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.

Loopline Collection: Irish Film Institute (IFI) Archive

Kasandra O’Connell, Irish Film Institute

22 May 2020


“It’s somewhere between art and education, if you can capture those two things, you’re home and dry”[i]

Se Merry Doyle, Loopline films

In May 2020 the Irish Film Institute (IFI) [ii] published the second volume of the Loopline Collection on its online platform- the IFI Player. [iii] This material is the output of Loopline Films, one of Ireland’s most influential independent production companies, founded in 1992 by filmmaker Sé Merry Doyle. The internationally award-winning company named after the River Liffey viaduct, AKA the Loopline Bridge in Dublin’s Inner City, specialises in producing documentaries and TV series “with heart”.[iv] Merry Doyle and his collaborators forgo traditional documentary techniques, such as narration, preferring a more experimental approach to their subjects.[v] Since its inception Loopline has become renowned for its perceptive, political and poetic body of work, particularly a series of portraits of prominent cultural figures and a succession of programmes highlighting pressing social issues and documenting changes in Irish society. Amongst the material made available on the IFI Player in April 2019 was previously unreleased footage of U2 playing live on Dublin’s Sheriff Street in 1982, the inclusion of which ensured international media interest in the project.

Sé Merry Doyle and Eugene Finn at the launch of the collection on the IFI Player

Project origins

The genesis of the collaboration between the IFI and Loopline was an approach by Loopline’s founder Sé Merry Doyle, to the IFI Irish Film Archive in 2015.[vi] This resulted in funding being secured from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland’s (BAI) archiving scheme in order to preserve the output of the production company. [vii] Over the following year, Merry Doyle and archivist Eugene Finn assessed and catalogued the various media elements that made up the collection, which had resided in the Loopline offices for many years. This material included a wide variety of formats: 16mm and 35mm films, a multitude of tape formats, numerous audio materials and a significant amount of born digital content held on hard drives and camera cards- illustrating the transition of the production world from analogue to digital through the period in which the production company has operated. When Loopline closed its studios in 2017 this material was transferred to the IFI Irish Film Archive, where the IFI began its part of the project to catalogue, digitise and preserve the collection, eventually making it available to the public via the IFI Player.

Despite the fact that IFI Archive team had been provided with a sample of the collection’s content in order to write the BAI funding application, it was only when the entire collection was transported to the IFI premises for assessment that its full value was appreciated. In addition to 47 finished programmes chronicling the social, cultural and political landscape of Ireland between 1982 and 2015, the collection contained outtakes, interviews, pilots and additional material not included in the final broadcast programmes, thus giving unparalleled access not only to the programme subjects but to Merry Doyle’s immersive, and instinctive approach to filmmaking.

The collection contains undeniably starry content including such high profile figures as U2, Patrick Kavanagh, Martin Scorsese, Peter Bogdanovich, Maureen O’Hara, J.G. Ballard, Margaret Atwood and Gore Vidal amongst many others, but it is the footage chronicling changes in Irish urban and rural society and documenting key areas of Irish history and the arts that is of particular value to the IFI. Although the IFI Irish Film Archive collection holds material from  1890s to the present day it is weighted towards the mid-20th century, so the inclusion of such a  wide ranging and extensive (over 900 hours of footage) collection  covering the latter part of the 20th century provided some welcome curatorial balance.  This was also the first full broadcast collection that the IFI archive had acquired and processed in conjunction with the filmmaker, thus providing a valuable opportunity to work with Merry Doyle to ensure the material was correctly documented, the context of its creation was captured and allowing staff to gain a deep insight into the production process itself.

An instinctive practitioner, Merry Doyle stumbled into filmmaking with no formal training. Born into the working- class Dublin suburb of Finglas he began his artistic career in the theatre. A contemporary of director Jim Sheridan and actors Gabriel Byrne and Liam Neeson, his first foray into filmmaking was in the early 1980s when he borrowed footage from the legendary Irish documentary maker George Morrison editing it into a theatre set piece, the success of which encouraged him into a career as a film editor in Dublin and then London. [viii] Returning to Ireland in the 1990s he officially set up Loopline films, although his first work Looking On (1982), was created prior to his departure to England.

