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Report to Congress describes the breadth and scope of Federal crowdsourcing and citizen science

By: John McLaughlin (GSA), Jay Benforado (EPA) and Sophia B Liu (USGS)
18 June 2019

The federal government has a long history of interest in citizen science, where volunteers and scientists work together to answer scientific questions and expand scientific knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson, for example, collected weather observations and planned to create a network so each county in Virginia could provide twice-daily observations of temperature and wind direction. President Theodore Roosevelt personally kept records of bird observations on the White House grounds and around Washington, DC.

The recent Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2017 describes the benefits of public participation in science to include “accelerating scientific research, increasing cost effectiveness to maximize return on taxpayer dollars, addressing societal needs, providing hands-on learning in STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] education and connecting members of the public directly to Federal science agency missions and to each other.” The law encourages agencies to use these approaches to help fulfill their missions.

We are excited about the release of the Implementation of Federal Prize and Citizen Science Authority: Fiscal Years 2017-18 report from the White House Office of Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to Congress. This represents the first comprehensive report on crowdsourcing and citizen science activities conducted by federal agencies. It meets new requirements from the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2017. Our Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FedCCS) worked with OSTP to collect information on relevant projects from across our member agencies. The resulting data provide a unique snapshot of how the federal government has leveraged crowdsourcing and citizen science over the past two years. You can view a recording of the U.S. Government Open Innovation Summit at which the report was released on June 14, 2019.

The report details 86 crowdsourcing and citizen science projects conducted by 14 federal agencies in fiscal years 2017 and 2018. Through these projects, volunteers have contributed to research and monitoring in ways that range from helping the National Park Service measure mercury in dragonfly larvae to helping NASA astrophysicists find new planetary systems. The report also identified projects that targeted local communities versus projects that were more distributed and often conducted online or through a mobile app.

These initiatives are only a sampling of all those supported by the federal government, since agencies were required to report only activities conducted under the authority of the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act. The report demonstrates the collaborative nature of citizen science and crowdsourcing: 71% of projects have at least one non-federal partner and 33% involve more than one agency. The report also looks at how agencies facilitate using crowdsourcing and citizen science to meet their federal missions. For example, many federal organizations include these tools in agency wide plans or support implementation through grants.

“America has always been a Nation of thinkers, doers, and problem-solvers. By encouraging everyday Americans to engage in scientific research, our citizen science authorities benefit communities and the country as a whole, as well as advance our science and technology enterprise. This report highlights the Trump Administration’s commitment to unleash Federal resources, strengthen partnerships inside and outside of government, and encourage citizens to tackle great scientific challenges,”
     -Dr. Kelvin K. Droegemeier, Director of The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

This report will be compiled every two years and we are excited to see what the future holds. Using the baseline data from this first report, we will track trends in future reports. We expect to see growth as technology continues to expand the types of activities that can be carried out through crowdsourcing and citizen science, as we learn more about how to best apply these tools, and as federal agencies build understanding and acceptance of the potential benefits from crowdsourcing and citizen science.

As we supported the development of this report, we kept in mind that the valuable work it describes is powered by people. Our sincere thanks go out to all those who volunteer with our projects! If you’re interested in learning more about their work, and would like to support the growth of crowdsourced approaches to federal missions, we invite you to learn more at