Visiting the White House for Citizen Science

The field of citizen science has just been elevated in a dramatic way.

In a September 30 forum on citizen science, The White House released a memo on crowdsourcing and citizen science and a toolkit designed to help agencies build, manage and gain value from citizen science projects. Included in the memo are mandates for agencies to designate a specific citizen science liaison and list their public projects on a federal website.

Issued by White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director John Holdren, these announcements recognize that if done properly, volunteer data collection can be a valuable tool for government agencies and for the future of science.

Treinish (center) trains a group of volunteers on sampling protocols for an ASC project studying microplastic pollution in the Gallatin watershed. (Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez/Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

This is a coup for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (ASC), the organization I founded in 2011, as well as for other organizations in the field, from social work to engineering to cloud computing.

“New technologies—from low cost sensors and other types of monitoring instruments, to increasingly ubiquitous and powerful smartphones, to the rapid expansion of high speed internet connectivity—are facilitating citizen science on a scale that was simply unimaginable just a few years ago,” Holdren said in his keynote. “We can harness this new technological infrastructure to advance both scientific discovery and the realization of policy objectives that will lead to better outcomes for all Americans.”

Trail runners Sarah McCloskey and Craig Lloyd on their way to check a camera trap for the ASC Uinta Carnivore Survey. (Photo by Garret Smith |

The ASC model of mobilizing the outdoor community to gather conservation data captures the essence of Holdren’s call to action. Look to our work monitoring coastal Pacific marten in the Olympic National Forest, for example, or this summer’s lynx and wolverine survey in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest.

Like Holdren, everyone else attending the forum had embraced the benefit of volunteer data collection: the importance of quality data first and foremost, and also the value of participatory science for the public’s scientific literacy.

Watch a Video of the White House Citizen Science Forum, “Open Science
and Innovation: Of the People, For the People, By the People”

In addition to the memo and toolkit, there were other exciting items announced that will affect citizen science on a national scale:

NSF Designates Citizen Science as a Priority
National Science Foundation Director Dr. France Cordova announced that citizen science and crowdsourcing will be a priority for NSF in the coming fiscal year.

Citizen Science Day Announced
The Citizen Science Association and its partners, including the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, announced plans to organize a Citizen Science Day in 2016.

Bill Introduced Authorizing Agencies to use Citizen Science
Senators Chris Coons, a democrat from Delaware, and Steve Daines, a republican from ASC’s home state of Montana, introduced the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015, which provides explicit authority for agencies to use citizen science, and sets aside appropriations for these efforts.

Caroline Gleich (left) and Carolyn Stwertka sample for the ASC Microplastics Project in Little Cottonwood Creek, Wasatch Mountains, Utah. (Photo by Andrew Burr)

Although I wasn’t aware of the broader citizen science movement when I founded ASC, the very concept that led to the expansion of the field is the same thing that drove me—a realization that there are very capable people who care about the natural places they visit, and that enabling them to become change makers for those places is a powerful thing.

One of my heroes, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, got right to the heart of things when she spoke to the forum:

“A scientist is someone who observes carefully and reports honestly what they see—and respects evidence…” Earle said. “It’s what anyone can do and everyone should do. It’s what people have done over the last 50,000 years that has allowed humankind to advance from where we were to where we are. All of us are dependent on the natural world for everything we care about—our economy, our security, our health, life itself.”

As an ASC supporter and follower of this blog, you’ve seen these same beliefs voiced by many different volunteers working on different projects over the past several years. As you’ve read these stories, you’ve been participating, too, because a public that is informed about environmental issues and the work being done on them is integral to creating conservation change. 

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  1. windyspirit
    Vancouver, canada
    October 15, 2015, 1:19 pm

    It would be awesome if the thuggery tactics were taken away and let scientists and inventors show us what is attainable. There are too many cartels controlling and squashing innovation. Is this going to change that? Let’s improve on what inventors like Lt Col. Tom Bearden, Marinoff, Sparky Sweet etc have started. BUT big money will squash this as well or are they paying for the event?