In the 2013 Second Open Government National Action Plan, President Obama called on Federal agencies to harness the ingenuity of the public by accelerating and scaling the use of open innovation methods, such as citizen science and crowdsourcing, to help address a wide range of scientific and societal problems.
Citizen science is a form of open collaboration in which members of the public participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and solving problems. Crowdsourcing is a process in which individuals or organizations submit an open call for voluntary contributions from a large group of unknown individuals (“the crowd”) or, in some cases, a bounded group of trusted individuals or experts.
Citizen science and crowdsourcing are powerful tools that can help Federal agencies:
To enable effective and appropriate use of these new approaches, the Open Government National Action Plan specifically commits the Federal government to “convene an interagency group to develop an Open Innovation Toolkit for Federal agencies that will include best practices, training, policies, and guidance on authorities related to open innovation, including approaches such as incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science.”
On November 21, 2014, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) kicked off development of the Toolkit with a human-centered design workshop. Human-centered design is a multi-stage process that requires product designers to engage with different stakeholders in creating, iteratively testing, and refining their product designs. The workshop was planned and executed in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management’s human-centered design practice known as “The Lab” and the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FCPCCS), a growing network of more than 100 employees from more than 20 Federal agencies.
A group of Federal innovators, citizen science project managers, and scientists discuss the resources needed to implement the Lantern Live project, a crowdsourcing activity recently announced by the Department of Energy.
Using a suite of human-centered design tools like “journey maps,” “storyboards,” and “wireframes,” workshop participants provided input to each other, FCPCCS, and OSTP on the types of tools, resources, and networks needed to plan and implement citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. Participants also gained human-centered design skills to take back to their agencies.
Workshop participants document the process of planning and launching a citizen science project using a human-centered design tool known as journey mapping.
The Toolkit will help further the culture of innovation, learning, sharing, and doing in the Federal citizen science and crowdsourcing community: indeed, the development of the Toolkit is a collaborative and community-building activity in and of itself.
The following successful Federal projects illustrate the variety of possible citizen science and crowdsourcing applications:
In early 2015, OSTP, in partnership with the Challenges and Prizes Community of Practice, will convene Federal practitioners to develop the other half of the Open Innovation Toolkit for prizes and challenges. Stay tuned!
Jenn Gustetic is Assistant Director for Open Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).
Lea Shanley is a Presidential Innovation Fellow at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Jay Benforado is Deputy Chief Innovation Officer in the Office of Research and Development at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Arianne Miller is Deputy Director of The Lab at the Office of Personnel Management (OPM).