Yesterday, John P. Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memorandum to the heads of executive departments and agencies calling for a variety of actions to be taken to fast track the use of citizen science and crowdsourcing in the federal government. Among the specific actions are (1) for each agency to appoint a citizen science and crowdsourcing coordinator and (2) for agencies to list citizen science and crowdsourcing projects in a new GSA website (similar to Challenge.gov that lists prizes sponsored by agencies) to help the public find federally funded projects. This latter effort can build on the current Commons Lab database of federal projects.
Towards the end of the memo OSTP outlines suggestions for building capacity through five areas: policy, resources and staffing, technologies and scientific instrumentation, grant-making and rigorous research. While the recommendations are specific to federal employees, one area in particular, grant-making mechanisms, should be of particular interest to Do-It-Yourself biology and maker communities.
The memo states:
Create mechanisms for providing small grants to individuals and communities that may not be affiliated with universities or traditional government contractors
It then highlights DARPA’s Fast Track Initiatives as a flagship model for funding that could be applied to citizen science and crowdsourcing. The Fast Track Initiative opens up small research grants to individuals instead of traditional institutions like universities and beltway contractors.
This call could have huge implications for all “grassroots” or DIY initiatives who have long been excluded from traditional science and engineering funding mechanisms. In 2012, the Institute on Science for Global Policy held a conference on “21st Century Borders/Synthetic Biology: Focus on Responsibility and Governance” which called for a similar reform:
Federal funding agencies should develop metrics and procedures to allow actors outside the traditional academic or business communities to apply for and receive federal grants. If we want to harness the intellectual power of this movement, federal funding agencies should rethink their mechanisms for awarding grants – Todd Kuiken, Wilson Center
This is good news that the cry’s for diversifying science funding mechanisms in the federal government have been heard and we look forward to watch the ripple effects unfold. Citizen Scientists, DIYbio, maker and hacker communities will no longer be restricted to crowd-funding platforms and should stay tuned and watch closely.