Open Geospatial Consortium Formally Approves Citizen Science Domain Working Group

Written by Christian Belcher, a Research and Social Media Intern with the Commons Lab at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The international project on citizen science data and metadata interoperability, supported by the Commons Lab and organizations like the U.S. Citizen Science Association, has a new partner.  At the closing plenary of the Open Geospatial Consortium’s (OGC) recent technical committee meeting on June 23rd, the OGC formally approved the creation of a Citizen Science Domain Working Group (DWG).

The OGC’s mission is “to advance the development and use of international standards and supporting services that support geospatial interoperability.”  Simply put, whenever someone asks “where?” the OGC is there, helping more than 500 universities, government agencies, and private entities make the most of location-based information.  The organization helps researchers, public-sector, and private-sector employees alike by acting as an open-access forum for technology developers and users, each of whom benefit from implementing OGC-compliant policies and procedures.


With over 20 years of experience, it should come as no surprise that OGC members have engaged in a host of exciting initiatives.  From monitoring Climate Change to laying the groundwork for tomorrow’s Smart Cities, the group meets each challenge head-on.  Work through OGC is undertaken collaboratively through interoperability testbeds, where standards ae developed and best practices identified by experimenting with concrete use cases, and by individual members.  For example, a consortium of OGC researchers collaborated on a recent citizen science project, entitled the Citizen Observatory Web, or COBWEB for short.  Acting as a liaison between a variety of European Biosphere Reserves, the initiative aims to address data quality issues by integrating citizen and professional spatial data.  Ideally, by complying with OGC standards, the species distribution input from a citizen scientist in Greece’s Mt. Olympus Biosphere Reserve would be accessible by, and intelligible to, a Zoologist in Wales’ Dyfi Biosphere Reserve.  The toolkit and set of models the OGC is creating will help make potential citizen science projects a reality, in European Biosphere Reserves and beyond.

Given its immaculate track record and incredible potential, the OGC has plenty to offer the citizen science community.  With the launch of the COBWEB initiative, a precedent was set for supporting and advancing citizen science through OGC channels.  Now, with the establishment of the formidable team of researchers and professionals comprising the Citizen Science DWG, anyone trying to engage in citizen science data collection and sharing will have a new organization to turn to for guidance.  Geospatial data saturates the citizen science field, and while collecting it can be a challenge, making sure the results gleaned are accessible can prove to be a logistical nightmare.  That’s why this new DWG plans to underscore the importance of interoperability, eliminating the nuances that isolate projects by establishing best practices and promoting open standards.  Citizen science projects rely on their communities, and now project leaders have a new resource of their own.

For more information about the OGC Citizen Science Domain Working Group (DWG), please contact Anne Bowser,

EVENT: National Plan for Civil Earth Observations


Thursday, September 4th, 1:00pm – 2:30pm, 6th Floor Boardroom

In July 2014, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the U.S. Group on Earth Observations (USGEO) released the National Plan for Civil Earth Observations. Developed from the results of the first-ever assessment of the Federal civil earth observation enterprise, the Plan provides strategic guidance for a balanced portfolio approach to managing civil earth observations to fulfill agency mandates, achieve national objectives, and help inform Federal investments in civil earth observations. This briefing will highlight the key components of the National Plan, outline its impacts across Federal agencies involved in earth observations, and review associated efforts to enable interagency coordination.

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Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age

In light of the anniversary of the Snowden leaks the Wilson Center held a public event on Surveillance, Security and Trust. It’s becoming clear that our regulatory frameworks are severely outdated in regards to current and evolving technologies. In addition, there is a schism between the way older and younger generations view privacy. At the Commons Lab we asked several of our 20-something employees what they thought about privacy and surveillance in the Digital Age.

Are there differences in this country between the way young people see privacy and the way older people do? 

Generational Divide. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Female, Age 20: Absolutely. There are perception differences across a wide spectrum of issues between young people and older people. Personally, I think that the culture and environment that the younger people have grown up in and adopted creates a lack of privacy. For example, with social media, text messaging, and other recent technologies, our lives are never really private. Additionally, with available technology, we continue to hear about how our government can listen and see everything. Although we might not support it, we have grown accustomed to hearing such things, which conditions us to accept a lack of privacy.

