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Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science

If you had 100,000 people to help you with your work, what would you do?

The Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (CCS) works across the government to share lessons learned and develop best practices for designing, implementing, and evaluating crowdsourcing and citizen science initiatives.

The Enhanced Passive Surveillance System: Crowdsourcing for Early Detection of Animal Disease Outbreaks. Dr. Lindsey Holmstrom, an epidemiologist with the FAZD Center, demonstrates how data is entered directly from the field using an AgConnect app on an iPad.

Photo credit: U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Learn More

The community is open to all federal practitioners working on, funding, or just interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and citizen science. Anyone with a .gov or .mil email address can join our listserv by emailing the listserv. The message should have no subject and the body should say “subscribe FCPCCS.”  Be sure to remove your signature from the body of the e-mail, so that the message remains blank.

For more information or for meeting location and call-in details, please contact:

Jay Benforado, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

Sophia B. Liu, Innovation Specialist, Science and Decisions Center, U.S. Geological Survey  (USGS)

Our community meets on the last Thursday of every month from 2:30 – 4:30 pm, hosted by member agencies.

What We Do

As affiliates of federal agencies, we seek to expand and improve the U.S. government’s use of crowdsourcing, citizen science, and similar public participation techniques for the purpose of enhancing agency mission, scientific, and societal outcomes.

We focus on crowdsourcing and citizen science, and their synergies with other participatory approaches (for example: DIY development of low-cost sensors for citizen science). We use the following definitions as guidelines for the scope of the group—always a work in progress—while acknowledging that these activities overlap significantly.

  • Open innovation is a paradigm that suggests that organizations can and should solicit contributions from external volunteers. This broad category encompasses CCS as well as a growing list of other methods.
  • Citizen science mobilizes the public to participate in the scientific process to address real-world problems, in ways that include identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, making new discoveries, developing technologies and applications, and solving complex problems.
  • Crowdsourcing is a process of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people, and especially from an online community.
  • Crowdmapping, a subset of crowdsourcing, is a process where individuals or organizations submit an open call for geographic information or information with an associated geographic location from volunteers to produce collaborative maps.
  • Do-it-yourself (DIY) / making shares methods of creating, modifying, or repairing things without the aid of professional experts. Tools created by Makers—for example, low-cost sensors and scientific instruments—can make direct participation in STEM activities more accessible to the public.

The CCS community is committed to sharing skills, resources, and experience to support the expansion and improvement of public participation projects across the federal government. Our accomplishments and past events include:

  • In collaboration with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), we launched a new website – the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit. The Toolkit will help federal practitioners find resources to pitch, develop, implement, and improve citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. This archived webinar provides an overview of the toolkit’s intended audience, purpose, content, and functionalities.

Icons from FCPCCS toolkit

The Open Government National Action Plan committed the Federal government 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.” The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit is the first component to be completed. Dozens of federal employees have contributed to the development of this toolkit over the last year and it is finally ready for public launch.

  • On September 9 2015, the community held a meeting focused on identifying and overcoming barriers to implementation of federal citizen science and crowdsourcing projects.
  • On July 10 2015, in collaboration with the US Group on Earth Observations, the CCS held a Forum on Citizen Science and Earth Observations. Citizen science and crowdsourcing approaches were included in the first National Plan for Civil Earth Observations and Earth Observations Assessment, but have yet to realize their full potential as Earth observations assets of the Federal government. This forum explored the Federal government’s activities in relevant citizen science, and ways to augment and enhance the larger Federal Earth Observation portfolio.
  • On July 9-10 2015, CCS in coordination with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (The Wilson Center) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a workshop to standardize metadata tagging systems for citizen science and crowdsourcing inventories used by organizations including the White House office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), The Wilson Center, Scistarter,, and Citizen Science Central. Shared standards will support data sharing and collaboration between these organizations.
  • In collaboration with the CCS, the Commons Lab of the Wilson Center is conducting an inventory of federally funded citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. Inventory data will be displayed to the public on a searchable map.
  • Accelerators and Barriers to Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science: Through a literature review and interviews across four agencies, this study seeks to understand the accelerators and internal and external roadblocks to federal use of crowdsourcing and citizen science. Read the preliminary summary.
  • New Visions in Citizen Science report, November 2013: This Commons Lab report showcases seventeen case studies that offer a mosaic view of federally-sponsored citizen science and open innovation projects, from in-the-field data collection to online games for collective problem-solving. It offers a sampling of different models that support public contribution, potential challenges, and positive impacts that projects can have on scientific literacy, research, management, and public policy. Read the PDF report.
  • New Visions for Citizen Science workshop, November 2013: Co-hosted by the Commons Lab and the FCPCCS, this workshop showcased federally-sponsored citizen science and open innovation projects, from in-the-field data collection to online crowdsourcing communities. View the video and materials.

The General Services Administration (GSA) partnered with the Wilson Center to launch, a new central hub for citizen science and crowdsourcing initiatives in the public sector. The new site provides information, resources, and tools for government personnel and others actively engaged in or looking to participate in citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. In addition to information about CCS community activities, features a searchable catalog of federally supported citizen science projects and access to the toolkit to assist with designing and maintaining projects.The catalog was developed in response to a September 2015 memorandum from OSTP.

Leadership and History

The CCS community was founded in 2012 by Lea Shanley (co-chair Emeritus). Five people came to the first meeting; the group has since expanded to almost 300 members. Current leadership includes

CCS Co-Chairs (as of 4/13/2016):

Jay Benforado, Deputy Chief Innovation Officer, Office of Research and Development, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Sophia B. Liu, Innovation Specialist, Science and Decisions Center, U.S. Geological Survey  (USGS)

CCS Steering Committee (as of 4/13/2016):

Bill Brantley, U.S. Patent and Trade Office (PTO)
Ben Butler, Forest Service (USFS)
Jennifer Couch, National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Ruthanna Gordon, contractor, Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA)
Amy Kaminski, NASA
Amanda Kaufman, EPA ORISE fellow
Ellen McCallie, National Science Foundation (NSF)
Alison Parker, EPA ORISE fellow
Holli Riebeek, NASA