Incentives for citizen scientists: report, recruit, verify

By February 24th, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Comment


For most people, a citizen science project provides a way to address a specific scientific challenge with the help of volunteers. For a group of researchers from MIT, UCSD, Masdar Institute, and University of Southampton, it is also an opportunity to study what motivates people to join the project.

Would you rather receive a badge, appear on the leader board, or become the top-contributor among your friends? Is a dinner with the project organizers a better motivator? Or, are payments more appropriate for different types of projects?

In addition to data collection, we emphasize two other common ways of providing a relevant contribution to crowdsourcing projects: recruitment of new participants and verification of collected data. Recruitment is crucial to the success of any crowdsourcing project. Can we help the search for volunteers by providing referral incentives to participants who already signed up? Our team is led by Manuel Cebrian and Iyad Rahwan, the winners of the DARPA Red Balloon Challenge, where payments for referrals proved to be effective.

For many projects, collecting data is only half of the story. What if some of the reports are inaccurate due to honest mistakes and misunderstandings, or worse, due to malicious participants? In most projects, the amount of data is so large that verification must be crowdsourced as well. How does one perform verification with the least overhead and the highest degree of confidence? We are looking for answers by experimenting with various ways of distributing verification tasks and incentives to complete them.

While there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach, we expect to identify which set of incentive and verification techniques is most likely to be effective for various classes of crowdsourcing projects. We are currently participating in the MyHeartMap challenge that was recently featured on SciStarter.

Join our team to help us learn more about incentive and verification mechanisms, while creating a life-saving Automated External Defibrillators map in Philadelphia. And, stay tuned for more developments as we explore ways to enhance the experiences of both the citizens and the scientists involved in projects featured right here on SciStarter.

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This is a guest post from Victor Naroditskiy, a postdoc in the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton.

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