Zooniverse Governance

Translations: en

Citizen science is based upon crowd sourcing aspects of science projects to the public. Crowd sourced projects may require some pre-requisite knowledge or none at all. Zooniverse began as a collection of researchers who wanted to open up their own research projects for crowd-sourced contributions and data processing and evolved to be a host organization for other collaborator’s research projects (see funding section for explanation of how employees are funded and the “cloud” organizational model for Zooniverse).

Citizen science allows average “citizens” to engage and contribute to scientific research by volunteering their time to conduct tasks laid out by a scientific team. The scientific team makes all scientific decisions, and with the exception of a recent project, all data analysis and higher-level science occur after citizen scientists have made their contributions.

Decisions are made from a top-down approach. Zooniverse employees or university partners make all platform and organizational decisions (such as which projects will be hosted) and how the platform will look. Given the goals of citizen science, this organization makes sense, though it does not quite fit with the models discussed in class.[1] Citizen scientists most closely resembled the “hobbyists” presented in Shah’s “Motivation, Governance, and the Viability of Hybrid Forms in Open Source Software Development” [2], and perhaps Zooniverse governance structures will evolve to incorporate volunteers as some become more committed and involved. In some cases, citizen scientists have assumed a more involved role with the science and data analysis that resulted in published papers but this is not the case for average participants.

It would be interesting if the Zooniverse platform could increase involvement and buy in from volunteers by fostering more community building within the projects. There may be a very large number of participants on a project, and participants may have very little interaction with any other team member (volunteer scientist or scientific team member) unless problems are encountered. If there is more community engagement, Zooniverse may be able to encourage more participation and momentum on projects hosted. Recently, there have been Zooniverse conferences [3], which is a nice step toward fostering a community like atmosphere as seen in many of the open projects featured in class.

[1] http://producingoss.com/en/social-infrastructure.html [2] http://faculty.washington.edu/skshah/Shah%20-%20Motivation,%20Governance,%20Hybrid%20Forms.pdf [3] http://blog.zooniverse.org/2013/02/27/calling-all-zooites-your-chance-to-attend-the-second-zooniverse-project-workshop-in-chicago/