinks, vegetables and fruit. Make note of ingredients and post them on the table where the food is served so that people who have allergies will be able to make safe choices. Be attentive to culturally preferred and inappropriate food items, and always make sure there is enough food for your expected audience. Catering is expensive and will probably absorb a good amount of your budget, so please plan accordingly.
Supporting local organizers for distributed events
There are additional considerations for supporting people organizing events locally as part of a wider event program. You will probably want to agree on mutual definitions of success and shared values for these events.
We encourage you to support your local organizers in making the events inclusive and accessible. You could, for example, require that local organizers take certain basic steps to invite diverse groups of people. For these steps, we suggest including an “outreach guide” with basic, practical suggestions on the steps to make that happen. Materials to help curate tasks, source materials are equally important in helping manage the participants’ work. Make sure all of the organizing materials are easy to access and download.
You might wish to compile all of the materials needed to host an event into a kit with a variety of templates. Consider what capacities local organizers might already have and what they might appreciate having ready-made. That same practice can help when local groups might try to attract any media coverage of their group. People in cultural heritage, university, and non-profit organizations may lack experience writing a press release. Consider drafting one they can fill in. Less formally, you can draft sample social media posts for the host to share, or share them from your own profiles and tag them. For an example of this kind of comprehensive kit, see the Douglass Day Organizer’s Kit from 2021.
In this chapter we have discussed why you might want to run different types of events, building on discussion in other chapters of this book about “Connecting with communities” and “Supporting Participants,” expanded on considerations for distributed organized events and shared prompts for planning events within crowdsourcing projects.