Earlier this year, we conducted the first extensive volunteer study since our launch in 2004. We're thrilled and grateful for the overwhelming number of members who took the time to participate - over 15,000 people from around the world! Since then, we have been analyzing the results, identifying key findings and determining how to address key issues raised in the study.
Why conduct a volunteer study?
Over half a million people have contributed to World Community Grid - this study was a chance to get to know who you are, what motivates you and what's important to you. Scientific research is the core mission of World Community Grid, but we wanted to identify changes that could make your volunteering experience better and ultimately improve our support for research. Also, while new volunteers continue to join every month, participation in volunteer computing overall has been in decline over the last few years. The survey was our opportunity to understand what we can do to continue to expand.
What did the study consist of?
There were two phases to the study. First, we invited every current, and former, World Community Grid member to participate in a detailed online survey. We were impressed and humbled by the response: 15,627 of you completed the survey! We know this was an investment of your time, and we are very appreciative of everyone who participated.
Following the survey, we invited randomly selected survey respondents to call in to one of six focus group sessions. Each group discussed a different aspect of the volunteer experience, and we also held a focus group of people who were unfamiliar with World Community Grid. These groups included dozens of participants from nine countries.
We then gathered the massive amount of information gained from both the survey and focus groups, analyzed the results and began to draw out common themes.
The study helped us learn several key things about our members, which will guide our development efforts in the months ahead.
- Volunteers join and continue to participate in World Community Grid because first and foremost, you care about the research projects conducted on World Community Grid.
- Our member base is overwhelmingly male (almost 90%) and most have a technical knowledge base.
- You distinguish us from other volunteer computing programs in multiple ways. You trust and respect our choice of research projects, which you recognize as tackling real-world humanitarian issues. You also support our commitment to making all results generated on World Community Grid available in the public domain.
- The majority of you contribute as individuals, rather than as part of an organization. However, over 40% of you contribute to a team.
- IBM's support of World Community Grid generally gains us credibility.
- Most members share World Community Grid with friends and family, but many are not as successful as they'd like to be at inspiring others to participate. Some of you have requested additional resources from World Community Grid to support your recruitment efforts.
- There is general consensus that a volunteer needs to have a certain level of technical knowledge before you can feel comfortable to sign up and participate.
- Graphics card (GPU) processing is a significant reason why volunteers might prefer other volunteer computing initiatives.
- In the past, we haven't clearly explained the value of volunteers' personal contributions. Volunteers want to know how their donated time is making an impact on the causes they support.
Additional details on the key findings can be seen here:
Our response to the findings
The survey and focus groups gave us the starting point we needed to assess the volunteer experience, including the main channels through which volunteers interact with World Community Grid: the website, screensaver and software client. We recognize the need to revise both our content and how it is presented.
While we continue working through the details, the following is an outline of how we hope to address three key challenges:
- Appeal to a wider audience
We want to expand our reach and make World Community Grid relevant to a wider audience by:
- Explaining what World Community Grid is in a way that is accessible and relevant to someone who is unfamiliar with volunteer computing. This includes addressing concerns about security and privacy in a clear and simple way.
- Providing information, such as research project descriptions and updates, at two levels: a high-level overview as well as a more detailed form for our scientifically-minded volunteers.
- Updating our website to highlight the research causes we support, demonstrate the scale of our worldwide volunteer community, and provide user-friendly tools to help volunteers manage their accounts and devices.
- Providing you with better social communication tools and materials to help you spread the word about World Community Grid to your family and friends.
- Better articulate the impact of volunteer contributions
Many of you said that you would like to better understand the impact of your contributions. We want to do better at keeping you informed and celebrating your achievements by:
- Giving you more options for what types of communications you want to receive, and how you want to receive them.
- Encouraging our researchers to provide more regular updates on the status of the research you support. These updates should be understandable to non-specialists and place the importance of the research in a wider context. Importantly, these updates need to continue after a project has completed running on World Community Grid, to keep you up to date with key findings and research developments.
- Adding new features to our research project pages to better highlight the overall status of a project, how far along it is, its key developments to date and give a sense of the community of volunteers supporting that project.
- Adding new features to allow you to customize the statistics you view. For example, you may want to compare yourself to members like you (e.g. who are running a similar number of devices).
- Redesigning the member profile page to better showcase your contribution.
- Publicly recognizing successful efforts to invite friends and family to join World Community Grid. We are investigating a few options of how to do this.
- Leverage teams more effectively
Teams can provide a valuable sense of community and inclusion, but many members feel that teams are not receiving enough attention and support. We hope to address this by:
- Allowing you to compete with similar teams, for example by providing the option to restrict team challenges to teams of similar size.
- Giving team captains more control over team leadership along with more responsibilities in managing their teams, but also the ability to share that responsibility with co-captains.
- Standardizing and improving team-level recognition, showcasing team participation more clearly and enabling you to share team-building best practices.
So what's next?
The research projects will continue to be our top priority so we ask you to be patient with us as we gradually implement the changes outlined above.
To help with this effort, we have added two new members to the World Community Grid team, while we continue to balance this work with the normal tasks associated with running and supporting the Grid. These changes will also occur in parallel with the ongoing research being conducted on the Grid, as well as alongside new project launches including a new cancer project coming this fall.
The first step will be to implement new features to allow our members to customize what communications to receive over which channels, which we're planning to roll out by winter. After that, we will then begin to unveil our new branding and content re-organization, focusing on one area of the website at a time. These changes will address the usability and accessibility concerns expressed during the study, as well as help us grow our outreach to a wider audience.
As we undertake this work, we want to express our sincere thanks to our members who took the time to participate in this key study - this has been a vital process for us and we appreciate you sharing with us so openly and honestly about where we have let you down as well as what makes you so passionate about World Community Grid.
We'd like to close with just some of the thoughtful comments we received, both positive and constructive, from our study participants:
We are hopeful and excited to share our work with you and look forward to giving you more information on these changes as we roll them out over the coming months.
The World Community Grid Team