Female, Age 22: There is a definitive difference in the way older Americans and younger Americans view privacy. As younger Americans trade their personal information for digital convenience, older Americans are more reluctant as a demographic to participate on the Internet with the same openness. Younger Americans have become accustomed to clicking ‘Accept’ to fine print attachments, often unaware of the degree of privacy they are relinquishing to quickly participate. A good metaphor of this is the oft discussed “American Dream.” It is certainly arguable that in generations past, it was the private ownerships of a private home surrounded by a white picket fence that symbolized success, marking a private space to conduct private affairs. Now, younger Americans gladly share pictures and stories publicly on the Internet depicting what happens in these spaces, offering up the details of their lives for public validation. I think younger Americans are simply willing to share more with a wider circle, but want to feel that the circle they share it with it still under their jurisdiction. Older Americans, on the other hand, may not be concerned with sharing at all with such an audience.

Female, Age 28: Mainly we don’t care. While I’m not considered a digital native I still came of age during the digital revolution and the idea that someone knows my whereabouts at every moment just doesn’t bother me personally — that is, until I think through the greater implications to society and government oversight.  Many of my friends and I follow the rule, “Don’t post it if you don’t want your grandma to read it.”

Male, Age 20: Yes, I would guess that there probably is. Particularly, I expect that the younger generations are more accepting of how commonly their electronic information is shared around the world. We have grown up with it as such a ubiquitous part of our lives that you can’t help but recognize it and move on. For my own part, I simply assume that anything I do on the internet can, and will, become public information. Once you take that as fact, then it becomes just like any other public forum and you act accordingly. I feel that this is an attitude more commonly held by our age group and one that separates us from the opinions of our parents.

Continue reading “Privacy and Surveillance in the Digital Age”

SciCast, Crowdsourcing Science and Technology Forecasting For Policy

SciCast is a crowdsourced forecasting platform for science and technology run by George Mason University. It is based on the idea that the collective wisdom of an informed and diverse group is often a better predictor than the judgment of a single expert.


Part of the Forecasting Science and Technology (ForeST) Program funded by the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), SciCast questions are generated by its participants, as well as ForeST teams at Inkling Markets, George Mason University, BAE Systems and SRI International. KaDSci LLC helps scientists and policymakers formulate questions for SciCast, and Gold Brand Software, LLC is the systems integrator.

SciCast is the largest S&T forecasting effort we know of, crowdsourcing in real-time from a pool of thousands of scientists and enthusiasts.  Popular topics include Bitcoin, the search for MH370, chess, alternative energy, space sciences and honeybee colony collapse.  We also have a richly connected set of questions on Top500 computer speeds, and another set on open problems in theoretical computer science.

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‘Let Me Google That For You’ Bill Seeks to Abolish the National Technical Information Service Agency

A Google search for the short title of the act, “Let Me Google That For You Act” found 440,000,000 results in 0.75 seconds.


Internet search engines have replaced the need for the National Technical Information Service (NTIS), a federal agency that collects and organizes scientific and technical information derived from government-sponsored research, according to a new Senate bill introduced in early April. The bill, called the “Let Me Google That For You” Act, would strike funding for the NTIS, which is part of the Commerce Department.

The NTIS was created more than 40 years ago as a way to disseminate knowledge from government funded research and reports. The need for NTIS before the onset of the internet age was clear, but today the introduced bill claims, “95 percent of the reports available from sources other than NTIS [are] available free of charge” from a website called, “” Currently the agency receives $67 million dollars in federal funding annually.



How to Stop a Pest Invasion

Oak Processionary Moth
Oak Processionary Moth

The Oak Processionary Moth, or Thaumetopoea processionea, is a pest. Large populations can strip bare even the mightiest of oak trees as the moth’s caterpillars devour a tree’s leaves, while also posing skin and respiratory issues for human and animals.

