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How OSTP Crowdsourced A Crowdsourcing Toolkit

Different teams of stick figures in brightly colored circles

To promote crowdsourcing, one effective tool is, well, crowdsourcing.

Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (CCS) unveiled the Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit. The toolkit contains information, resources, and best practices federal agencies can use to harness the power of public participation.

Specifically, the toolkit provides:

  • Process steps—An outline of five important steps agencies can use to plan, design and implement crowdsourcing or citizen science projects
  • Case studies—Demonstrated success stories, benefits and challenges from other federal agencies that can inspire new projects or help in pitching ideas
  • Map of U.S. projects—Citizen science and crowdsourcing projects across the United States
  • Resource library—Examples, guidance, and helpful links from successful practitioners
  • Innovation communities—Information about working groups and other related communities that can provide in-person support for projects.

The Toolkit was developed in response to the 2013 Second Open Government National Action Plan [PDF]. As part of the the plan, agencies were charged with developing an Open Innovation Toolkit; the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit is the first component of the Open Innovation Toolkit to be completed.

Building the Building Team
Cube Letters show teams in front of unsharp ludo figures.

OSTP and CCS had a wealth of subject matter expert knowledge but did not have resources or expertise to build and host a publicly available toolkit.

Jenn Gustetic, Assistant Director for Open Innovation at OSTP, looked for assistance from the Open Opportunities platform, which allows agencies to tap into federal expertise and provides professional development opportunities to federal employees. Two groups were formed via Open Opportunities: one tasked with building the toolkit, and another charged with ensuring that the toolkit content adheres to Section 508 standards.

In six months, Open Opportunities participants built the user-centered toolkit, collaborating with innovators from more than 25 agencies. Building the toolkit is a step forward for both federal agencies and the citizen science and crowdsourcing fields as a whole.

“A lot of the work for the toolkit was done for the first time ever: some of the definitions and ideas are not explained anywhere else,” Gustetic said.

Participants also expanded their skill sets as a result of the collaboration. Sara Cope, Project Manager for the Department of Veterans Affairs, said that she signed up for the Open Opportunity because she wanted to work on a WordPress development project within government.

“I have worked on many WordPress projects on my own time, but I knew that development in government can be more challenging, as far as regulations and restrictions, and that is something I wanted more experience with,” Cope said. “I’m currently a project manager and have been considering transitioning back to development full-time. The Toolkit project gave me an opportunity to work in the developer role without having to fully commit to a job change and that has been invaluable. It has been great to work with folks from other agencies and learn about their tools, processes and workflows. I have been with the VA my entire government career, so it’s nice to get to learn how other agencies get work done.”

Behind the Scenes

The toolkit was built on Sites, a free shared service that provides federal agencies with an open-source CMS and secure cloud hosting. Analytics code from the Digital Analytics Program was implemented on the toolkit website, and DigitalGov Search powers the toolkit’s search box.

Gustetic noted that the project was done with no funding, making the availability of tools and shared services essential in the success of the toolkit.

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