Citizen science. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Part 3)

Figure 1: A research contribution by a citizen.

Part 3: Course of the project, experiences and interim conclusion.

Anna Luise Kiss reports from her film studies citizen research project.

1 November 2020

In the second blog entry I presented the project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam and showed how I implemented central requirements for citizen research projects. Another important element in a citizen research project is evaluation. In its conception, different paths can be taken and different criteria can be used (see e.g. here and here). I have decided to use a formative evaluation, i.e. interim results for the entire project and its sub-projects are proactively compiled in the course of the project according to defined criteria, so that corrections can be made if necessary. On the basis of a first interim evaluation, I can give a partial insight into how the citizen research project actually went and formulate initial responses. Hopefully, these can be useful in the conception of a citizen research project as an addition to the basic requirements listed in the second entry.

Survey methods – theory and practice

As described above, I have provided three ways to report filmic finds. The lowest participation was via Instagram, followed by the app (Epicollect5) which was found to be only moderately acceptable to participants.  E-mail was the most used way of reporting, along with the verbal report of cinematic finds, a way of communication I had not anticipated. The contact via e-mail did not result in the processing of the questions I had presumed would be processed. Instead, as with verbal references, invitations were extended to come by and take photos. These e-mail invitations and the verbal references now confront me with an evaluation difficulty: should such contacts be considered a research contribution by a citizen? A hotel owner, for example, invited me to his hotel restaurant because there are film posters hanging there and a film camera has been set up. He told me about his plans to update the filmic references in his hotel. Is it citizen research if a workshop participant does not become active him/herself, but “only” points me to a location where he/she found an artefact?

Figure 2: In a hotel in Potsdam, a stylized film strip on the wall in the restrooms. It shows photos of cinema lettering. After an invitation to the hotel in question, I took the photo myself.

From this I conclude that citizens have expressed a clear wish not only to participate in preparatory events, deliver data and participate in a process of joint analysis, but also to use the data collection as an opportunity for personal interaction, informal discussion and clarification. This is at least true on a regional level, if not more generally.

In the light of this it would have been more appropriate to offer joint field research from the beginning. In a similar project I would prioritize this method of data collection, if only because the personal encounters have resulted in valuable impulses for the evolution of project. An example: the owner of a guesthouse let me photograph a collection of autographs in the reception area. She told me that the collection was unfortunately no longer up to date. Prominent actors and directors were no longer willing to offer autographs for inclusion in the collection, but would only offer to shoot a selfie together with the guesthouse owner. It was only through this conversation that I realized that media change and the ongoing history of such change can be directly read off of filmic artifacts in urban space. The person in question would not have come to my planned analysis workshop. Only through the on-site discussion could this thought be incorporated into the project.

Reflecting on the role as communicator in advance

The role that scholars play in citizen research projects has hardly been reflected upon and certainly not been scientifically investigated. Susanne Hecker and Nina Wicke therefore make an important contribution to the reflection of role constellations in citizen research projects.[i] They have analyzed the roles of citizen science protagonists from the “political actor” perspective. The authors were able to show that political papers on citizen science focus on traditional role assignments rather than innovative approaches to breaking up existing power structures, hierarchies and role specifications.[ii]

In this context, the question of the personal communication skills that a scholar should bring with him/her to citizen research projects is too little discussed. In many projects online communication with the fellow researchers is all that is needed. Such communication allows one to enter into simultaneous relationship with many participants over considerable distances. Online communication can be controlled and easily traced. If, however, a project is based on the knowledge of local citizen researchers, personal contact with such researchers is unavoidable, either because it is provided for in the project or is subsequently demanded by the citizen participants. In my case, I had initially planned personal exchange only in specific formats (among others, public kick-off, site walk with the participants, public workshop). This resulted in communicative interaction with strangers, a situation which could not be planned for or controlled, despite a measure of preparation. Such a possibility should be carefully examined in preparation for a citizen research project. One should ask oneself if, as a researcher, one has the ability to deal with such situations in a confident, appropriate and fulfilling way for all participants, at once flexible and goal-oriented and, above all, free from fear and a feeling of reticence among inexperienced participants. The direct exchange with students and with colleagues takes place in established settings to which researchers have access as a matter of course. Within these settings (e. g. seminars and conferences), which almost always include an accepted and familiar framework, a series of unspoken rules apply. However, these communicative situations differ from those required for the success of citizen research projects. Such projects require a local focus that includes face-to-face interaction with members of the public. There are no established rules on which the participants can rely. Even the general reference to pedagogical skills that should be available for conducting citizen research projects[iii]  is of limited help, because the pedagogical tools acquired in an academic context cannot simply be transferred to the communicative dynamics of a citizen research project. In my project, for example, I followed up on requests for additional unplanned direct exchange and had many conversations on film topics that were not directly relevant to the project. I also had to deal with criticism, because, for example, my project could not include memories associated with bygone experiences of filming in Potsdam. In existing publications on citizen science projects it seems to be assumed that all scholars will be able to handle the direct exchange with citizen researchers. In regard to quality assurance, however, it is in my opinion absolutely necessary to reflect very precisely on one’s own role in a citizen research project in advance. Admitting that one is not made for such communicative situations can mean, for example, that others are assigned the communicator’s role. In these cases, it can be useful to schedule a professional facilitator as project member. For me, communicative situations have so far been a matter of a hands-on interaction with the impulsive immediacy of events in the midst of the evolution of the project, an experience at once unpredictable and personally enriching.

Number of members in the research team and risk management

How many citizen researchers must actually be part of the research team for a project to be successful? I was advised by Rosy Mondardini, the managing director of the Citizen science Center Zurich, that only a few citizens can be expected to participate in humanities projects. However, a look at the high number of registrations for some projects on the citizen research platform Zooniverse gave a completely different impression. There, humanities projects with hundreds or thousands of citizen researchers are listed. Impressive numbers, which can be off-putting for those who plan a small-scale citizen research project.

