VOLCROWE (Volunteer and Crowdsourcing Economics) is a research project funded by the EPSRC in collaboration with the NEMODE network and involving collaboration between the University of Portsmouth, University of Oxford, University of Manchester and University of Leeds. The project is running from September 2013 to September 2016.

The project is generating new economic models and empirical evidence in response to the changing nature of volunteering in the digital economy and is helping to understand the motivation to volunteer for online citizen science initiatives. The project is generating quantitative and qualitative evidence to demonstrate how managers of crowdsourcing initiatives can optimise both the user experience and their management approaches in order to enhance and sustain levels of voluntary participation.

By exploring volunteering as a positive collective and content building activity, the project is developing models that will help to illustrate how volunteering can contribute positively to the creation of sustainable engagement and interaction within the much overlooked third-sector of the digital economy.

Along with advancing academic understanding of volunteering and crowdsourcing in the digital economy, the output from this research project will make a valuable contribution to scientific endeavours that are reliant on crowdsourcing to overcome the challenges associated with the use of big datasets. The optimisation of these processes will help to increase the likelihood of important future scientific breakthroughs in areas such as astronomy, climate change and cancer treatment.

The Zooniverse

The VOLCROWE project is specifically examining volunteer behaviour within the collection of online citizen science projects comprising the Zooniverse (www.zooniverse.org). These sites rely on volunteer contributions to analyse and enhance immense, valuable datasets relating to topics as diverse as the search for extra-solar planets, exploration of the ocean floor and finding the cure for cancer.

Volunteers undertake a range of online tasks; for example, participants in Galaxy Zoo (www.galaxyzoo.org) are asked to answer simple questions on the properties of galaxies. Within 24 hours of launch in 2007, Galaxy Zoo was receiving 70,000 classifications per hour and collected more than 50 million classifications from almost 150,000 volunteers in the first year of operation.

The success of Galaxy Zoo led to the birth of the Zooniverse, a cluster of more than twenty on-going citizen science projects with more than 870,000 registered volunteers and counting. Voluntary crowdsourcing and co-creative activities of this type hold as yet unacknowledged and unknown potential and explorations of new volunteer-driven economic models can help further quantify the potential of networked engagement.

The Zooniverse platform offers a fantastic opportunity for investigating models of motivation and performance, as the software includes the ability to ask survey questions as part of the classification experience and to provide feedback to users as and when required. Although each project under the Zooniverse umbrella is unique, a shared approach to design and development minimises the differences, allowing the team to make comparisons between projects as well as studying behaviour specific to a single initiative.

Data generated directly from Zooniverse sites is being used to develop and/or test theoretical economic and business models of volunteering. The VOLCROWE project is therefore novel in its exploration of the type of voluntary-embedded value creation model exemplified by the Zooniverse.

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→ Aims and objectives of the project