Gender Equality

Science: It’s your thing! 3 steps to a crowdsourcing success

Dream jobs6 reasons science needs you and Profiles of women in science are just three of the areas on a website launched last year by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to consider science as a career — a website called Science: It’s a girl thing!

The EC’s campaign gave me the opportunity to try out an idea for making a so-called teaser clip that would attract attention to the site; I didn’t want to make the clip myself, I wanted to see what would happen if I just announced a contest. What if I tried a crowdsourcing experiment?

The response was tremendous and the winners were announced in late November.

There were three crucial success factors, but before I tell you about them, enjoy one of the winning videos!

The contest started when I wrote a piece about the campaign that was published at The Guardian. At the end of that article, I suggested a contest.

Maybe crowdsourcing the creation of a teaser – based on the campaign’s website – would be the best way to find out what could tempt teenage girls to study science.

Let’s have a contest. Go to the campaign website and find your inspiration. Think about what could be a meaningful teaser video. And then make it!

I’ll show the best one at the European Gender Summit 2012, which will be held at the European Parliament on 29-30 November. For more details and the official rules for the contest, see The #ScienceGirlThing Contest.

Three things were absolutely crucial to making the contest a success.

A few people criticized the crowdsourcing idea as a way to get professionals to do work for free. Even though I was thinking more about school kids making videos than professionals, I could understand this criticism. It was then fortuitous when Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, read one of my tweets about the contest and replied that he would donate prize money. Imagine that! I didn’t know Brian then, but he thought the cause was important enough to support, and his contribution was crucial to the success of the contest. Thank you, Professor Schmidt!

Before I continue to the second important factor, enjoy another one of the three winning videos.

The second key development was when the European Science Foundation came onboard as a co-organizer of the contest. Even with something as anarchistic as a crowdsourcing contest, there is a lot of work to be done — setting up a good website, organizing the submissions, getting sensible materials to the jury members, and organizing the announcement of the winners. ESF took on these tasks and made the contest a much better experience than I ever could have done myself. ESF Chief Executive Martin Hynes also added  considerable status to the event by joining the award ceremony and mentioning the contest in his remarks at the European Gender Summit.

The final thing that made a difference is coming below, but first … the third winner!

The contest got prize money, status, and excellent organizational support, but none of that would have mattered without the investment of the participants and other supporters. The decisions of many individuals to engage is the final crucial component.

There were tweeters and bloggers who publicized the contest, like Joanne Manaster (@sciencegoddess), who put it on the Scientific American site, from which many others picked it up. There were jury members: the European Parliament was represented by member Antigoni Papadopoulou, the European Commission was represented by Laura Lauritsalo, science educators were represented by Cheryl Miller, who also gathered seven bright and influential girls who also judged the videos. The organizers of the European Gender Summit let us use their networking event to show the videos and announce the winners. To all of  you I’ve mentioned here, I want to express my gratitude for making this contest a success.

But there’s one more group to mention — the most important one! The crowdsourcing contest generated about 40 submissions. Most of them can be viewed here; they are as varied and inspiring as the three winners and I encourage you to have a look.

To those who participated by making a video, on behalf of myself and the European Science Foundation, as the two co-organizers of this event, please know that your efforts touched us all. You are the future of science and you let us know: Science: It’s your thing!

My interest in moving universities towards balance encompasses gender equality, the communication of scientific results, promoting research-based education and leadership development more generally. Read more

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7 Comments

  • Kat says:

    This video contest was such a great idea, and the entries are excellent! I think things like this are a wonderful way to help encourage young women to enter into the sciences. I am so happy to see there are people out there working towards gender equality, especially in academia.

    Thank you for stopping by my blog.

    • Curt Rice says:

      Thanks for this comment and your encouragement, and not least of all for your help in publicizing the contest. The experience left me inspired to keep working on recruiting more young people — boys and girls alike — to careers in science.

  • Vicky Miller says:

    Interesting post – I was one of the contributors (see mine here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HQQoVy0h4hU)

    As a professional scientist, I see this kind of outreach/ public engagement as an important part of my job and am happy to participate. It’s crucial that science is seen to be for everyone, not just the preserve of stereotypical boffins cut off from the world in their labs and entering the contest was a great way to get that message out. Also with every mobile phone coming with a video camera these days, making a video doesn’t take much time or expertise – mine took about half a day to conceive, make the props and then shoot (in the lab on a Sunday morning with with my laptop propped up on an ice bucket). I think crowd sourcing was a great idea and I was very happy to take part.

    I also really welcomed the chance to rebut the original video. Speaking to young female scientists about the original video, I was struck by how many of them said ‘That video made me so angry’, and while many great videos have been made outside the contest (for example http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/sex/9730203/Sexy-science-grads-make-spoof-video-to-combat-sexism.html ) it was good to have this arena to present a better version, to show the EC what they could have done in the first place and that their video did not represent real women doing real science. The only thing I would have changed was the url of the website – I didn’t like needing to promote the ‘girl-thing’ concept in any way.

    Finally I loved seeing all the entries. The winners were great, but particularly this one from Sheffield University reminds me why I love science: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=HQQoVy0h4hU This is what I would show to a young girl thinking about future career options, not the original.

  • Dr Sam Mason says:

    I’m so glad you’re doing this. Do you want me to write which gender I am? Does it matter?

    • Curt Rice says:

      Hi Sam, It doesn’t matter for the contest. But it probably matters for how you look at the world, including how you look at research questions. Do you think it matters?

  • Bill Peters says:

    I was notified of the competition the morning of the deadline for submission. My department took this on as a challenge to re-employ existing footage in a creative and different way, and have a good video ready by the end of the day. I really thought we’d hit it out of the park. Sadly, we did not win, or even place…

    It would be very helpful to see international feedback (comments/critique) on each of the videos, so that we can better understand what the judges were looking for, and what the average person appreciates.

    As an aside, I also wondered what submitting last did to our chances of getting votes. When you are among the first videos on the page, presumably more people will click on your video to watch. I can’t imagine many people bothered to scroll down and watch all of the videos. Just a thought.

    BTW, ours was this one: https://promoshq.wildfireapp.com/website/6/contests/298231/voteable_entries/61707500

    I would love to hear from anyone with comments good or bad. Video is a HUGE part of what we do, and I am anxious to learn from this process to make what we do even better. Thanks for the opportunity!!!

    • Curt Rice says:

      Hi Bill, Thanks for this note, and thanks very much for your submission. In fact, just today (finally!) I was working with the ESF to draft a “thank you” letter to all the participants. We had 3 winners, 1 of which was selected by number of votes — I haven’t analyzed the relationship between position on the page and the number of votes, but I think I could easily do that. I’ll be happy to send you the judging criteria that the jury used for the other two, and to see if I can give you the specific scores or comments your video received. I remember yours quite well and I know that it got very serious consideration. At the same time, when we actually “mathematically” took the judges scores, we landed on the two that were ultimately the winners. Send me an email (e.g. through the ‘contact” form above, and I’ll email these things to you.

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