Figure 3: Impressive numbers of participants: In the project Scribes of the Cairo Geniza 4,972 “volunteers” have registered (as of April 6, 2020). A project that has set itself the goal of deciphering one of the largest archives of the Middle Ages.

With the help of Montserrat Prats López’s dissertation (2017) on Quality Assurance in citizen science, I was able to explain the discrepancy between Rosy Mondardini’s prediction and the numbers on the platforms. The author has shown that signing up for a project is one thing – and active research is something else. The majority of citizens do not participate in the research process at all or only once after registration. However, in citizen science projects, there are individual, particularly committed researchers who submit most of the data, write most of the transcripts and/or participate in analytical or interpretative processes. To illustrate this, López lists one transcription project, among others, for which 3,000 people had registered, 400 of whom transcribed a manuscript in part or in full, while only 11 people continuously translated several manuscripts.[iv] A study by Henry Sauermann and Chiara Franzoni also shows that even projects from the natural sciences face the challenge of finding citizen researchers: the number of registrations may be very high, but on closer inspection, most citizens participate only once, while most of the research work is done by a few “top contributors”[v].

It seems important to me to emphasize that prospective initiators of citizen research projects should not be put under pressure by the number of registrations on citizen research platforms. There is no blanket answer to the question of how large citizen science teams need to be. Only the intended data corpus and the intended evaluation procedure are decisive. If, for example, a clearly limited corpus of film-related materials is to be translated in co-operation with citizen researchers, then the pages to be processed can be used to estimate, approximately, how large the team should be to complete the translation and analytical discussions within a certain period of time. For a high quality result in such a case, a very small group of dedicated team members can be the decisive factor.

My project is one of qualitative data collection carried out through so-called theoretical sampling up to the theoretical saturation of categories to be worked out in succession. I did not set an ideal number of citizen researchers, and it was not important to me how many filmic finds were submitted. For me, it was important that among the artifacts submitted there should be those that I probably would not have found myself and which also provide impulses for category formation and thus for theoretical insights. In my risk management – i.e. the consideration of possible pitfalls that may occur in the project and the determination of necessary back-up strategies – I assumed that it should be possible, even with a small number of citizen researchers, to find at least initial artifacts that provide starting points for further data collection and category building. I had taken into account an extension and/or repetition of the survey period for the citizen researchers and, above all, the supplementation of the initial artefacts with own data collections. Consequently, the call for participation was preceded by an initial collection in order to facilitate the development of the theses and for the testing of data collection methods. A first extension of the survey period and a supplementary collection could then be carried out. Due to the Corona crisis, however, neither a further data collection nor an on-site review or supplementation by me is currently possible. This is (still) ok, because I can take advantage of the flexibility of working from home to undertake the processing of the data in Google Map and for the creation of first categories.

The attendance figures so far: A total of 24 people have participated in the preparatory events. So far, 15 people have participated as citizen researchers. Not counted were entrepreneurs who invited me and for whom I did the documentation myself. Most of the citizen researchers have reported at least one finding place, sometimes with several artefacts (9 persons); but there were also up to 5 finding places, which were submitted by one person. 70 artifacts were added to the database by the citizen researchers, 8 of which I classified as initial artifacts. I was lucky that two persons from Potsdam actually turned out to be “top contributors”, who also became active as communicators of the project and are already thinking about a further citizen research project on the topic of film.

Figure 4: An initial artifact. Research contribution by a citizen.

One important lesson I have learned from the process is that in the run-up to a project one should carefully consider whether the investment of a lot of time and effort justifies the recruitment of what might turn out to be only a core team. One should ask oneself whether the discrepancy between effort and number of team members can be justified by the quality of the data and the joint data analysis. In addition, risk management must be taken very seriously, for example by taking into account extension and repetition times and designing follow-up instruments.

Interim conclusion – Try again, fail again, fail better

Actually, some things went wrong in the unfolding of my project: The App Epicollect5 was generally ignored. Although some important contributions have occurred by hotel and guesthouse owners, I am unable to list them under citizen research. Due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis it is currently unclear when and how the next steps – joint analysis, data collection and derivation of practical proposals for action for urban development – can be realized. It all feels a bit like failure at the moment. And yet I draw a positive interim conclusion. It is precisely because my data collection methods were not accepted as I had planned that the project has been enriched with important but fortuitous insights. The collected data is already very extensive and can be used to form categories. Because of the opportunity afforded by working from home, I can take enough time for this and make the further data collection and evaluation even more effective. I have found great supporters among the people of Potsdam, who have committed themselves to the project and contributed important artifacts. It seems that, by the end of the project, both sides will have deepened their knowledge and that, once the Corona crisis is over, this project will lead to another citizen research project initiated entirely by the citizens of Potsdam. And finally, I was able to put theoretical knowledge about open science and citizen research into practice. Therefore, I would rather speak of a measure of failure, but, also, in Beckett’s words, of failing better. Perhaps this is a process that participants in citizen research projects have to prepare for anyway: not everything works as theoretically conceived, but it is precisely from this mismatch between theory and practice that valuable impulses for a project and for follow-up projects can arise.

Every citizen research project must be individually designed and equipped, so it makes little sense to take only one project as a model – “there is no single “right” model”[vi]. It is always necessary to conduct comprehensive research and adapt suitable elements from existing projects. I would be pleased if my interim report on the “cinematic face of the city of Potsdam”, despite the challenges I have described, would encourage the implementation of further film- and media-science citizen research projects. After all, Film and Media Studies could be seen as predestined, by their very nature, for citizen research. For many people the whole range of media is an integral part of their lives. The relevance of scientific questions for the everyday life of potential citizen researchers does not have to be derived but is obvious. I am convinced that Film and Media Studies could also play a role in resolving problematic aspects of citizen research. Citizen science projects often address well-educated and technically equipped milieus, and it can be observed that predominantly well-educated males from the USA and Northern Europe participate in them.[vii] Citizen science is therefore still practiced under a principle of exclusion. The topics covered, the use of technology, and even the choice of language and communication channels need to be reconsidered in the light of this. Film and Media Studies – with it’s emphasis on, and knowledge of, communicative processes, it’s thorough integration into innumerable aspects of everyday life, it’s role in individual socialization, and its gender sensitivity – can make a contribution to ensuring that citizen research really deserves to be listed under the “umbrella term”[viii] open science. In principle, however, it is important to ensure that the appropriation of citizen research into one’s own research repertoire does not, inadvertently, restrict the freedom of science, by limiting the topics addressed to those in which citizens have a current and direct interest. Smolarski and Oswald counter this concern by stating that citizen science should not be about subjecting itself to trends in topics. This implies that one should not only determine the value of one’s own knowledge within one’s own discipline, but also try to think it more comprehensively and at larger scales.[ix]

If there are any readers who have already carried out or are planning to carry out a Film or Media Studies citizen research project or simply wish to exchange views further on this topic, I would be pleased to receive an e-mail: a.kiss@filmuniversitaet.de.