The Dublin Merry Doyle returned to was in flux as the last vestiges of tenement life and the old city were being swept away by internationalism, capitalism and a sense of the modern. Merry Doyle was acutely aware of the internal tension within the capital as communities fought to retain their identity in the face of economic and social change. He felt compelled to capture not only the Dublin he knew before it disappeared, but also the struggle of working-class communities as they tried to navigate their changing environs; and so, he began to film those around him. This resulted in a trio of films that are still relevant as they deal with issues that continue to effect Dublin, urban regeneration and gentrification and social and economic deprivation. Looking On, Loopline’s inaugural work focuses on a 1982 cultural festival, spearheaded by community activist Mick Rafferty and the Independent politician Tony Gregory; this landmark event sought to reclaim the inner city for the local population and instil pride in an area facing financial hardship, lack of employment and increasing levels of drug abuse. It notably features an early rooftop appearance by U2 in Alive Alive O: A Requiem for Dublin, Merry Doyle’s first full length documentary featuring original poetry from Paula Meehan and footage shot by Oscar-nominated cinematographer Robbie Ryan, chronicling the fight of Dublin’s iconic street traders to maintain their livelihood against the threat of commercial interests in the inner city who seek to expel the traders from their traditional locations of the Iveagh Market and Moore Street.[ix]

Liam McGrath’s Essie’s Last Stand depicts 76-year-old Essie Keeling’s fight to stay in her home as developers attempt to demolish St Ultan’s, the block of flats she has resided in for four decades. One of the last remaining tenants she and a neighbour refuse to be evicted, determined to thwart the ambitions of developers to create luxury apartments on the site of their home. The film is considered a companion piece to Alive Alive O by Tony Tracy as it similarly depicts a “proud and marginalised community defying mainstream expectations”.[x]

In addition to topics that explore the shifting community and values within the city, Loopline’s other focus is creating intimate portraits of renowned Irish cultural figures. These deeply personal works include Patrick Scott: Golden Boy, produced by Andrea Pitt and Maria Doyle Kennedy of Mermaid Films, which gives an insight into the work of one of Ireland’s foremost abstract painters; the film includes footage shot by Seámus McGarvey, the Oscar-nominated cinematographer. Patrick Kavanagh: No Man’s Fool which focuses on the life of the renowned poet, with contributions from poets John Montague and Macdara Woods, writer Dermot Healy, and actor T.P. McKenna. James Gandon: A Life which looks at the career of the renowned 18th-century architect responsible for some of Dublin’s most iconic buildings including the Customs House and the Four Courts; the documentary is notable for an extensive interview with former Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Charles J. Haughey at his Gandon-designed home in Abbeyville, North Dublin.

Loopline also made several series for television, including Imprint which was hosted by the poet Theo Dorgan and first broadcast on RTÉ between 1999 and 2001. It features in-depth and revealing interviews with some of the literary world’s most notable figures such as Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, Gore Vidal, Eavan Boland and Colm Tóibín, while the six-part series A Good Age, originally broadcast in 1997, is an intriguing look at the issues facing older people, with candid personal testimonies about intimacy, self-care, and ageism. The most recent series for television was Muintir na Mara (People of the Sea) which ran for six series on TG4.[xi] A travel programme of sorts, presented by traditional boatbuilder Pádraig Ó Duinnín, it followed his journey around the Irish coastline as he visited Cork, Kerry, Galway, Clare and Sligo/ Mayo, engaging with a variety of local characters, before ending his travels in Donegal. The series illustrates Loopline’s continuing preoccupation with location and identity albeit it in a vastly different setting to previous urban focussed works. Ó Duinnín explores and memorialises the activities of range of crafts people, artists, musicians as well as addressing “contentious issues facing Ireland’s coastal towns”, such as “over regulation of the fishing industry, the impact of multinationals on communities and the natural environment and the demise of the fishing community and traditions”.[xii]

Folklife material 

Rural life is also the focus of a particularly valuable sub-collection within the Loopline corpus; the material shot for the BBC/RTE series Hidden Treasures directed by Anne O’Leary in 1998 explores a range of trades, crafts and traditions widely practised in rural Ireland from the 1850s to the 1950s.  The series is built around a collection of 16mm films commissioned by the National Museum of Ireland’s Folklife Division, in association with the Irish Folklore Commission and filmed from the 1950s through to the 1970s and which is also preserved as part of the Irish Film Institute collection.

