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The University of Southampton
Web Science Institute

Capacity building to enable longitudinal studies of online citizen participation systems


The rise of the Web has disrupted the way knowledge can be obtained, and how the and how scientific advancements are pursued. Due to the scale of the Web in terms of content and people, scientists are now discovering new participatory approaches previously imaginable. A popular example is citizen science, the engagement of non-expert volunteers to contribute their spare time to help solving a given research challenge. Driven by their intrinsic desires to help, studies have shown that not only do citizen scientists dedicate many hours to the crowdsourcing tasks of these projects; they also invest their time in community activities and discussion.

As a consequence of the interplay of task and talk commitment of volunteers, a number of (sometimes totally unanticipated) citizen-led discoveries have been achieved. Hypotheses about the nature and makeup of these citizen-led discoveries range from the assumption that they are somehow serendipitous, up to accounting them to particular system and task design characteristics. It is clear that the socio-technical environment of the Web is crucial in allowing citizen scientists to flexibly draw upon information from various sources on their way towards the discovery, but it is unexplored how this is achieved and what such discoveries mean for the citizen scientists in the longer term.

This project aims to deliver capacities for creating a centre for longitudinal studies in citizen participation systems by investigating citizen-led discoveries in citizen science projects as an exemplar case study. It will combine expertise in web science and social science to develop these methodological and technical capabilities. The research will explore how the community interacts to share information and develop expertise, the role of the platform in shaping these interactions, and the extent to which users reconfigure the system to work in new ways and achieve new ends.

We see this project as the initial step required to secure additional funding in order to extend the framework and technology developed in this pilot project to other citizen participation systems on the Web. The goal is also to engage with other universities in the UK to initiate the first centre for longitudinal studies in online citizen participation systems worldwide.”


Principal Investigator: Dr Ramine Tinati, Electronics and Computer Science

Co-Investigator: Dr Markus Luczak-Roesch, Electronics and Computer Science

Co-Investigator: Dr Kate Lyle, Social Sciences


View the report.

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