[i] Susanne Hecker, Nina Wicke, “Roles of actors in citizen science in international policy documents” in Thomas Bartoschek, Daniel Nüst, Mario Pesch (eds.), Forum Citizen Science 2019: Die Zukunft der Bürgerforschung (Münster 2019), 5–15, 6.

[ii] See ibid., 12.

[iii] See Daniel Wyler, François Grey, Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations, (Leuven 2016) 4 and 10 and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Ten Principles of Citizen Science, September 2015.

[iv] See Montserrat Prats López: Managing Citizen science in the Humanities: The challenge of ensuring quality (Amsterdam 2017), 7–8.

[v] Henry Sauermann, Chiara Franzoni, “Crowd science user contribution patterns and their implications” in PNAS, 112(3) (2015), 679–684, 680–681.

[vi] Andrea Wiggins, Kevin Crowston, “Surveying the citizen science landscape” in First Monday, 20(1), 2015.

[vii] See Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Suvodeep Mazumdar, Jessica Wardlaw, “Citizen science for Observing and Understanding the Earth” in Pierre-Philippe Mathieu, Christoph Aubrecht (eds.), Earth Observation Open Science and Innovation (Cham: Springer Open, 2018) 69–88, 74 and Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 10.

[viii] Núria Bautista-Puig, Daniela De Filippo, Elba Mauleón, Elías Sanz-Casado, “Scientific Landscape of Citizen Science Publications: Dynamics, Content and Presence in Social Media” in Publications, 7(1), 12 (2019), 1–22, 1.

[ix] See René Smolarski, Kristin Oswald Einführung: Citizen Science in Kultur und Geisteswissenschaften, in Oswald, Smolarski (eds.), Bürger Künste Wissenschaft, 9–27, 14.


Anna Luise Kiss is a PostDoc Researcher at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and currently heads the BMBF-funded research project The cinematic face of cities. She is editor of the anthology Jede Menge Perspektiven. Der Regisseur Herrmann Zschoche (CineGraph Babelsberg, 2014) and – together with Dieter Chill – of Pathenheimer: Filmfotografin. DEFA Movie Stills (Ch. Links Verlag, 2016) and co-editor of the current issue of the FFK Journal (Avinus, 2020). Her dissertation Topografie des Laiendarsteller-Diskurses – zur Konstruktion von Laiendarstellerinnen und Laiendarstellern im Kinospielfilm (Springer VS) was published in March 2019. Also recently published was “Eine Medienwissenschaftlerin und eine Schauspielerin unterhalten sich über Performanz in ihrem beruflichen Alltag. Eine Text-Performance“ in Thomas Etzemüller (ed.) Der Auftritt. Performance in der Wissenschaft (transcript, 2019).


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Citizen science. “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Part 2)

Figure 1: A filmic artifact in Berlin. A suburban railroad bridge with a painting showing Marlene Dietrich.

Part 2: Project description and implementation of basic requirements on citizen science projects.

Anna Luise Kiss reports from her film studies citizen research project.

6 October 2020

In the first blog post I explained how citizen science is defined and what it’s hype is attributed to. I also explained how I conceptualize citizen science. In this entry I first introduce my project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam in rough outlines. Afterwards, I show how I implemented some basic requirements, as they are formulated in the context of, and in comparison with, existing citizen science projects. In the third entry I resolve Beckett’s “Try again, fail again, fail better” announced in the title and it’s implications for my project.

The filmic face of the city of Potsdam

In order to promote the so-called minor disciplines, the German Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (Federal Ministry of Education and Research) has set up third-party funding, which allows projects from fields such as Bio-statistics, Digital Humanities, Yiddish studies and Film Science to be funded. In particular, it is intended to ensure greater visibility for the research achievements of the minor disciplines. I received funding for my project “The cinematic face of cities” on the image-building of film cities as a discursive process. It runs from 1 December 2020 to 30 November 2022 and is based at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and Aarhus University. A summary of the research program for this subordinate project can be found here.

Figure 2: Filmic artefact: a supermarket in Potsdam surrounds its logo with a film flap

An important thesis of the project is that, in addition to various actors and their textual and pictorial contributions to the discourse, it is precisely cinematic artefacts in public space that contribute to the formation of the “film city” image. Examples include streets named after filmmakers and film-related material such as posters and stills displayed in various locations, such as, in one case, a hotel breakfast room. The same applies to objects such as old film cameras and spotlights displayed as a form of interior decoration. I assume that this materialized film history, as well as references to current media productions, must be taken into account in an analysis of the film city image. One of my goals is, therefore, to account for the presence of cinematic artifacts in urban space, uncovered as a result of the two selected case studies Potsdam and Aarhus, thus making them visible and analyzable. My approach involves investigating the presence of the artifacts by asking, for example, whether they appear in the city as nodes, whether certain film professions or film characters occur more frequently, to which film historical epochs they refer, or whether gender-specific weightings can be determined. The initial thesis is that artifacts are bundled around the film’s production and distribution locations, that apart from actresses, the majority of film makers represented are male, and that, as far as the gender-distribution of characters is concerned, female characters prevail. A further assumption is that in urban space, not all the phases of film history that characterize a film city are referenced equally.

