EVENT: Legal Issues and Intellectual Property Rights in Citizen Science

Capitalizing on the momentum from the recent White House event — which appointed citizen science coordinators in Federal agencies, highlighted legislation introduced in Congress concerning funding mechanisms and clarifying legal and administrative issues to using citizen science, and launched a new Federal toolkit on citizen science and crowdsourcing — the Commons Lab is hosting a panel examining the legal issues affecting federal citizen science and the potential intellectual property rights that could arise from using citizen science.


This panel corresponds with the launch of two new Commons Lab Publications:

As a project manager or researcher conducting citizen science, either at the federal level or in partnership with governmental agencies, there are certain issues like the Information Quality Act that will impact citizen science and crowdsourcing project design. Being aware of these issues prior to initiating projects will save time and provide avenues for complying with or “lawfully evading” potential barriers. The Commons Lab web-enabled policy tool will also be demonstrated at the event. This tool helps users navigate the complicated laws discussed in Robert Gellman’s report on legal issues affecting citizen science.

Intellectual property rights in the age of open source, open data, open science and also, citizen science, are complicated and require significant forethought before embarking on a citizen science project. Please join us to hear from two experts on the legal barriers and intellectual property rights issues in citizen science and collect a hard copy of the reports.


Teresa Scassa, Canada Research Chair in Information Law and Professor in the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa
Haewon Chung, Doctoral Candidate in Law, University of Ottawa
Robert Gellman, Privacy and Information Policy Consultant in Washington, DC

Jay Benforado, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Get involved in the Sustainable Development Goals and create your own project!

This blog post originally appeared on one.org, written by By Ruba Ishak, ONE Senior Research Assistant

We all have a role to play in creating a sustainable future for us and our planet. Tracking these 17 goals on eradicating extreme poverty, gender inequality, disease, and social injustice is not a small task. We need new ideas on how to do this and how to empower people to get involved.

A flag to represent Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, is raised in Sydney, Australia, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Shane Thaw
A flag to represent Goal 11, Sustainable Cities and Communities, is raised in Sydney, Australia, to support the UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Credit: Shane Thaw

That’s why the Open Seventeen challenge, an open platform that supports crowdsourcing projects, was launched in May this year. It’s about tapping into the power of your online community–or the one in your backyard—to help you sift through existing datasets (images, scanned text, tweets and more!) to find things that computers can’t pick up.

Today we’re putting out the call for the the second round of the Open Seventeen Challenge, looking for new ideas on how crowdsourcing can help tackle extreme poverty, corruption, and gender inequality. The winning ideas will receive online coaching and technical support to set up a crowdcrafting project and have it go live.

We had some great grassroots ideas come out of the first round and our two winning projects are getting ready to launch their crowdsourcing after graduating from their coaching program run by the GovLab Academy:

Promise 2030, led by John Ranford, is creating a “street guide to sustainable businesses.” Promise 2030 will be piloted in UK towns trying to reduce their CO2 impacts, tackling Global Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities. By crowdsourcing information about local shops and businesses, Promise 2030 wants to accelerate the number of small and medium sized enterprises that record and publish information on their sustainability.
DATAFARMA, led by Janeth Cifuentes and Manuel Mejía, is looking to crowdsource to gather information on Hepatitis C and the use of generic medicines, to make that information easily accessible by people affected by this disease in Colombia and Mexico. The idea is to create a platform that maps disease outbreaks, while also having vital information on associated treatments and patient care. The project will focus on Global Goal 3: Good Health & Well-Being.

The new challenge will run until the end of December 2015 and the winners will be announced in the new year!

The Open Seventeen Challenge is a joint initiative of the research organizations Citizen Cyberlab and GovLab, The ONE Campaign, and the open-source company SciFabric.

Learn about the Global Goals, then find out more about the Open Seventeen challenge and get involved at openseventeen.org!


Eye on Earth Summit: Enabling conditions – using data to accomplish the 2030 SDG agenda

Jim Toomey, author of the comic strip “Sherman’s Lagoon” opened day three with tips on how to get the words climate change as many google search hits as Taylor Swift.

What are enabling conditions? Agar in a petri dish help grow bacteria to create cultures for studying microbes; using technology enables one to date in a pool wider than your social circle; small grants help fund the exploration of a big idea; learning Spanish not by classroom, but by living in Mexico helps facilitate faster learning; zoning policies requiring low-income housing in cities enables access and diversity. These are but a few examples of enabling conditions that can be found across multiple disciplines, industries and governments. Mae Jemison on day two quoted the phrase, “The future doesn’t just happen – it’s made.” The goal of day three was to explore the enabling conditions needed to make the future of creating and turning data into reliable environmental and societal information for decision-making.