Hidden Treasures, episode 1: ‘Cot, Coracle and Currach’

Hidden Treasures, episode 4: ‘Rod, Rhyme and Spinning’

These films emphasise the self-sufficiency of rural householders and crafts specialists, through their use of everyday materials to make objects for practical use in their daily lives and cover a wide variety of pre-industrial practices, such as rope-making, tinsmithing, various forms of fishing and grain-threshing, turf-cutting, tillage, and straw and seaweed gathering. They are a beautifully shot record of a fading Ireland and indicative of Loopline’s preoccupation with changing tradition, landscape and place.

Feminist perspective

Another prominent strand within the Loopline output is work that memorialises the lives of Irish women, although the company has sometimes met with controversy whilst doing so.

Martina Durac’s documentary Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh (An Unfinished Conversation) is about the Republican activist who was shot by the British Army in Gibraltar in 1988, in which her friend historian Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, attempts to uncover the complex woman behind the mythology that has been woven around her.

Still from Mairéad Farrell: Comhrá nár Chríochnaigh (An Unfinished Conversation)

MNÁ AN IRA is a six- part series that focuses on the role played by female members within the Provisional IRA, taking a very personal approach to its subject matter the series explores what motivated the women to become involved in the conflict. The sympathetic tone taken by the filmmakers led to criticism of the series, not least by Concubhar O Liathain, a member of the TG4 board, who asked for the decision to broadcast the series to be reviewed following the airing of the episode featuring Rose Dugdale, as he felt its tone would prove “heart-breaking for the victims of the IRA and their relatives”.[xiii] In response the producers of the series Vanessa Gildea and Martina Durac, defended their work explaining that it was “an attempt to understand part of the recent history of our country and why certain people became involved in violent activity — by hearing their personal stories and finding out what motivated them into such drastic action.”

Another less controversial female figure that is celebrated within the collection is Kathleen Lynn, Rebel Doctor a programme that rediscovers the legacy of this extraordinary humanitarian. Structured around Lynn’s diaries, the programme explores Lynn’s remarkable journey from a clergyman’s daughter in the West of Ireland to become a physician and suffragette who founded the first Irish children’s hospital St Ultan’s and was chief medical officer for the Irish Citizen Army.  This celebration of women’s achievements continues with Merry Doyle’s next project Hanna and Me which tells the story of republican suffragette Hanna Sheehy Skeffington through the eyes of her great granddaughter Micheline.

Value of the collection

In addition to the completed programmes within the collection, Loopline project archivist Eugene Finn highlights the value of the uncompleted works, projects which Loopline began but were unable to progress due to lack of financial support, thus illustrating the difficulty in “raising funding for serious social cultural and historical documentaries”.[xiv] These fragments provide an insight into the subject matter which fascinates Merry Doyle and his collaborators, as the abandon works offer a glimpse of partial profiles of figures such as the controversial writer Ulick O’Connor, and trade unionist and socialist politician Jim Kemmy. Equally tantalising is a series of interviews with international practitioners such as D.A. Pennebaker, Kim Longinotto, Les Blanc and Molly Dineen amongst others, for an unfinished project entitled Documentary Where Art Thou?

