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Using citizen science to help answer humanity's greatest questions. By Chandra Clarke

White House Hosting Forum on Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing

Announcing Guiding Policies, Launching Toolkit

Watch the forum live at 8:10 a.m. at www.whitehouse.gov/live

The US Federal Government is reaffirming its commitment to both open government and open science, as it announces new policies on citizen science and crowdsourcing today. The announcement will be discussed at a forum on citizen science.

The forum is a joint effort between the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Domestic Policy Council. Entitled "Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People," the forum will bring together senior administration officials, federal agencies, academic researchers, and non-profit organizations to discuss how citizen science can be used to support federal agency missions and achieve broader societal benefits.

In a memorandum from John P. Holdren, Director of the OSTP, the executive office seeks to encourage ". . . the use, where appropriate, of citizen science and crowdsourcing by federal agencies."

Specifically, the OSTP is asking each agency to select a dedicated coordinator for citizen science and crowdsourcing projects within 60 days. Agencies are also being asked to catalogue their existing projects and list them in a public database of federal citizen science and crowdsourcing projects within 180 days. The goal of the database is "to make these projects easier for the public to discover, to help improve collaboration within and across agencies, and to reveal opportunities for new projects."

The memo coincides with the launch of a Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit. The kit contains information on best practices for setting up a citizen science project, a resource library, and links to relevant law and policy. The toolkit is publically accessible at https://crowdsourcing-toolkit.sites.usa.gov/.

Momentum Building

In an exclusive interview with Popular Science, Jenn Gustetic, Assistant Director for Open Innovation at the White House, said that the memo and the forum are the result of a groundswell of support across the government for using citizen science as another tool to improve innovation.

"A number of agencies have been experimenting with citizen science and crowdsourcing for a few years, but there has been some uncertainty about the clearest path," she said. "Early adopters have been wondering, is this viable? Is this worth the resources? But it has become clear that we've now got a big community of passionate and dedicated federal employees, a great group of connected people, and some big success stories and we want to build on that momentum." Gustetic cites the more than two dozen case studies provided in the toolkit, many of which have not been previously released.

But What About The Data?

Gustetic acknowledges that citizen science is not without its skeptics. "A big point of concern for many is data quality," she explained. "In many ways, this memo and forum will be a way to address that head on."

Gustetic said that the memo outlines three key guiding principles for agencies engaging in citizen science and crowdsourcing. "We want data quality to be of paramount importance in the design and execution of projects from the outset," she said. "We also believe that openness is critical, and it should be the default position, to spur innovation. And we would also like to see public participants as valued partners who deserve some kind of recognition."

The memo and especially the toolkit are designed to help agencies design good projects from day one, and these resources should also prevent agencies from having to reinvent the wheel, she added.

Citizen Science Gaining Importance Worldwide

With other regions around the world moving quickly to adopt citizen science and crowdsourcing methodology, Gustetic noted that it is important that the US foster similar developments at home.

"We see these tools as feeding into the overall drive to stimulate innovation in America," Gustetic said.

Beyond the timelines stated in the memo, the US government's role in citizen science initiatives is still under discussion. "We'll be finding out from the community of users as to how we can help by streamlining policy and procedure. We want to help practitioners use these tools as they would other tools, to ensure good use of taxpayer dollars."

Gustetic said that it was really notable that the toolkit on citizen science and crowdsourcing was itself a crowdsourced project.

"We convened teams to create the toolkit," she explained. "We had developers, UX designers, subject matter experts . . . more than 125 people across more than 20 agencies. I'm very impressed and very proud of how that happened."

Chandra Clarke is a Webby Honoree-winning blogger, a successful entrepreneur, and an author. Her book Be the Change: Saving the World with Citizen Science is available at Amazon. You can connect with her on Twitter @chandraclarke.

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