Case study ● Research

First Library Entry: Microtasking

The Engine Room works with many organisations to help them make choices about technology. We do it enough that we’ve started a Library for in-depth information about a variety of tools and tactics. Our first entry is about microtasking. What’s that, you ask? Read on.

A library of what?

Starting in November 2015, we worked with Amnesty International on an exciting new initiative to enable volunteers to support the human rights research process over the Internet. Specifically, we explored microtasking processes, which is when many people contribute small tasks to complete a bigger project. We spoke with initiatives on four continents and explored the functionalities of seven different tools. Then we supported Amnesty in selecting a pilot initiative based on what we learned. But our work on microtasking research did not stop there…

Who knows best

Technical documentation pales in comparison to direct experience. Seeking practical advice, we found and interviewed developers, designers, and activists who had tried their hand at a microtasking project. Fortunately, they were very open about the challenges and what they would do differently next time. In the course of these discussions, we collected key metrics to compare tools and platforms side-by-side to understand their strengths and limitations.

Studying the map before beginning the journey


Discover others who have tried this technique, and what have they learned.


Format technical information and research about options in an accessible way.


Build documentation and replicable design so we can grow the Library.

Picking and choosing

This research, combined with an Engine Room-facilitated planning session, laid the foundation for informed choices about the underlying tech and the pilot project design. You can now see (and contribute to!) the Amnesty pilot project yourself.

Why stop there?

We want people to make use of what we discover, not for it to sit unread in PDF reports. So we used this research on microtasking to start our Library. It’s going to be a series of ‘microsites’ that explain topics simply. The Library is where we will share the documentation and research from our project work. The content will be focused and brief, so anyone anyone can scroll through them in a sitting.

There’s more to come

Our Library is an work in progress: we’ll be adding more topics over time, and iterating upon our approach. It’s a relatively quick process – some of the sites have been developed in less than four months from start to finish. The contents of both the Library sites and the code behind it are all openly-licensed. We welcome remixes and suggestions!

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