In his piece for Cassandra Voices, Finn also remarks on the value of the collection in providing a window into the production process, as outtakes and rushes document “the filming of establishing shots”, and “ the pursuit of best takes” and show how the “ideas that arise during interviews” are developed into new concepts, giving us an unparalleled insight into the development the and construction of the work. In an in-depth interview at the IFI Merry Doyle’s further emphasises the instinctive and organic nature of the production process, as relationships, coincidence and circumstance led Loopline from one topic to another.[xv]

Availability of the collection

The first tranche of the Loopline Collection was made available on the IFI Player in April 2019, with the second tranche published in May 2020. Volume 2 can be viewed here. In preparation for publication the IFI player curatorial team mapped out an online programming strategy, working with Merry Doyle to identify themes within the material in order to present the collection to the public in an engaging and accessible way.[xvi] Video segments and introductions were filmed with a range of contributors to provide context and create a route for further critical engagement with the content.  Additionally, the IFI programmed a retrospective of Loopline films in its cinemas, including a career interview with Merry Doyle to coincide with the public availability of the work. The collection is now available on the IFI Player without geo-blocking so that an international audience can explore and enjoy its diverse subject matter. Taken as a whole the collection is fascinating document of recent Irish history and the changing cultural life of the nation.

Merry Doyle’s interest in complex themes such as changing identity, social justice, and the creative process, has ensured that the collection contains a rich seam of material for researchers, historians, sociologists and programme makers to mine. Similarly, Merry Doyle’s innate ability to find the human story within universal themes, will no doubt ensure that the work of Loopline continues to resonate with audiences long into the future.

You can view the trailer for the Loopline Collection, Volume 2 here.

[i] ‘900 hours of footage that tells the story of Ireland’: Video from the last 30 years archived at IFI Apr 16th 2019, Andrew Roberts.

[ii] The Irish Film Institute is Ireland’s national cultural institution for film with a remit to Exhibit, Preserve and Educate.

[iii] The IFI Player is a virtual viewing room for the IFI Irish Film Archive’s collections. Launched in 2016, it gives fee global access to a range of material from the IFI’s collections, and acts as a platform to publicise the IFI’s preservation and digitisation projects. In collaboration with tech partners Axonista a suite of apps for Android, Apple and Roku was launched in 2017.

[iv] IFI Career interview.

[v] Merry Doyle was not always at the helm and collaborated with a range of accomplished producers and directors such as Martina Durac, Vanessa Gildea, Anne O’Leary, Liam McGrath amongst others stepping in.

[vi] The IFI Irish Film Archive is part of the IFI. It has a mission to collect, preserve and share Ireland’s moving image heritage.

[vii] The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland is Ireland’s broadcast regulator, but also runs an archiving scheme which aims to promote a culture of preservation within the broadcast sector and provides funding for preservation projects for audio-visual material made for broadcast.

[viii] George Morrison is an Irish documentary maker, best known for his ground-breaking film Mise Eire (1959) which is created entirely from archival footage and tells the story of events around and during the Easter Rising.

[ix] Alive Alive O, review Film West, Issue 39, Dan McCarthy

[x] Essie’s Last Stand review, Flim West,issue 41, Tony Tracy

[xi] TG4 is Ireland’s Irish language television station.


[xiii] IRA series Seriously stains TG4, Independent, 8th Jan 2012

[xiv] ‘Archiving the Recent Past: the Loopline Collection’, EUGENE FINN ON JULY 19, 2019


[xvi] Shauna Lyons, Kasandra O’Connell, Sunniva O’Flynn and Saskia Vermeulen

Kasandra O’Connell has been Head of the IFI Irish Film Archive custodian of Ireland’s national moving image collection for two decades. Prior to this she worked in conservation at the National Museum of Ireland and has a postgraduate qualification in Archival Science, an M.A. in Museum Studies and is currently undertaking PhD research in moving image preservation and policy at DCU. She is on the editorial board of the Association of Moving Image Archivists journal and has written about digital preservation and moving image archiving for a number of publications including Film Ireland, History Ireland, Journal of the Society of Archivists and International Journal of Film Preservation; she has also contributed to a number of television and radio programmes on the subject. She devised and teaches an MA module in digital media preservation at Maynooth University and was one of a group of international experts selected as faculty for 2018 FIAF preservation and restoration workshop in India. Her focus in recent years has been devising and implementing the IFI Irish Film Archive’s Digital Preservation and Access Strategy, developing the award winning IFI Player and undertaking large scale preservation and access projects such as the Irish adverts project, Loopline and the Irish Independence film collection.

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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