Inger Anderson of IUCN, and a panel of distinguished experts on creating enabling conditions.

In the morning, Inger Andersen, director general of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), provided an estimate of $5 million a year to maintain the IUCN Redlist, the canonical database for the state of the world’s endangered species. This amount is “peanuts” compared to other data collection initiatives, according to Andersen, who emphasized this by comparing it to the U.S. census, which spends $13 billion every 10 years to understand demographics. However, what’s consistently undervalued are the 300 years’ worth of volunteer time that goes into updating that database. According to Anderson, the biggest word of caution moving forward is to keep the spirit of volunteerism alive by providing contributors with credit. This is not only the code of ethics in science and writing, but it’s also basic human decency: Give credit where it’s due, and the 300 years of volunteer time will continue to grow to 600 years and beyond as the world becomes more connected.

Enabling condition: give citizen scientists credit where it’s due and see an increase in volunteer time.

Enrico Giovannini, an economist and statistician and member of the Club of Rome, called for a “single state-of-the-art system that should serve [the] international community and countries [with the goal of] efficiency and effectiveness.” In addition, Giovannini stated we should place pressure on the private sector to share their data. This could include national policies which require private companies operating in their country to disclose all data collected about their resources (natural resources, demographic, economic). Giovannini ended with a bold statement, for countries to write the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) into their constitution. While that is a tall order — in the United States, there have been only 27 amendments to the Constitution in 226 years — what might be a more digestible step is to incorporate them into the missions of governmental and non-governmental organizations that are affiliated with one of the 17 goals.UN Sustainable Development Goals icons

Enabling conditions: Prevent duplication through collaboration, pressure private companies to share data while respecting private personal information and build the SDGs into governance frameworks.

Following the opening plenary was a panel on the “Polices, partnerships and open data for sustainable development,” moderated by Willian Sontag, initiatives manager from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs. One notable part of this presentation was the big data ecosystem workshops, led by CODATA in developing countries to increase best practices and therefore increase accuracy of data.

Screen Shot 2015-10-11 at 9.55.57 AM
ConservationDrones.org is a aggregate of information on people using drones to collect data for conservation.
Gabelschwanzseekuh Dugong dugong
The second-largest population of dugongs can be found in the UAE, a cross between a dolphin and a manatee.

The afternoon panels focused on cutting-edge technology and stories from the “feet in the field,” the people collecting the data or managing the volunteers who collect that data that make its way down the information pipeline. The feet in the field representatives all emphasized the tremendous power of technology for turning data into information quickly in order to act on priority conservation areas. However, Liam Pin Koh of conservationdrones.org said it best, in that technology enables us to collect better data faster, but the main goals are to acquire the data in any way possible.


Enabling condition: don’t rely solely on technology, continue to use all methods of data collection (oral, social, manual), but make an extra effort to digitize them and make them accessible to all.

Ayesha Yousef Al Biooshi of the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency shared methods  of studying dugongs, of which the UAE is home to the second-largest population. The Conservation Leadership Programme advertised its capacity-building program for young, aspiring conservation leaders, and lastly, the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund shared stories from their grantees. The fund provides small grants to young ecologists, biologists and conservation leaders to collect valuable data for their academic work.

Moving Forward

The importance of follow-ups from this conference will be revealed in the years to come, as governments begin to set up their monitoring and reporting systems of the SDGs. Delegates from the Eye on Earth Summit will continue to tackle the problems of harmonizing data demand, supply and enabling conditions. Each leader from the founding five organizations stated in the final panel their dedication to leveraging their own communities for generating information in tandem with each other in order to monitor the SDGs.

Jacqueline McGlade of UNEP demoed the organization’s web intelligence platform for tracking the SDGs, UNEP Live, which aggregates media stories about individual countries and their environmental initiatives among other environmental data, like citizen science. The media stories are particularly relevant because, as McGlade noted, “Governments are driven by what is written about them.” If that’s so, then the Eye on Earth Alliance, with its amazing leaders, will hopefully inspire governments as news gets out about this incredible Alliance.

One suggestion moving forward for the next Eye on Earth Summit is to emphasize the process of collaboration. The convening reason for this Alliance is based on the problem of “oceans of data but only drops of information” and executing collaboration processes is the solution to building a bridge. Because of this, all presenters should spend at minimum one minute on how they work with other stakeholders to create a system of information for environmental and societal indicators. That way, other organizations can learn from each other about best practices for collaboration.

