OLS-3 speed blog: How to design peer production platforms? Guidelines and design inspiration in a blog format

- Katharina

Illustration of a research peer production process ()

This post is guest authored by Katharina Kloppenborg, a recent graduate of OLS-3.

What project am I talking about?

The project I started with the OLS-3 cohort is a website that collects ideas for how to design peer production online platforms. The website is available here: https://peer-produced.science/design-practices/

Project background

In September 2020 I started a PhD at the Center for Research and Interdisciplinary in Paris. I have a background in Human Computer Interaction, and my research revolves around how to build online tools that support people who want to do research projects on their own, in a DIY manner, with their own data (have a look at our lab website for more information on the topic). The idea is to try and test principles of peer production for this purpose.

Peer production refers to an alternative mode of production, in which communities of people self-organize to work collaboratively on a shared purpose. Usually, anyone interested can join, the whole process is transparent and open and outputs are licensed openly in order to enable reuse and sharing. Popular examples are Wikipedia, OpenStreetMap or open source software. In these examples, people collaborate successfully to build complex knowledge objects like an encyclopedia or software code. Science, roughly speaking, can also be seen as the production of complex knowledge objects - so why not try peer production in science?

While doing my background research I realized that I struggled to pin down how peer production ideas translate into web design. People collaborate online, there is no one actively assigning tasks and organizing the work centrally, so the online infrastructure is key. But how to design for peer production? What do the platforms of successful projects look like and what features do they use? And is peer production maybe even already practiced in the field of citizen science?

Preparing a research article to outline peer production for web design, with case studies of citizen science online platforms, I wondered about alternative ways to communicate my findings, as well as about a place to share further peer production features I found after my article was finished, and to possibly get input from other researchers, user experience designers or web developers sharing the same interest.

Apart from that, peer production is about openness and collaboration, so why not start with an open science approach right at the start?

Illustration of what peer-produced research could look like

What peer-produced research could look like (Illustration by the author. You can reuse it under a CC-BY-SA licence).

Expectations and how I heard from OLS

In summer 2020 I had the chance to work for the Autistica Citizen Science project project as a user experience researcher. Georgia, one of the project leaders, participated in the OLS-2 cohort, which got me interested, because I wanted to learn about open science practices at the beginning of my PhD. I joined a cohort call to get a feeling for the program and Georgia and her mentor Anelda kindly invited me to one of their meetings, after which I decided to apply for the next OLS cohort with my own project. So, I expected from the program to learn how to set up an open science project, and I thought that a combination of mentoring, a community and a program of a fixed time duration would help and motivate me to implement my project idea.

Goals set at the beginning of the program

My goals were to set up an online blog, write a set of blog entries and prepare it for contributions.

Key accomplishments and steps taken

I’m happy being able to say that I reached my formal goals set at the beginning of the project: The website is up and running, I added five first blog entries, a template, contribution guidelines and guidelines on peer production elements with examples and links to matching blog entries! ✨

The program began with meeting my mentor Fotis and setting up a schedule for our fortnightly mentoring calls, followed by thinking about my goals, formulating a vision statement and a project roadmap with milestones and setting up a project repository on GitHub. I also reflected on possible user and contributor groups by creating personas.

For my project I then started to research frameworks and website templates. I decided it would be easiest to deploy the site with GitHub pages, and I found a blog template that used bootstrap that was close to what I imagined. In the course of the program I then adapted the website template according to the (ever evolving) requirements of my website, added blog entries and supplementary guidelines on elements of peer production. For people interested in contributing to the project, I wrote contribution guidelines and a “get involved” section for the website, as well as a markdown template for blog posts with instructions and suggestions. Last but not least I shared my project with the community to get feedback and restructured the homepage of my website based on some suggestions to make it easier to read.

What else did I learn along the way?

Next steps and long term tasks

As a next step I will try to get more feedback on my website as it is now, knowing that there is still a lot to do (feel free to leave some comments, either directly below blog articles on the website, or via a issue on the project’s GitHub repository 💖). I will also try to develop a habit of adding blog articles when I stumble upon interesting peer production features. The tagging system and template might have to be adapted little by little according to changing focus and needs along the way. An important step will also be to spread the word to invite possible users and contributors: For now, I plan to do this via a formal publication (click here for the preprint), which describes the research that led to the topics of the first few blog articles. I would also like to present the website project at a conference. With the project growing, I hope to be able to build a useful resource and an accessible and modular way to collect and communicate my own research findings, and would be glad if other people would join me on the way!

Special mentions and acknowledgements

I want to thank the OLS community for setting up this great and relevant program, my mentor Fotis Psomopoulus for steady motivation and advice, the Peer Produced Research Lab, notably my thesis supervisor Bastian Greshake Tzovaras for encouraging me to take part in this program and for constant feedback and debugging of my code, the Autistica Citizen Science project, notably Georgia Aitkenhead and Kirstie Whitaker for giving me the opportunity to collaborate in my first citizen science project ever and for introducing me to OLS, as well as Georgia’s mentor Anelda van der Walt, for motivating me to join the OLS-3 cohort to start my own first open science project! Thank you all ✨