Uncle Sam Wants You…To Crowdsource Science

at Co-Labs: “It’s not just for the private sector anymore: Government scientists are embracing crowdsourcing. At a White House-sponsored workshop in late November, representatives from more than 20 different federal agencies gathered to figure out how to integrate crowdsourcing and citizen scientists into various government efforts. The workshop is part of a bigger effort with a lofty goal: Building a set of best practices for the thousands of citizens who are helping federal agencies gather data, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to NASA….Perhaps the best known federal government crowdsourcing project is Nature’s Notebook, a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Park Service which asks ordinary citizens to take notes on plant and animal species during different times of year. These notes are then cleansed and collated into a massive database on animal and plant phenology that’s used for decision-making by national and local governments. The bulk of the observations, recorded through smartphone apps, are made by ordinary people who spend a lot of time outdoors….Dozens of government agencies are now asking the public for help. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention runs a student-oriented, Mechanical Turk-style “micro-volunteering” service called CDCology, the VA crowdsources design of apps for homeless veterans, while the National Weather Service distributes a mobile app called mPING that asks ordinary citizens to help fine-tune public weather reports by giving information on local conditions. The Federal Communication Commission’s Measuring Broadband America app, meanwhile, allows citizens to volunteer information on their Internet broadband speeds, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Sensor Toolbox asks users to track local air pollution….
As of now, however, when it comes to crowdsourcing data for government scientific research, there’s no unified set of standards or best practices. This can lead to wild variations in how various agencies collect data and use it. For officials hoping to implement citizen science projects within government, the roadblocks to crowdsourcing include factors that crowdsourcing is intended to avoid: limited budgets, heavy bureaucracy, and superiors who are skeptical about the value of relying on the crowd for data.
Benforado and Shanley also pointed out that government agencies are subject to additional regulations, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act, which can make implementation of crowdsourcing projects more challenging than they would be in academia or the private sector… (More)”