I’ll leave readers with a thought from one of my favorite authors, Chimanadache Nigamonzi Adichie, about the “danger of a single story.” When we believe whole-heartedly in one single story, we lose focus and disregard the possibility of other stories that describe the same thing. By bringing together organizations and individuals who care about the same thing – equitable access for all to data to inform decision-making – but may approach it differently, we are able to listen to everyone’s story and leverage the information that they share.


I want to thank the organizers of the Eye on Earth Blogging Competition for this unique and amazing opportunity. While you might not have seen them, the media team are a crucial component to this Alliance, acting as the megaphone for communicating to the world what happened over the past three days.

I would also like to thank the Abu Dhabi Environment Agency, the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative, the United Nations Environment Program, GEO, IUCN and the World Resources Institute for their visionary leadership in bringing together critical stakeholders. May this Alliance continue to be a driving force in equitable and reliable information-sharing in the age of meeting the SDGs by 2030.

Lastly, I will share my pledge: As a citizen science researcher with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for scholars in Washington, D.C., our organization strives to be a bridge between academia and policy, informing people on matters of international importance with reliable and actionable information. I have the incredible privilege to take what I learned here and bring it back to the United States and share with academics, policymakers and relevant organizations. I look forward to signing up my organization as a member of the Eye on Earth Alliance.

New Bill in Congress: The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 (3 of 3)

On September 30th, U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) introduced the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015. The purpose of this bill is “to harness the expertise, ingenuity, and creativity of all people to contribute to innovation in the United States and to help solve problems or scientific questions by encouraging and increasing the use of crowdsourcing and citizen science methods within the Federal Government, as appropriate, and for other purposes.”

The man of the hour: Senator Chris Coons
The man of the hour: Senator Chris Coons. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

This is a bill worth celebrating.

Despite tremendous progress for crowdsourcing and citizen science in government—most recently recognition from the white house; and, the growth of an important federal community of practice—doubts about the legitimacy of crowdsourcing and citizen science remain. The Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA) is still a barrier to timely implementation. The question of who will make initial and ongoing financial investments in citizen science is open. Passing this bill will help resolve lingering doubts about the value of citizen science in government agencies.

In addition to signaling progress, the bill highlights important considerations to stimulate future efforts.

  • Understanding ethics in citizen science and crowdsourcing. The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 defines a citizen science participant as “any individual or other entity that has consented as a volunteer in a crowdsourcing or citizen science project.” Beyond this, the Act points to considerations including mode of consent as electronic or written; data ownership and access rights; and, adherence to regulations for conducting human subjects research. Generally, the Act leaves decisions to agencies themselves (e.g., regarding consent) or lets difficult issues remain open (e.g., by failing to specify whether and when citizen science and crowdsourcing are human subjects research).
  • The importance of designing projects with motivation in mind. Motivation is one of the most commonly studied, yet least understood, concepts in citizen science. We are aware of a handful of high-level motivational factors (including learning; attribution and recognition; socialization; and, altruism, as highlighted in the Act). But less is known about how motivation changes between cultures, how motivation changes over time, how motivation depends on different application domains, and how technologies such as games may motivate new and different volunteers.
  • Documenting partnership models. Agencies are encouraged to cooperate with one another, and to work with organizations including for-profits, nonprofits, and NGOs to “share administrative duties” for citizen science. The federal citizen science projects that are most successful at achieving their goals typically forge partnerships with universities, museums, schools, and other institutions. Articulating successful partnership models that others may replicate will go a long way towards supporting sustainability for the field within and outside of government.

A smooth and expedient passage of the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 will not only legitimize this important research paradigm, but usher in new research on these and other important issues.

White house highlights citizen science (1 of 3)

The Commons Lab will publish a three part blog series in celebration of the White House Event on Open Science and Open Innovation. Each article will highlight a different initiative announced during this forum. The first article in this series is an announcement of Citizen Science Day reposted from the Citizen Science Association.

The Citizen Science Association launched their new website today. Congratulations to all who worked on the white house forum, and also the CSA. 


Citizen Science Day announced

In conjunction with today’s White House forum, “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People,” we are pleased to announce efforts of the Citizen Science Association (CSA) to coordinate a nationwide Citizen Science Day.With support from SciStarter and in partnership with numerous national organizations, CSA will provide planning resources and promotional materials for sites around the country to host events to bring attention to citizen science impacts and participation opportunities.A major celebration will be held on April 16th, 2016, in conjunction with the National Science & Engineering Festival in Washington, DC. This will kick off a series of citizen science “open houses” and activities to be locally-sponsored by science centers, museums, libraries, universities and schools, and federal agencies around the country.Imagine such activities as:

  • Zoos hosting a series of guest speakers addressing wildlife-related project research;
  • Parks conducting a bioblitz;
  • Festivals engaging visitors in citizen science and crowdsourcing activities;
  • Libraries displaying SciStarter on a kiosk to connect people with projects;
  • Science centers hosting a forum to discuss the implications of a project’s findings.

