Federal Citizen Science

A Databse of Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Projects


  1. To support a growing community of federal agencies engaging the public through crowdsourcing, citizen science and open innovation. The federal government currently does not track efforts of the agencies nor overall federal investments in these approaches. This database allows agencies to characterize federally sponsored citizen science and crowdsourcing efforts; identify areas of potential synergy across and within agencies; identify opportunities and gaps across agencies, application areas or potential geographic regions; support the development of a strategic plan for better cross-agency coordination; and increase awareness of mass collaboration efforts within and across federal agencies.
  2. To provide the general public with a tool for discovering and learning more about federally sponsored citizen science and crowdsourcing projects. The current tool enables users to browse the inventory to identify projects of a particular type. Later versions will also allow users to search the dynamic map.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you define crowdsourcing and citizen science?
The Science and Technology Innovation Program recognizes the Federal Community of Practice for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FCPCCS)’s definitions of citizen science, crowdsourcing, and open innovation:

Citizen science is a form of open collaboration where members of the public 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.

Open innovation is a paradigm that suggests that organizations can and should solicit contributions from external volunteers.

At the same time, a recent workshop held at the Wilson Center demonstrated the need to further disambiguate citizen science, crowdsourcing, and related forms of open innovation. For this reason, the Commons Lab is interested in collecting information about projects that are considered citizen science, crowdsourcing, and open innovation (including crowdmapping, making/ DIY activities, etc.).

Special note: We are not collecting information about projects that can be considered prize competitions. These fall under the jurisdiction of a separate federal community of practice with over 500 working members.

How are you collecting this data?
While we began by compiling information from public sources and scientific literature, we now ask project coordinators to add their project to the database by completing out an interactive web form. This will ensure that key information, such as public contact, is accurate and up to date.

What type of agency involvement do you want to capture?
We are looking for projects that are funded or otherwise supported by federal agencies. These projects may be funded directly, or through grants from agencies such as EPA, NIH, and USGS. Other projects may receive in-kind support, including equipment lending or support from agency personnel. All agencies that provide financial or in kind support should be recognized in the “agency sponsor” field of the web form.

Special note: We will include projects funded by NSF that also receive financial or in kind support from other federal agencies. For example, the Smithsonian receives significant funding from NSF. If one NSF grant supports a citizen science or crowdsourcing project, that project should be included in the database.

What is the process for data verification?
When a user adds a project to the database, the project will not immediately be published. A Wilson Center employee will verify the project to confirm that it does represent federal citizen science or crowdsourcing before publishing it in the database. In most cases, verification will take place within two business days.

What are the terms of use for your data? Who will you share data with?
The Science and Technology Innovation Program will not claim copyright of their database; rather, the database will be placed in the public domain. Note that all federal data sets uploaded to data.gov are also placed in the public domain. This allows all interested parties to use the data freely and without restriction. In line with this ideal, the Commons Lab will develop a suite of APIs to promote data sharing.

What are the plans for sustainability of this database?
The Science and Technology Innovation Program will work with citizen science contacts at various agencies, as well as the FCPCCS at large, to assure that information about projects is kept accurate and up to date. We will also work with external collaborators, including Scistarter.com and the U.S. Citizen Science Association, to ensure accuracy.

Contact Information
Anne Bowser, anne.bowser@wilsoncenter.org, will be happy to answer any of your questions.

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