One of the most significant decisions a project leader makes is choosing a platform to host their project. There are a growing number of platforms designed specifically to support the scientific work of and people engaged in participatory science projects. While a custom platform is sometimes necessary to serve a particular project’s purposes, using an available platform will save time and money. So what are the most important features to consider, and when is a platform close enough to your specifications to work? Some are listed in the table below.
There are a few important caveats for us to mention. First, while two platforms may have an “x” in the same column, HOW they deliver that functionality may differ significantly! Platform leaders shared much more detail in a live event (recording available here). Use this table as a prompt to think about features and identify platforms worth your closer inspection. We offer a list of questions to ask yourself while you’re looking at platforms, as well as a much longer list of platforms, following the table.
Table adapted from NASA CitSci Leaders Handbook. Last updated September 2023
Key: x= feature present. $ fee-based feature.
Second caveat, the developers of these platforms are actively updating and evolving them. Data practices and accessibility and platform interoperability are changing especially quickly. This table is current as of September, 2023. If you are visiting this blog significantly after that date, we encourage you to assume that the information in the table may be out of date.
While not a platform for data collection/classification, we want to mention another “platform” that supports participatory science projects. SciStarter is a powerful tool to help project leaders amplify projects, recruit more participants, and learn more about participants’ experiences and interests while accelerating their scientific research. SciStarter APIs* allow people registered on SciStarter to use their SciStarter account to log in and participate in projects on other platforms and is compatible with many of the platforms in table above (details at https://scistarter.org/api or in recording here). Whatever your project uses for a platform, we encourage you to connect with SciStarter.
There are numerous other platforms supporting participatory science projects. We’ve listed some we know of below and will work to update periodically (last updated Sept 2023). Listing here does not imply any evaluation, endorsement, or verification of these platforms.
Many of the multi-project platforms listed above were also featured in a 2023 review paper by Stein et al. that explores the differences in functionality and features of numerous platforms- article available here
Conversation with Platform Leaders:
Curious about platform features? Want to hear what’s new?
No matter where you are in your project’s lifecycle and whether you are on a custom or shared platform, this conversation with platform developers will give you insights, ideas, or inspiration for your project’s next steps.
Check out the recording for details on platform features and helpful slides that outline ‘best fit’ for some of the six platforms featured.
Questions to answer when shopping for platforms:
With ~30 platforms available, choosing the right platform can be daunting . The following questions can help you make an informed decision and find the right platform(s) for your project.
What’s the main task I’m asking people to do? Collect data, classify data, etc.
What’s my ultimate goal? What’s my close second goal? What features do I need to achieve these? Consider your scientific goals, goals you may have for your participants, and goals participants have for themselves.
What design support do I need? What expertise do I have on my team, and that might we need help with?
What recruiting support will I need? Is my project open to anyone or for a discrete group?
What interaction do I want to have with participants? What interaction do I want participants to have with each other?
What training do I need to provide to ensure participants can be successful at the task?
How much of the scientific process do I want to involve participants in? Which parts in particular?
What are my specific data needs? Rigor, privacy of sensitive information, legal accountability
What are my specific data privacy needs? Protected data, protected species, private land?
Do I have funding for ongoing platform fees/maintenance?
This post was written in collaboration with Sarah Kirn, NASA Citizen Science Strategist at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, with input from platform leaders in support of an September 2023 event for the NASA Cit Sci Leaders Series. Find out more about the series including archives of past events here: https://nasacitsci.gmri.org