After a workshop at the University of Zurich with the title ‘Citizen Science – just try it!’, I was inspired to tackle the search for cinematic artifacts by inviting the citizens of Potsdam to participate in the project. From January 25 to March 1, 2020, I invited the citizens of Potsdam to report their cinematic finds to me and help me analyze the results. Important sources for the preparation of the sub-project were the various guidelines and advisories on citizen science projects from universities and citizen science associations. I will now discuss some basic requirements regarding citizen science projects and explain how I implemented them.


My implementation of basic requirements on citizen science projects

Open Science

As part of the open science movement, citizen research projects should take into account the standards of this new scientific culture. Research goals, theses and methods must be communicated transparently. How those involved can participate in the research project and which scientific and social goals a project pursues should be made easily understandable.[i] Data must be made openly available and stored for retrieval beyond the course of the project in such a way that it is suitable for subsequent use. And finally, results must be published in open access.[ii]

Figure 3: The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam on the page of Bürger schaffen Wissen.

The establishment of a research website was important for the presentation of the research objectives, theses and methods. It has taken some time to break down the various aspects of the project into short and concise texts. It was helpful that I prepared the project for the platform Bürger schaffen Wissen (citizens create knowledge) parallel to the construction of the site. The people in charge gave helpful feedback on the transparency and comprehensibility of the texts necessary for this online presence, which I was able to adapt for my own site.

Figure 4: Filmic artefacts in Epicollect5’s database.

I implemented the open provision of the collected data via a database of the app Epicollect5. This is a free application that was developed at the Big Data Institute of the University of Oxford and is used by many researchers. It allows users to set up an app for the collection of data according to individual requirements. The application automatically makes the collected data available via a public database either in list form or by converting it into a map. Epicollect5 allows one, for example, to capture data on filmic artifacts, including geo-data, photo and description, and to upload it in real time while walking the city. The data will remain publicly accessible until the end of the project. Since the map offered by Epicollect5 allows only a very rough approximation and does not enable differentiation of the types of filmic artifacts, the data is currently transferred to a Google Maps. Here, different colors and assignment levels can be defined. This map and the accompanying evaluation lists function as an important basis for the analysis.

Figure 5: Currently, the cinematic artefacts are being transferred to a Google Map.

I could not find a satisfactory solution for the long-term storage of the data at the start of the project. The current arrangement is that the Film University set up storage space for the data on a server of the University, and it would in principle be possible to store the data here at the end of the project and make it available to interested parties for subsequent use via a password. However, this long-term storage would not be of much use, because the data would be hard to find for other researchers. Thus my solution would not meet the first requirement – “findability” – of the FAIR data principles. I hope for developments in the next two years, which will allow an improved long-term storage for my project. The ideal solution would be a cross-institutional media repository – similar to the one at the Humboldt University, for example, but run specifically for film and media studies. This should at least be networked with the already established publication repositories media/rep/ and MediArXiv, because the data should have a presence in places that are regularly visited by film and media scholars. In general, most universities have developed their own strategies for research data management and have named contact persons for this purpose and provide comprehensive information on their websites. The latter are often universally accessible. For newcomers to the data management aspect of citizen research projects, it would be worth while to study the material depositories of the institutions involved.


Licensing of research data

Since the data of the citizen researchers will not remain locked away in the project, but will be published and possibly used by third parties, it must be clear to all participants from the beginning how the rights to the collected data will be handled.[iii]

On my website, in an explanatory video and within the Epicollect5 app, I informed the citizen researchers that their cinematic finds were immediately released into the public domain on submission. The citizen researchers were thus informed that they license their research data (location, description and photo) with a submission under Creative Commons 0. It was explained to them, that this means that the research data may not only be stored, processed and published by me, but may also be freely available to others for subsequent use in other projects. Further information about Creative Commons or the recommendations for licensing research data of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) were provided. Before each submission, the citizen researchers had to agree or disagree with this procedure. The licensing of research data in citizen research projects via Creative Commons is considered a suitable way to ensure legal certainty.[iv]


Data protection

In spite of the fundamental ethos of openness and transparency in citizen research projects, it is essential to ensure the protection of the personal data of fellow researchers.[v] Requirements concerning basic data protection regulation had to be implemented concurrent with the setting up of the project site. The first contact persons are the data protection officers of your own university, who will provide you with text templates tailored to the requirements of particular websites. They can also help to set up a special contact form that allows communication with fellow citizen researchers. The way is clear for an exchange with the citizen researchers by e-mail only if the storage and processing of an e-mail address has been agreed to and it has been actively accepted that the address may be used for communication.

When setting up the data collection or submission tools for the citizen researchers, the Epicollect5 app offers the advantage that the co-researchers do not have to register with an e-mail address. All I asked for was a freely selectable abbreviation consisting of three letters and two numbers. It is not possible for me as project leader or for those who access the public database to trace the identity of those who submitted the cinematic finds. This does not mean, however, that the co-researchers do not provide data about themselves. A fundamental problem is that when an app is downloaded, information is already sent which is inclusive of the operating system of a smartphone. It is important that the citizen researchers are informed about these data-relevant processes in data protection declarations, which must explicitly refer to the privacy policy of the app thus allowing participants to proactively agree to the transfer of data or opt out. Therefore, it seemed necessary to offer alternatives to data transfer via app. In my case e-mail and Instagram were two alternatives. Both of them again bring along their own challenges for data protection. Especially regarding Instagram, I pointed out that this way is suitable only for people who are already registered with the app and have accepted the terms of use and privacy policy for themselves. I was surprised that other citizen research projects provide little or no information about privacy on their project pages. This is certainly not due to a lack of forethought or an absence of concern to protect the citizen researchers. It is more probably a case that the loss of clarity which a privacy statement brings and the resulting increase in text makes a project seem overtaxing or even frightening. An ideal solution would be the establishment and implementation of a seal of approval process for the data protection of citizen research projects.  Then not every project would have to explain its regulations on various sub-pages so that co-researchers could be sure that data protection has been checked by a suitable authority. For the project initiators, a verification seal would have the advantage that they could work through a clear catalog of requirements and have the protective measures evaluated and, if necessary, supplemented before the project starts.


