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Accelerating Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing to Address Societal and Scientific Challenges

Today, the White House is hosting a forum on citizen science and crowdsourcing.

While only a fraction of Americans are formally trained as professional scientists and engineers, everyone can contribute to science, engineering, and technology through open science and innovation approaches, such as citizen science and crowdsourcing projects.

Citizen science encourages members of the public to voluntarily participate in the scientific process. Whether by asking questions, making observations, conducting experiments, collecting data, or developing low-cost technologies and open-source code, members of the public can help advance scientific knowledge and benefit society.

Through crowdsourcing – an open call for voluntary assistance from a large group of individuals – Americans can study and tackle complex challenges by conducting research at large geographic scales and over long periods of time in ways that professional scientists working alone cannot easily duplicate. These challenges include understanding the structure of proteins related viruses in order to support development of new medications, or preparing for, responding to, and recovering from disasters.

Projects that adopt these innovative approaches also help the individuals participating in them by creating opportunities for learning outside the classroom; providing people with hands-on, engaging experiences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; and creating a sense of connectivity, community, and ownership in the solutions. Low-cost tools such as $1 microscopes, open-source underwater robots, and games that teach people about protein folding are increasing the variety and sophistication of the contributions that citizens can make.

To celebrate the successes of citizen science and crowdsourcing, raise awareness of the benefits these innovative approaches can deliver, and motivate more Federal agencies and Americans to take advantage of these approaches, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Domestic Policy Council (DPC) are hosting “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” a live-webcast White House forum on citizen science,

We hope you’ll tune in today from 8 AM – 12 PM EDT at, and participate by sending in your thoughts, comments, and questions to @WhiteHouseOSTP using the hashtag #WHCitSci.

The forum, which was announced at the 2015 White House Science Fair, will bring together stakeholders from various levels of government, citizen scientists, students, researchers, academics, non-profits, and the private sector to engage in cross-sector discussions on how to improve the utilization of crowdsourcing resources and how to design citizen science projects to solve a myriad of challenges. During the event, representatives from both inside and outside of government will talk about how citizen-science and crowdsourcing projects have made real contributions to fields as diverse as oceans and coasts, water and agriculture, and communities and health.

In conjunction with the forum, OSTP is today announcing two new actions that the Administration is taking to encourage and support the appropriate use of citizen science and crowdsourcing at Federal agencies:

  1. OSTP Director John Holdren, is issuing a memorandum entitled Addressing Societal and Scientific Challenges through Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing. This memo articulates principles that Federal agencies should embrace to derive the greatest value and impact from citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. The memo also directs agencies to take specific actions to advance citizen science and crowdsourcing, including designating an agency-specific coordinator for citizen science and crowdsourcing projects, and cataloguing citizen science and crowdsourcing projects that are open for public participation on a new, centralized website to be created by the General Services Administration: making it easy for people to find out about and join in these projects.
  2. Fulfilling a commitment made in the 2013 Open Government National Action Plan, the U.S. government is releasing the first-ever Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit to help Federal agencies design, carry out, and manage citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. The toolkit, which was developed by OSTP in partnership with the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science and GSA’s Open Opportunities Program, reflects the input of more than 125 Federal employees from over 25 agencies on ideas, case studies, best management practices, and other lessons to facilitate the successful use of citizen science and crowdsourcing in a Federal context.

We look forward to working with colleagues inside and outside the federal government to make the most of these innovative approaches. If you have suggestions for additional steps that we can take to promote citizen science and crowdsourcing, tell us about them here.

Tom Kalil is Deputy Director for Technology and Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. 

Dave Wilkinson is Director of the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. 

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