The moths’ eggs reportedly arrived in the United Kingdom on young oak saplings imported in to West London from Continental Europe in 2006. Some say the moth’s range is also growing as climate change warms temperatures throughout Europe.

So what can you do when these pests come to town? In the United Kingdom, the Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) conducts a Tree Health Survey, which engages interested citizens to alert scientists when pests like the Oak Processionary Moth are first sighted. OPAL’s citizen science effort extends the reach of the limited number of official forestry and plant health inspectors, giving them an early warning and the best opportunity to stop the pests. Continue reading “How to Stop a Pest Invasion”

Connecting Grassroots to Government Podcast #3: Aiden Riley Eller

Editor’s note: In September 2012, the Commons Lab hosted the Connecting Grassroots to Government for Disaster Management workshop. Over two days, we spoke with a number of event participants for a series of video podcasts covering various aspect of the proceedings. Additional installments will be posted in the coming weeks. The workshop summary report is available here.

Aiden Riley Eller, the vice president of technology and security at CoCo Communications Group in Seattle, has contributed to the development and implementation of myriad software security measures, including the security-testing service ClickToSecure Cloud.

In this podcast, Eller discusses the security challenges facing government agencies using social media and raises some of the concerns about the unintended consequences of widely sharing information via these channels.

Further, Eller makes the point that the it is very difficult for an agency to maintain a useful voice over social media if it is seen as a secondary activity. “Stale data [and] stale information . . . are very dangerous for people relying on them,” he says.

Connecting Grassroots to Government Podcast #2: Will McClintock

Editor’s note: In September 2012, the Commons Lab hosted the Connecting Grassroots to Government for Disaster Management workshop. Over two days, we spoke with a number of event participants for a series of video podcasts covering various aspect of the proceedings. Please stay tuned: Additional installments will be posted in the coming weeks and the workshop summary report will be published in September.

We caught up with Will McClintock at the Connecting Grassroots for Disaster Management workshop last year to talk about the future of web-based, collaborative technologies.

McClintock, a project scientist at the University of California-Santa Barbara’s Marine Science Institute and a senior fellow with the United Nations Environment Programme’s World Conservation Monitoring Center, spoke with us about the current technology developed for decision making, particularly geospatial technology and techniques. He says many of these interfaces are developed without consideration of non-technical decision-makers, further noting that the quickening pace of emerging technology will require faster development in the future and a new way of looking at software.
Continue reading “Connecting Grassroots to Government Podcast #2: Will McClintock”

The Power of Hackathons


The Commons Lab of the Science and Technology Innovation Program is proud to announce the release of The Power of Hackathons: A Roadmap for Sustainable Open Innovation. Hackathons are collaborative events that have long been part of programmer culture, where people gather in person, online or both to work together on a problem. This could involve creating an application, improving an existing one or testing a platform.

In recent years, government agencies at multiple levels have started holding hackathon events of their own. For this brief, author Zachary Bastian interviewed agency staff, hackathon planners and hackathon participants to better understand how these events can be structured. The fundamental lesson was that a hackathon is not a panacea, but instead should be part of a broader open data and innovation centric strategy.
Continue reading “The Power of Hackathons”

Citizen Science Profile: SeaSketch
A demo of the SeaSketch platform being used to combat whale strikes in the Santa Barbara Channel.

As part of the Commons Lab’s ongoing initiative to highlight the intersection of emerging technologies and citizen science, we present a profile of SeaSketch, a marine management software that makes complex spatial planning tools accessible to everyone. This was prepared with the gracious assistance of Will McClintock, director of the McClintock Lab.

The SeaSketch initiative highlights key components of successful citizen science projects. The end product is a result of an iterative process where the developers applied previous successes and learned from mistakes. The tool was designed to allow people without technical training to participate, expanding access to stakeholders. MarineMap had a quantifiable impact on California marine protected areas, increasing their size from 1 percent to 16 percent of the coastline. The subsequent version, SeaSketch, is uniquely suited to scale out worldwide, addressing coastal and land management challenges. By emphasizing iterative development, non-expert accessibility and scalability, SeaSketch offers a model of successful citizen science. Continue reading “Citizen Science Profile: SeaSketch”