The Crowd & The Cloud Broadcast and Digital Media Summative Evaluation Report
The Crowd & The Cloud, a three-year project, developed by Passport To Knowledge and funded by the National Science Foundation, uses multimedia to engage different audiences around citizen science and crowdsourcing. The project team created four episodes of a broadcast television series, which appeared on PBS stations and via PBS.org, an interactive website, and a robust social media presence in an attempt to reach three target audiences: the general public, scientists, and citizen scientists. Rockman et al (REA), an independent educational research and evaluation firm, conducted an external evaluation of The Crowd & The Cloud’s broadcast series via online surveys and in-person focus groups, and The Crowd & The Cloud’s website and social media via online analytics, surveys, and focus groups. In addition, telephone interviews were conducted with citizen science leaders whose projects were featured in the series or on the website, members of the general public who signed up to participate in a citizen science project after viewing an episode of the series, and with The Crowd & The Cloud project’s advisors.
The Crowd & The Cloud series had a wide-reaching impact on viewers’ understanding of, attitudes towards, and behaviors around citizen science. Each of the three target audiences were informed and impressed by the range of citizen science projects portrayed in the episodes and by the kinds of technologies that allowed for sophisticated data collection by non-scientists. Focus group participants and survey respondents sought out additional information about citizen science and projects featured in the episodes, with some transitioning “from viewers to doers,” a shift that was a main goal of the project. Prior to watching the series, members of the general public were largely unaware of citizen science and the opportunities available to contribute to projects. Through engaging with the series, members of the general public came to understand that a wide variety of projects exist and that people like them are contributing as citizen science participants. Finding projects that matched their interests and skills was an influential factor in turning viewers into doers.
The Crowd & The Cloud’s website and social media presence effectively provided users with additional information about citizen science and crowdsourcing, as well as ways to become more involved in citizen science initiatives. The information available on the website was designed to be utilized in conjunction with the broadcast episodes or to stand alone for users who had not yet watched the series. The website serves as a portal through which viewers who are motivated by the episodes can connect with citizen science projects and become doers.
The project’s robust social media campaign supported both the broadcast series and the website. While the broadcast series and website are platforms that require viewers and users to engage first by watching the episodes or visiting the website, the project’s social media allowed the series producers to push content directly to their followers across multiple platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In particular, posts that mentioned an individual or group affiliated with a citizen science project featured on an episode in the series or website, that appeared in conjunction with the television broadcast air dates, that had longer character counts, used more hashtags, and/or included colorful imagery or videos with little to no text tended to elicit the most user engagement. In this way, social media extended the reach of the project beyond what broadcast series or a website could otherwise do.
Thus, The Crowd & The Cloud’s broadcast and digital media succeeded in making viewers aware of citizen science initiatives around the world, changed people’s perceptions of citizen science, and motivated a new wave of individuals to engage in scientific research to fill in knowledge gaps, track trends using large datasets, or address problems within their local communities.