Planning the Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio) Event

On March 19 and 20, 2015, a group representing online transcription platforms, biocollections, museum informal education and media departments, National Geographic, and iDigBio met at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., to plan an annual event focused on global public participation in digitization of biocollections.  The event has the dual goals of increasing the rate of specimen digitization—typically thought of as digital imaging, label transcription, and georeferencing—and public understanding of biocollections and their role in research, natural resource management, education, policy decisions, etc.  The latter, when done well, has the potential to expand both science literacy and community support for biocollections.  The event will initially focus on transcription because existing online platforms enable internet-scale participation during the event, something not possible with digital imaging or yet widely available for georeferencing.  The event is currently called WeDigBio for Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (logo to left), and it is planned for October 22–25 in 2015.

Transcription platforms represented at the planning event included the Smithsonian Transcription Center, Atlas of Living Australia's Digivol, Zooniverse's Notes from Nature, Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland's Herbaria@Home; Symbiota and the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle's Les Herbonautes participated remotely, as their schedule permitted (whole group shown on right).  Major cyberinfrastructure questions addressed by the group centered on scoping the event website and the interoperability between the transcription platforms and during the event.  The iDigBio Steering Committee has agreed to supply in-kind support to set up the initial version of, and iDigBio's Kevin Love has begun work on it.  The website will provide a visualization of digitization activity during the event, enable public participants to find a transcription project that matches their interests, provide museums and other biocollections resources to host an onsite transcription blitz using the online platforms, and aggregate stories and other resources for the media covering the event.  Creation of a WeDigBio media kit took a big leap during the event with the participation of Sarah Sulick from the Smithsonian's Public Affairs Office, Carrie Seltzer from National Geographic's Great Nature Project, and others.

The group planned ways to engage both distributed online participants, a group unencumbered by space and work-week limitations, and participants who gather onsite at their local biocollection for a transcription blitz during the event.  Relatively few institutions have tried onsite transcription blitzes, but two exceptions—the Smithsonian and Florida State University's Herbarium—were represented to discuss their experiences.  Event organizers would like to replicate those institutions' successes at dozens of biocollections during the 2015 WeDigBio event, and three thematic collections networks (TCNs) that have experience with online public engagement in transcription—the Southeastern Regional Network of Expertise and Collections, the Macrofungi Collection Consortium, and the Lichens and Bryophytes group—participated in the planning event.  The group recognized the potential for an onsite event to build support for a biocollection in its local community, something that could be leveraged with the launch of a crowdfunding campaign or recruitment of long-term volunteers by the biocollection.  The iDigBio User Engagement for Public Participation in Digitization Working Group is currently working with the WeDigBio planners to produce "blitz kits"—resources for onsite engagement in digitization that should be made widely available in the next months for the WeDigBio event.  These include transcription games, such as Habitat Bingo and Timeline Traveler, which give the transcribers reasons to think more deeply about what they are seeing as they transcribe.  The group also recognized the opportunity for these onsite transcription blitzes to serve as venues for scientists to discuss the collection process—a shared theme to discuss during the event could be "my most harrowing field experience," which could be recorded and shared through for those distributed online participants.  The Smithsonian's Paul Kimberly demonstrated what this might look like with a presentation on his experience on an erupting volcano (left—Thanks, Paul!).  The group decided to initially focus on informal education in 2015 with the possibility for expansion into formal education resources later.  Development of informal education resources at the meeting benefited from the participation of Robert Costello (Smithsonian's National Outreach Program Manager), Betty Dunckel (Florida Museum of Natural History's Center for Science Learning Director), and others.  Development of an evaluation framework for the WeDigBio event benefited from the participation of Shari Ellis (iDigBio's Evaluator) and others.

Special thanks goes to Paul Kimberly, the onsite organizer for this planning event.  Other planning event organizers include Libby Ellwood, Kevin Love, Austin Mast, and Debbie Paul (iDigBio), Rob Guralnick (Notes from Nature), and Paul Flemons (DigiVol).  If you represent a biocollection or a group of biocollections (e.g., a TCN) that is already hosting specimen images for transcription at a transcription platform, we would be pleased to discuss incorporating you into the 2015 WeDigBio event.  For more information on participation, please email Paul Kimberly or Libby Ellwood.