Public relations

In order to be able to do research, citizens must first learn about the project. In addition, communication with the citizen researchers must take place throughout the research process. Scholars who want to carry out a citizen science project are therefore advised that such projects can only be realized with the help of strategic and comprehensive public relations work – and on the basis of clear responsibilities and capacities for community management.[vi] The public relations work is, of course, implemented on the basis of the target group to be reached. It is the particular requirements of this group which conditions the formulation of guidelines for the forms of address and the channels for public relations work. I recommend getting a suitable media partner on board at an early stage. In my case this was the local newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. We agreed that they would run an interview with me at the start of the project, place several free advertisements about the project and establish a social media presence.

Figure 6: One of the advertisements that the local newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten displayed for the project in its print editions.

In order to interest other regional media in the project, three press releases were produced, with the result that the newspaper Märkische Allgemeine Zeitung, Radio Potsdam and the local tv station HAUPTSTADT.TV also reported on the project. In addition, institutional multipliers such as the Film Museum Potsdam, ProWissen (a local society for the dissemination of science) and the City of Potsdam were won over to the project. They, too, reported on the project in their social media channels in addition to the Film University. Invitations were sent out to citizens’ associations and district networks, the municipal housing and construction company, the Potsdam Marketing und Service GmbH and the local Adult Education Centre. In addition to this regionally focused public relations work, the project was presented on Bürger schaffen Wissen and a Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter account were set up. It became obvious to me that this network structure for public relations work could only be set up because I already knew many of the partners mentioned. Taking this into account makes sense to focus one’s efforts on a familiar and manageable locale when starting out in citizen research.


Defining indicators and deepening knowledge on both sides

A further requirement of citizen research projects is that impact indicators should be defined and communicated in advance, including scientific papers, conference lectures and popular science presentations.[vii] The thinking here is that how interim results and findings are communicated to  the scientific community and society in general must be planned in advance. This requirement can be coupled with another, namely that citizen research projects should be designed in such a way that they contribute equally to the deepening of knowledge on the part of the professional as well as the citizen researchers. It has frequently been pointed out that this certainly requires pedagogical skills and specific formats.[viii] The Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany published by the project BürGEr schaffen WISSen – Wissen schafft Bürger (GEWISS) also speaks of the fact that the participants should be able to learn “in a partnership of respect and at eye level”[ix]. Accordingly, my indicators include not only milestones of dissemination and knowledge transfer or science communication, but also formats in which the collected data is analyzed together with citizen researchers and transformed into practical proposals for action for urban development. In addition to workshops, this involved a collective real-time hike to the actual filimic artifacts sites and their analysis in an urban context. This joint field excursion was planned for the Read-a-Road-Map-Day on April 5, 2020. A large part of the plan, however, had to be put on hold due to the Corona crisis. In the next few weeks, I have to decide whether I can set up alternative online proposal.


Recognition for the citizen researchers

A strong emphasis is put on the fact that citizen researchers should not be exploited, but should receive thanks and recognition for their work.[x] It is recommended that they be named as co-authors and/or receive “motivational rewards”[xi]. I followed this principle by mentioning the participation of citizen researchers in the metadata, on the Google Map and in publications. Furthermore, various prizes were raffled among the participants. The partner institutions, such as Film Museum Potsdam and its cinema, donated tickets for exhibitions and film screenings. I contributed thematically matching book prizes and further prizes were donated by the newspaper Potsdamer Neueste Nachrichten. In order to be able to determine winners despite the partial anonymity of those who offered submissions, the above mentioned self-chosen abbreviations were necessary. It is important to note that for each raffle, rules for participation and data protection must be developed and published.

Figure 7: Screenshot of my project page with some prizes that were raffled off among the citizen researchers.


Research ethics

In every research project one must ask oneself to what extent ethical aspects come into play. Depending on the research design, citizen research projects require ethical sensitivity on several levels. It is imperative that ethical implications must be examined and taken into account.[xii] In addition to publications specifically on the topic of citizen science and ethics, I have based my work on a document of the European Union on Ethics in Social Science and Humanities and found a lot of helpful information and suggestions on the VerbundFDB website. This is an association of research data centers in educational research, whose data management and ethics information was easily transferable to the citizen research project context. In addition to the transparent and truthful communication of the research objectives, the following is of the highest priority: disclosure of the sources of funding and the project partners; provision of contact possibilities; the protection of the participating citizens from any damage. This protection was first of all implemented by the measures for data protection and data management described above. Furthermore, it was emphasized to the interested parties at various points that participation is voluntary, that a revocation or limitation of the given consent is possible and that this would not result in disadvantages for the co-researchers.

It was also important to inform fellow researchers about the legal framework conditions for the taking of photographs in public spaces and to point out again and again that in case of doubt, no photographs should be taken. Depending on the task at hand, it may be necessary to carry out training and some pre-testing prior to data collection. In order not to burden the citizen researchers, the project, or the public with complications regarding personal rights, all submitted photos were checked and, in the case of a submission, parts of pictures were blurred, so as to render license plates and people unrecognizable. Communicating this security measure to the co-researchers meant that they could be sure that no critical data was included in the database. I, as project leader, reserved the right to exclude, delete or edit submitted research data I considered racist, obscene or a violation of personal rights. Such a notice not only protects against trolling, for example, but also protects citizen researchers from having their data found next to entries that might be deemed questionable.

The basic requirements for citizen science projects listed here are not complete. The assurance of data quality, for example, was merely touched upon; and the evaluation of citizen research projects was not mentioned at all. The third and last blog entry, however, goes precisely in the direction of an initial evaluation. There I will report on how the project has actually progressed and why, despite a discrepancy between theory and practice and an apparent mismatch between effort and the number of participants, I draw a positive interim conclusion.


[i] See Daniel Wyler, François Grey, Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations, (Leuven 2016) 4 and European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Ten Principles of Citizen Science, September 2015.

