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WeDigBio 2016 Starts to Take Shape

Experts in digitization, programming, education, crowdsourcing, and outreach and marketing gathered at the iDigBio offices in Gainesville from April 20–22 to begin planning the second annual Worldwide Engagement for Digitizing Biocollections (WeDigBio) event. This year’s event is scheduled to take place October 20–23, and we have established the ambitious goals of doubling the number of completed transcription tasks, engaging more collections and participants, and enriching the experience for participants online and at onsite events. We made great strides towards these goals and set out a clear plan for the next six months of work leading up to the event.

The inaugural event last year was met with success across all metrics—tens of thousands of transcription tasks were completed by thousands of participants at 30 onsite events or distributed individually in over 60 countries. Participants at many onsite events at museums and universities got a tour of a biocollection, heard a presentation from a researcher, played games, and received event-branded stickers and temporary tattoos. Details of the WeDigBio 2015 event can be found in the iDigBio report. Since the event, several noteworthy developments have taken place. In November 2015, we facilitated a discussion on Citizen Science, including WeDigBio and related activities within the community, at the iDigBio Summit. One month later, Austin Mast gave a presentation at the US Capitol on “Crowdsourcing Collection Digitization: Solving a Science Problem and Improving STEM Literacy” as part of the Natural Science Collections Alliance congressional briefing on digitization. In February 2016, Paul Kimberly, Libby Ellwood, and Austin Mast did an iDigBio Education & Outreach webinar on how to “Make the WeDigBio Event an Exciting Part of your Institution’s Education and Outreach Activities”. Each of these provided us the opportunity to share our experiences from the event and continue to build support for the expanding efforts of crowdsourcing digitization.

The organization for the workshop was loosely based on the planning workshop for the 2015 event that was hosted by the Smithsonian. The goals of the present workshop were to assess the successes and lessons learned from last year’s inaugural event, to establish the tasks necessary for organizing the 2016 event, and, to the extent possible, lay the foundation for longer-term success of the event. Each day consisted of time in large-group discussion, as well as time working in one of three small groups: Cyberinfrastructure, Outreach & Marketing, and Events. The workshop started with introductions and summaries from a variety of perspectives; Libby Ellwood presented tallies and survey results from the 2015 event, representatives of transcription centers (Meghan Ferriter and Mike Schall from the Smithsonian Institution Transcription Center, Rob Guralnick from Notes from Nature, Paul Flemons from DigiVol, Cat Chapman from Symbiota) provided overviews of the front- and back-end of each platform, and hosts of onsite events (Austin Mast from Florida State University, Rhiannon Stephens from the Australian Museum, Jason Best from the Botanical Research Institute of Texas, Paul Kimberly from the Smithsonian Institute, Erica Krimmel from the Chicago Academy of Sciences, Adam Wall from the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Matt von Konrat from the Field Museum, and Tom Nash from the University of Wisconsin-Madison) shared highlights and lessons learned from their events. During the afternoon session we began work in small groups. The day ended with a remote talk from Siobhan Leachman, who was an extraordinary online participant in WeDigBio 2015. She shared her insights with us about her experiences participating from New Zealand. She also had several great ideas for the 2016 event such as 24-hour WeDigBio social media coverage by different institutions, and potentially different languages, around the world.

The second day began with a discussion of WeDigBio Interest Groups for year-round engagement led by Austin Mast. Austin is working with members of the Florida Native Plant Society's state leadership to produce a targeted digitization campaign called WeDigFLPlants to continue the high digitization rates observed during the WeDigBio event through more of the year. The WeDigFLPlants campaign could be a template for similar partnerships, such as WeDigChicago (focused on digitizing specimens from the Chicago area, irrespective of whether it's a plant, fish, or something else) or WeDigInsects. An important organizing principle for each interest group would be that it aligns with the goals of one or more partner organizations. Later in the day, Austin also led the group in a discussion about sustainability. Currently, WeDigBio activities have been supported by a coalition of partners, both with funding and, especially, human resources. Workshop participants recognized that for WeDigBio to function well it needs human resources in the areas of leadership and coordination, IT, marketing, and evaluation, in addition to enthusiastic crowdsourcing-platform and event-host partners. We discussed several possible models for sustainability, including formation of a nonprofit organization that seeks professional society, biocollections, foundation, and private company sponsorships for the annual event and The issue of sustainability is certainly not unique to WeDigBio, and we will continue to learn from others in the biocollections community.

On the third and final day, Paul Kimberly led a discussion on the possibility of creating research themes for WeDigBio 2016. Potential themes for this year include species of medical interest (e.g., disease vectors, with possible emphasis on Aedes aegypti and other mosquito species) and invasive species. We are currently assessing the feasibility of these ideas for this year’s event, and we like the opportunity that a research theme might provide to talk about the relevance of biocollections with the media and introduce the public more broadly to the process of science (e.g., by analyzing the data and publishing a paper with the crowdsourced data during, or soon after, the WeDigBio event).

There were many outcomes of the smaller-group work. The Cyberinfrastructure group laid plans to update and improve, develop tools to streamline communication among all involved parties, and establish a protocol for integrating and sharing dashboard information. The Outreach & Marketing group will be creating promotional and informational materials such as brochures and posters, updating the media kit, and working with the Events group to improve Blitz Kits for event hosts. The Events group is working to improve the process of registration, develop undergraduate lesson plans, and is reaching out to institutions and collections around the world to expand the “We”, i.e., worldwide engagement, in WeDigBio. As a full group, we discussed ways to keep these varied tasks on track and implemented a Slack page ( to help keep communications, ideas, and documents all in one place.

Thanks to the hard-working, creative, and dedicated participants, the three-day workshop was incredibly productive and enjoyable. WeDigBio 2016 promises to be even bigger and better than last year! More information about the planning meeting can be found on the wiki. If you’d like to learn more about WeDigBio, to host or attend an event, or to find event resources, visit us at We welcome everyone to participate! Also, follow us on Facebook and Twitter for the latest event updates.

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