Evaluating Project Participation Through Zooniverse
The following piece was written by OAS Communications Coordinator AnnaKathryn Kruger for the Snapshot Wisconsin newsletter. To subscribe to the newsletter, visit this link.
One of the easiest ways to participate in Snapshot Wisconsin is by classifying photos through a website called Zooniverse. Zooniverse is a crowdsourcing service that is accessible to anyone, anywhere, and the site has hosted Snapshot Wisconsin since 2016. Snapshot Wisconsin’s most prolific Zooniverse volunteer has contributed over 65,000 classifications to the project’s dataset. To date, 1.9 million trail camera photos have been processed through Zooniverse, and more than 7,500 different individuals have registered to participate.
Zooniverse volunteers play a pivotal role in Snapshot Wisconsin. Analyzing volunteer participation gives staff a better idea of how to effectively engage volunteers and can also offer researchers a look at how patterns in participation relate to the overall quality of the data acquired from the platform.
In the interest of exploring a quantitative assessment of volunteer participation in Snapshot Wisconsin through Zooniverse, researchers conducted a Latent Profile Analysis (LPA) of our volunteers. LPA can be used to organize a given sample size of people into groups based on observable variables, such as user activity over time. Through this, researchers were able to ascertain how many different groups of people exist in the sample, which individuals belong to which group, and what characteristics are unique to each group. This allowed researchers to hone in on specific patterns in user engagement.
Researchers identified measurable variables unique to each volunteer and their activity on Zooniverse between November 2017 and February 2019. These included the number of days each volunteer was active, time elapsed between active days, and the amount of time volunteers spent on the site on active days. From this, researchers parsed volunteers into three profiles: temporary, intermittent and persistent.
Temporary volunteers are those who exhibited rigorous participation, but only for a short period of time. Intermittent are those characterized by the significant amount of time elapsed between a relatively small number of active days. Persistent are those who demonstrated high levels of activity across the entire period examined.
Measures of accuracy specific to each group revealed that temporary volunteers demonstrate lower accuracy in their classifications compared to intermittent volunteers. Though intermittent volunteers tended to allow more time to go by between active days, the consistent practice ultimately made their classifications more accurate.
In this instance, we may turn to an old adage: practice makes perfect. It comes as no surprise that practice and accuracy are correlated, and that volunteers become better at classifying photos with more time spent doing so. In the graphic on the right, all four photos are of porcupines, though they are of varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to classification. Though classifying photos like these may be tricky at first, over time certain characteristics begin to stand out more readily – a porcupine may be identified by their lumbering gait, or the way that their quills appear from different angles and in different light. The more frequently one sees these traits, the easier they become to identify. Volunteers who participate at any level, whether temporary, intermittent, or persistent, are of great value to the project, and the more time spent on Zooniverse, the more likely that the classifications assigned to each photo are accurate.
Citizen science is an integral part of the Snapshot Wisconsin project, and is in fact core to its mission, which is to rally the knowledge and resources of citizens across Wisconsin and throughout the world to build a comprehensive and highly accurate portrait of Wisconsin wildlife. No two Zooniverse volunteers are quite the same, and each individual informs our understanding of how citizen science can be utilized effectively in research. No matter how one chooses to participate, participation alone brings us closer to our goal.