[ii] See Paul Ayris, Alea López de San Román, Katrien Maes, Ignasi Labastida, Open Science and its role in universities: A roadmap for cultural change (Leuven 2018) 21; Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[iii] See Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 13.

[iv] See Jana Rückert-John et al, Konzept zur Anwendbarkeit von Citizen Science in der Ressortforschung des Umweltbundesamtes. Abschlussbericht (Dessau-Roßlau 2017) 26–29.

[v] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21, Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[vi] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21 and Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4 and 10.

[vii] Ibid., 4 and 10–11.

[viii] See ibid. and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[ix] Aletta Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany (Leipzig, Berlin, 2016), 13.

[x] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.

[xi] Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4, see also 13.

[xii] See ibid., 7 and 13 and ECSA, Ten Principles of Citizen Science.


Anna Luise Kiss is a PostDoc Researcher at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and currently heads the BMBF-funded research project The cinematic face of cities. She is editor of the anthology Jede Menge Perspektiven. Der Regisseur Herrmann Zschoche (CineGraph Babelsberg, 2014) and – together with Dieter Chill – of Pathenheimer: Filmfotografin. DEFA Movie Stills (Ch. Links Verlag, 2016) and co-editor of the current issue of the FFK Journal (Avinus, 2020). Her dissertation Topografie des Laiendarsteller-Diskurses – zur Konstruktion von Laiendarstellerinnen und Laiendarstellern im Kinospielfilm (Springer VS) was published in March 2019. Also recently published was “Eine Medienwissenschaftlerin und eine Schauspielerin unterhalten sich über Performanz in ihrem beruflichen Alltag. Eine Text-Performance“ in Thomas Etzemüller (ed.) Der Auftritt. Performance in der Wissenschaft (transcript, 2019).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

 

Citizen Science: “Try again. Fail again. Fail better” (Part 1)

Figure 1 Epicollect: Collecting cinematic artifacts in urban space with the help of the Epicollect app

 

Part 1: Definitions, seeming citizen science hype, my conceptualization: Anna Luise Kiss reports from her film studies citizen research project

22 September 2020

 

Structure of the blog post

In this three-part blog post, I would like to share with readers my experiences while working on the citizen research project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam. This post is an extended translation of a blog post written in German, which was published first on the Open Media Studies Blog. I’m a Film Studies scholar at the Film University in Babelsberg, Germany. That being the case, I argue from the perspective of German Film and Media studies, where explicit citizen research projects are still a rarity.

In the first part, I will discuss how citizen science is generally defined and to what it’s current hype is attributed. Afterwards, I will outline my own definition of citizens research and it’s underlying role in the project. The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam will be presented in the second entry, together with a description of how I have implemented the basic requirements, as they are set out in various guidebooks and guidelines for citizen science projects. In the third part, I will describe how the project has actually progressed. Based on the discrepancies that have arisen between theory and practice, as well as an apparent disproportion between effort and the number of participants, the basic requirements will be supplemented by my own recommendations and thoughts. Final results from the project are not yet available, but sufficient experience has been accumulated to justify a feeling of success, even if it is qualified by the paradox alluded to in Samuel Beckett’s “Try again. Fail again. Fail better”[i] which I have chosen as a subtitle for the post (more on that later). That said, my experience might be helpful to readers, especially those from the Film and Media studies who would like to include citizen research in their research repertoire.


Definitions of citizen science

The “umbrella term”[ii] open science is inclusive of the term citizen science – in the German-speaking world often referred to as “Bürger_innenwissenschaft” (citizen science), less often as “Bürger_innenforschung” (citizen research). There are various definitions of this term. On the one hand, there are narrow approaches that use the term citizen science solely for projects with a demanding content, in which non-professional researchers have a decisive influence on the entire research cycle.[iii] The Extreme Citizen Science initiative, for example, tends in this direction. It provides tools that enable citizens carry out their own research projects, thus promoting citizen science as a bottom-up approach. Another example is the Stadtteil-Historiker Project (district historians project), situated in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. Here citizens are encouraged to undertake research not in co-operation with an established scholar and under her/his direction, but as the lead researcher. They are directly provided with money, scientific tools and instruments to realize their own projects.[iv]

Figure 2 Stadtteil-Historiker Project: The results of the research projects of Stadtteil-Historiker Project are published regularly. Each volumes can be ordered free of charge from the foundation

 

On the other hand, there are broad definitions which list research projects with varying degrees of citizen involvement under the term citizen science: from institutional projects, in which professional researchers invite participants to collect and  process data so that it can be analyzed by scientists, to projects initiated by citizens themselves and carried out in cooperation with professional researchers, including joint analysis and exploitation of results.[v] These broad definitions assume a research collaboration between professional researchers and citizens[vi] and a co-production of knowledge.[vii] Recent examples include a project of the Kreisarchiv Stormarn (district archive Stormarn), which has called on the citizens of Stormarn to help make accessible archival holdings of unlisted photographs; in the Transcribe Cooper project, citizens transcribe documents written in English, French and Latin by the civil rights activist Anna Julia Cooper; and in the Wenker project, contemporary Swiss German is compared with Swiss German of the 1930s through the translation work of citizens.

Figure 3 Project Wenker: Project page of the citizen research project Wenker. Accessible via the website of the Citizen science Center Zurich

 

Citizen science is further defined as an “evolving set of research methods”[viii] that can complement existing methods, or as “a flexible concept which can be adapted and applied within diverse situations and disciplines”[ix]. Whether defined narrowly or broadly, or understood as a method or concept, the basic premise is that citizens are not the primary object of investigation, but are active participants in a scientific process.[x]


Citizen science hype

The ubiquity of term citizen science may lead one to believe that we have, for many years now, been witnessing a form of citizen’s science “hype”. Many factors seem to support such a conclusion, including higher education policy commitments to citizen research and appeals to strengthen it in the spirit of open science, the establishment of competence centers such as the Citizen Science Center Zurich, the publication of guidelines and directives that formulate basic requirements for citizen research projects, the provision of platforms such as Bürger schaffen Wissen (Citizens create knowledge) and of third-party funding for the promotion of citizen science. The rise of citizen science – like the open science movement as a whole – is associated with technological developments (e.g. the spread of GPS-based apps, of smartphones that allow the taking of photos, videos and sound, 3G and 4G coverage) enabling the collection and storage of data by citizens and an effortless mode of communication.[xi]  Social developments such as the increase in education and leisure time, the extension of life expectancy[xii] and the growing need for participation and political involvement in many societies also contribute to the hype.[xiii]

