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Giulia Villanucci tells us about a study of the ‘DNAtion’ platform, produced by Make Things Happen for Edinburgh Science in one of our Round 2 Challenge Projects.

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DNAtion & Futures of Fundraising in the Creative Industries

This summer, Creative Informatics hosted Giulia Villanucci – a Masters student on the MSc Digital Society programme at the University of Edinburgh – as a research intern. Working with Dr. Chris Elsden, Giulia undertook a study of the ‘DNAtion’ platform, produced by Make Things Happen for Edinburgh Science in one of our Round 2 Challenge Projects. We asked Giulia to tell us more about her work on the project.

Project Background and DNAtion

In this project we aimed to learn about users’ experience of DNAtion, an experimental online activity where visitors took a quiz on science trivia that resulted in the users’ ‘science personality’, and subsequently invited them to support Edinburgh Science  and their work as a charity. (You can read more from design agency Make Things Happen about the design of DNAtion here). From this study, we hoped to get a better understanding of users’ behavior and expectations in donating online and offline to creative organizations.

The core questions we sought to answer through our study were focused on the platform interface design, the overall users’ DNAtion experience, and their donation behavior. We hoped to get useful responses that would resonate with the success of the activity, and give an idea of what steps must be taken to get different outcomes at the end of similar activities, both in online and offline settings.

Participant Recruitment and Overview

We approached the research project through a qualitative lens, making use of semi structured interviews and thematic analysis. This allowed us to report back to the project partners with a good number of insightful comments and suggestions on the use and future of the online activity and donation platform DNAtion.

Between the beginning of Edinburgh Science Festival in June 2021 and early July when the study began, there had been 729 individual uses of DNAtion. 237 of them agreed to be contacted for a follow-up by researchers, however only 6 people donated at the end of the activity itself. Disregarding duplicate users, and filtering to those based in the UK, we emailed all those who had completed the activity and expressed interest in the research, for a total of 90 people.

We also supplemented our recruitment through advertising on University of Edinburgh mailing lists. The relatively small number of eight people who ended up being involved in the study corresponded to about half the number we had originally envisioned. Despite this, the insights and suggestions we were able to extrapolate and present to the project partners has proved valuable. The participants’ age ranged between 21 and 40 years old, and all had some knowledge of science communication or design and technology, due to their student or job status. Similar to the overall behaviour of online users of DNAtion, only one of the people we interviewed had donated at the end of the DNAtion activity.

We asked participants about different aspects of the DNAtion online activity: whether they enjoyed playing the quiz, or if they expected the results they had gotten at the end. We also asked if the activity met their expectations, and whether alternative scenarios for the setting and content of the activity (both online and offline) would have motivated them to donate at the end. The final part of our interview was then centered on asking our participants whether they were used to donate to creative organizations, and what motivated them to do so.

We also provided a walkthrough of the DNAtion activity to remind our participants of the key features and touchpoints on the journey. This was extremely useful for most of the interviewees, as some had only partially completed the activity, and many had interacted with it several days prior to the interview.


The interviews we conducted uncovered several common interesting findings and insights that we grouped according to aspects related to the user interface design, the overall DNAtion activity experience, and the participants’ donation behavior. We were happy about the enthusiasm transpiring from the interviews, which resulted in a few suggestions about future use of the DNAtion activity as a donation platform that project partners Edinburgh Science Festival and Make Things Happen appreciated and took under consideration.

The most common remark about the DNAtion activity was the genuine enjoyment of playing the quiz and the positive value in being able to test oneself on science trivia. The avatar, Dizzy, was also very popular and considered very cute and fun; several participants suggested they would have liked to interact with their personalised avatar more beyond the activity, by customizing it and seeing it around the Edinburgh Science festival as a physical marker of events. Though the interface was very user-friendly, participants often expressed the desire to have an in-person version of DNAtion, as well as having a longer version with perhaps more Edinburgh-specific questions.

P3: “I didn’t expect it to be so fun”

P7: “I remember that I wished it had lasted a little bit longer. It was over so soon, I was actually enjoying testing my own trivia.”

However, some participants were a bit puzzled by the original purpose of the activity, as the end objective of collecting online donations was not very clear to them. Furthermore, as mentioned before, there was a desire to know more about their ‘science personality’, both through tailored activities and follow-up emails, and about others’ results and trends. After the analysis of the interviews, it seemed like participants would have been more inclined to donate if they had been given more sense of direction from the beginning of the activity.

P6: “It was a bit confusing, maybe it wasn’t clear what it was about in the beginning, and I just tried it because I think I have hyperactive fingers”

P1: “A little bit more wording on what that science personality means, a longer paragraph or something like that, I think that would have been quite rewarding”

Gaining a clearer understanding of the organization behind the activity and its role within the community beyond the festival may have prompted more donations if participants had been able to grasp Edinburgh Science’s own unique identity and charitable work. Some participants also noted that they were ready to see a clearer solicitation for donation, and learning about concrete outcomes from donations would have made them more likely not only to donate in that instance, but also to start building a longer lasting relationship with the organization.

P2: “What makes them different? I think that also plays into why I should donate.”

P3: “I do donate to other causes at the moment. Being first exposed to the science festival I kind of had the impression that they already have enough donations

Suggestions for Future Opportunities

What transpired from our conversations with the participants was an interesting number of insights and suggestions for improvement and future opportunities that can be translated into three main actions. The first is a need for contextualization: users shared the need to see the meaning behind the activity, their results, and why donating to the festival is crucial to the organization. Secondly, most participants expressed excitement at the thought of having a fuller backstory of the characters that resulted from the activity in the form of summary or follow-up emails. Lastly, that some felt like a missed opportunity was not taking advantage of the donation space to forge new meaningful relationships with those who interacted with the activity.

P5 “I probably would have been more motivated to donate if I had longer to spend on the site, on my own. I guess I didn’t even read about what the donation would have gone to, I didn’t engage with any of that content, so perhaps if that was a bit more in my face I might have been more hooked into donate”

P1: “If I were donating on a longer term to an organization, I would either have to see myself forming kind of a long-term relationship with the organization that I would still enjoy, or I would already have to have formed that sort of relationship”

Overall, the research project and experience was rewarding, and the results we were able to analyze offered a promising base for further research and innovation on fundraising and charitable giving in the Creative Industries.