The trends have fundamentally altered citizen science. Most of the public in the early twentieth century could not be relied upon to identify and report the scientific names of species (though some expert amateur naturalist has done so) and were not equipped with scientific understanding; nor were they carrying around powerful scientific instruments in their pockets. In contrast, today, hundreds of millions of people have such abilities, and therefore the potential for participation is much higher.[xiv]

But even if the current higher education policy agenda and the institutionalization of citizen science suggest otherwise, citizen science is not something new in the natural sciences, the humanities, cultural studies or social sciences. Even before the establishment of professional science in the 19th century, citizens were already observing mankind’s influence on nature, mapping the earth’s surface, registering animal populations or astronomical phenomena, preserving historical monuments and archaeological work, enriching local research and writing art or literary treatises or encyclopaedias.[xv] Correspondingly, there are many personalities in the history of science who, without an academic education, have made outstanding contributions to the acquisition of knowledge.[xvi] For centuries, researching citizens have been an integral part of everyday research outside and inside institutions.[xvii] When evaluating the novelty value of citizen research, it should be remembered that those we today call scientists are, first and foremost, citizens. Scientists, despite their professionalization, by no means shed their civic interest and commitment, but often integrate it directly into their work. Through knowledge transfer, researchers are also always connected to society, culture, politics and economy. Knowledge transfer is never a one-way street from the research institutions to the world. It is, rather, a bi-directional process in which society, culture, politics and the economy respond to impulses from research and, conversely, impulses from economic, social, cultural and political contexts are taken up and processed by researchers. And even where a research project answers the question of relevance solely with a concern for the theoretical and/or methodological further development of a discipline, there is an indirect relationship with citizens in general, since only the continuous differentiation of a discipline or the processing of its theoretical and/or methodological desiderata maintains its ability to develop answers to changing social questions.

Figure 4 natural science: Does citizen science consist solely of natural science projects? Here is a photo of Märt Kose, which he produced together with biology students for the citizen science event Loodusvaatluste maraton. CC BY 4.0 Martyr Kose

 

Despite this, university research in the humanities was certified in 2016 that the participation of citizens is only slightly appreciated.[xviii] According to this diagnosis, it contrasts with the situation in the natural sciences, where appreciation for the contribution of citizen researchers is often marked. In the humanities, “the boundaries – often cherished by the scientific community – between professional research that generates new knowledge and the public that consumes this knowledge”[xix] was generally preserved. This assessment is supported by a recent study: according to this study, the majority (88.4 %) of the projects hosted on English and German language citizen science platforms in 2017 can be attributed to the natural sciences.[xx] However, Lisa Pettibone and David Ziegler, as well as the author of the study, Barbara Hanisch, point out that the discrepancy between natural sciences and humanities is partly due to the fact that in those cases where the humanities work with citizens, the term “citizen science” is not used. In the humanities a different terminology has evolved. For example, the terms participatory research or public history are used.[xxi] If the accusation of a lack of openness for citizen science projects is indeed true, then this circumstance can at least be positively transformed in practice. Thus, it can be reasonably stated that we still havegreat potential for citizen science[xxii] in the humanities and thus also in film and media studies.


My conceptualization

In the project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam, I oriented myself to the broad definitions of citizen science. As a professional researcher, I invited citizens of Potsdam, as experts of their city, to participate in a specific data collection process, to (partially) analyze this data with me and to develop practical guidelines for urban planning. I understand the project as a citizen research project, although the development of the research question and the formation of theses, the development of the research design, the question of data management as well as large parts of the analysis and theoretical reflection lie with me. Citizens are therefore only involved in parts of the research cycle. I do not define citizen research as an independent scientific discipline like Film or Media studies, which is why I prefer in German the term “Bürger_innenforschung” and “Bürgerforscher_innen” respectively “citizen research” and “citizen researchers” to “Bürger_innenwissenschaft” (citizen science) and “Bürger_innenwissenschaftler” (citizen scientists). I also do not see citizen research as a method like film analysis, for example, but as a principle – like inter- and transdisciplinarity. It seems to me that citizen research potentially combines two important qualities of these two principles: on the one hand, different knowledge stocks and perspectives are brought together in order to generate new knowledge (interdisciplinarity), on the other hand, cooperation challenges existing notions of science on the part of the researching citizens and on the part of professional researchers (transdisciplinarity). Of course, this comparison is misleading because the citizen researchers do not represent a defined “discipline” that brings their specific methods and practiced critical reflection approaches into a joint research process, but in the ideal case, citizen research leads to similar results as inter- and transdisciplinary research processes: to the generation of knowledge that cannot be developed in a mono-disciplinary academic research design, and to the constructive questioning of the academic and social rules and especially the forms of interaction between science and society.

A too narrow definition – which for example reproach the platform Zooniverse for not doing “real citizen research” with the projects posted here, because the initiatives are primarily from scientists and because they are in charge and citizens are mainly invited to generate data[xxiii] – is problematic for one reasons: narrow definitions frightens those who still have to familiarize themselves with citizen research and who, wisely, first decide on manageable projects in order to gain security for more complex projects.

Figure 5 Zooniverse: Can one reproach Zooniverse for not doing real citizen research with the projects posted here, because the initiatives are primarily from scientists and because they are in charge and citizens are mainly invited to generate data?

 

Incidentally, the factor of “gaining in security” applies not only to the scientists but also to the citizens themselves. If we take into account that the majority of citizens have never participated in a citizen research project, it might be a sensible approach for scientists to initially avoid large or complex projects and to begin with smaller, short duration, low-threshold and immediately effective projects, in order to gradually increase the number of active participants. I do not advocate a long-term insistence on Citizen Science light”[xxiv] – this is how my project could be classified – but I do see it as a necessary (intermediate) step for scientists and citizens alike to get to know the approach and to make it common to the solution of both small and large problems.

In the next blog entry I will present my project The cinematic face of the city of Potsdam and show how I dealt with the basic requirements as formulated in various guidebooks and guidelines for citizen Science projects.


[i] Samuel Beckett, Worstward Ho (London: John Calder, 1983), 7.

[ii] Núria Bautista-Puig, Daniela De Filippo, Elba Mauleón, Elías Sanz-Casado, “Scientific Landscape of Citizen Science Publications: Dynamics, Content and Presence in Social Media” in Publications, 7(1), 12 (2019), 1–22, 1.

[iii] See e.g.: Peter Finke, “Citizen Science und die Rolle der Geisteswissenschaften für die Zukunft der Wissenschaftsdebatte” in Kristin Oswald, René Smolarski (eds.), Bürger Künste Wissenschaft: Citizen Science in Kultur und Geisteswissenschaften (Gutenberg: Computus Druck Satz & Verlag, 2016), 31–56.

[iv] See ibid., 48.

[v] See e.g. the participation pyramids in OpenScientist and in Aletta Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany (Leipzig, Berlin, 2016), 17. See e.g.: Paul Ayris, Alea López de San Román, Katrien Maes, Ignasi Labastida, Open Science and its role in universities: A roadmap for cultural change (Leuven, 2018), 20–21 and Daniel Wyler, François Grey, Citizen science at universities: Trends, guidelines and recommendations (Leuven, 2016), 3.

[vi] See e.g.: Andrea Wiggins, Kevin Crowston, “Surveying the citizen science landscape” in First Monday, 20(1), 2015.

[vii] See e.g.: Montserrat Prats López, Managing Citizen science in the Humanities: The challenge of ensuring quality, Amsterdam 2017, 1.

[viii] Wyler, Grey, Citizen science at universities, 4.

[ix] European Citizen Science Association (ECSA), Ten Principles of Citizen Science, September 2015.

[x] See ibid. and Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany, 13; See on the difficulty of drawing boundaries Lisa Pettibone, David Ziegler, “Citizen Science: Bürgerforschung in den Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaften” in Oswald, Smolarski (eds.), Bürger Künste Wissenschaft, 57–69, 64.

[xi] See Ayris et al, Open Science and its role in universities, 21; Wyler et al, Citizen science at universities, 3 and 5; Pettibone, Ziegler Citizen Science, 58 and Wiggins, Crowston, Surveying the citizen science landscape.

[xii] See Mordechai (Muki) Haklay, Suvodeep Mazumdar, Jessica Wardlaw, “Citizen science for Observing and Understanding the Earth” in Pierre-Philippe Mathieu, Christoph Aubrecht (eds.), Earth Observation Open Science and Innovation (Cham: Springer Open, 2018) 69–88, 72–73 and Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen science Strategy 2020 for Germany, 14–15.

[xiii] See. Pettibone, Ziegler, Citizen Science, 58–59.

[xiv] Haklay et al, Citizen science for Observing and Understanding the Earth, 74.

[xv] Ibid., 70 and 75; see Pettibone, Ziegler: Citizen Science, 63 and 65; René Smolarski, Kristin Oswald Einführung: Citizen Science in Kultur und Geisteswissenschaften, in Oswald, Smolarski (eds.), Bürger Künste Wissenschaft, 9–27, 9; López, Managing Citizen science in the Humanities, 1; as well as Emu-Felicitas Ostermann-Miyashita et al, “Analysis of the current state of citizen science in Germany, based on 96 projects registered on the official website of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research” in Thomas Bartoschek, Daniel Nüst, Mario Pesch (eds.), Forum Citizen science 2019: Die Zukunft der Bürgerforschung (Münster 2019), 16–26, 17–18.

[xvi] Pettibone, Ziegler, Citizen Science, 58.

[xvii] See Bonn et al, Green Paper Citizen Science Strategy 2020 for Germany, 11.

[xviii] Smolarski, Oswald Einführung, 10.

[xix] Ibid., 12. [own translation]

[xx] Barbara Heinisch, “Vorherrschende Wissenschaftszweige auf deutsch-und englischsprachigen Citizen Science- Projektplattformen” in Bartoschek et al (eds.), Forum Citizen Science 2019, 40–52, 43–44.

[xxi] See Pettibone, Ziegler, Citizen Science, 63 and 65 as well as Heinisch, Vorherrschende Wissenschaftszweige auf deutsch-und englischsprachigen Citizen Science- Projektplattformen, 46–47.

[xxii] Finke, Citizen Science und die Rolle der Geisteswissenschaften für die Zukunft der Wissenschaftsdebatte, 33. [own translation]

[xxiii] Ibid., 42.

[xxiv] Ibid.


Anna Luise Kiss is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Film University Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF and currently heads the BMBF-funded research project The cinematic face of cities. She is editor of the anthologyJede Menge Perspektiven. Der Regisseur Herrmann Zschoche (CineGraph Babelsberg, 2014) and – together with Dieter Chill – of Pathenheimer: Filmfotografin. DEFA Movie Stills (Ch. Links Verlag, 2016) and co-editor of the current issue of the FFK Journal (Avinus, 2020). Her dissertation Topografie des Laiendarsteller-Diskurses – zur Konstruktion von Laiendarstellerinnen und Laiendarstellern im Kinospielfilm (Springer VS) was published in March 2019. Also recently published was “Eine Medienwissenschaftlerin und eine Schauspielerin unterhalten sich über Performanz in ihrem beruflichen Alltag. Eine Text-Performance“ in Thomas Etzemüller (ed.) Der Auftritt. Performance in der Wissenschaft (transcript, 2019).


Disclaimer: The IAMHIST Blog is a platform that offers individual scholars the opportunity to present their work and thoughts. They alone are responsible for the content, which does not represent the view of the IAMHIST council or other IAMHIST members.

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