Already interested in hosting an event? Add your activities to SciStarter’s online calendar.

We are pleased to partner with the following organizations in planning and promoting Citizen Science Day celebrations:

Federal Community of Practice for Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC)
Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA)
Center for the Advancement of Informal Science Education (CAISE)
Astronomy Magazine
Discover Magazine


Citizen Science & The Law: A New Web-Enabled Policy Tool

court-house-25061_640Navigating legal and administrative barriers while implementing citizen science and crowdsourcing projects at the federal level can be complex and confusing. The Commons Lab published a report earlier this year, Crowdsourcing, Citizen Science and the Law: Legal Issues Affecting Federal Agencies, which examined in depth the legal issues, such as the Paperwork Reduction Act and Antideficiency Act, that federal citizen science initiatives will have to comply with. This excellent research produced a wealth of knowledge on the topic.

In order to make it more accessible we condensed the 116 page report into a web-enabled policy tool which allows federal project managers navigate and understand these issues before they embark on citizen science initiatives. The tool is hosted on the Wilson Center website and may be accessed here.

Science Hack Day DC Summary

PoliConnect, the Policy Award winners. In 31 hours the team created a platform to facilitate connection between policy makers and experts advice.


We are happy to announce an incredibly successful first-ever DC Science Hack Day!

Quick Statistics:

  • Over 100 people attended
  • Around 15 hackers stayed through the night
  • 13 hacks were produced — details can be found on the wiki here: http://sciencehackday.pbworks.com/w/page/96114032/dchacks2015
  • Incredible gender, age and race diversity. Ages 10 – 80!
  • Government employees were highly represented — with lightning talks from EPA, NIH, State Department, NASA and participants from Department of Commerce, different branches of the military, OMB and NARA

Commons Labs favorite hacks (but they were all so incredible….):

  • LickitySplit — citizen science to the rescue! This team 3D printed the casing for a spectrometer to analyze your spit instantly and visualize the data.
  • If no one hears it — NASA scientists and arts team up to bring you an sound landscape of deforestation using freely available landsat data. Each tone represents a different type of deforestation.
  • PoliConnect — a platform to anonymously connect policy makers with policy experts. The Commons Lab has invited this team to come back to the Wilson Center to demo their hack to a policy audience! Test it out here: http://www.policonnect.org/

Worthy social media streams to check out:

In the coming weeks we will be putting out a publication highlighting each hack and why these types of open participation models are important to every field, not just to science and technology. Stay tuned.

Our amazing judges for the event (L-R): Lakita Edwards, NEA; Steven Kostant, TidePool Media; Ariel Waldman, Founder Science Hack Day; Beth Beck, NASA; Greg Godbout, EPA


REPORT RELEASE: Crowdsourcing and Legal Issues Affecting Federal Agencies


The Commons Lab is excited to announce a long-anticipated publication by Privacy Lawyer Robert Gellman on Crowdsourcing, Citizen Science, and the Law: Legal Issues Affecting Federal Agencies.

This report reviews the legal and regulatory issues that federal agencies face when they engage in citizen science and crowdsourcing activities. It identifies relevant issues that most federal agencies must consider, reviews the legal standards, suggests ways that agencies can comply with or lawfully evade requirements, and discusses practical approaches that can ease the path for federal citizen science and crowdsourcing projects, including procedural activities, cooperative actions, legislative changes, and regulatory adjustments.

The Commons Lab plans to print a policy memo based on the key points in the report, to be released this summer during a Wilson Center event. In addition we will be digitizing the legal work flow that federal practitioners must undertake to comply with federal regulations when beginning a citizen science or crowdsourcing effort. Check back with us soon!

To download the whole report: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/crowdsourcing-citizen-science-and-the-law-legal-issues-affecting-federal-agencies

Event: DC Science Hack Day


The Commons Lab is excited to announce Washington DC’s first ever Science Hack Day, to be held May 16th & 17th at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Science Hack Day a free, 48-hour event where civic minded and creative people come together to prototype innovative ideas using government data, problem sets, tools, design, and SCIENCE!  Science Hack Day has been 46 times in 17 different countries, but never before in Washington, DC. It is time for the brilliant and passionate people of this nation’s capital came together in the same physical space to see what they can prototype in 48 consecutive hours. Designers, developers, scientists and anyone who is excited about making things for and with science are welcome to attend – no experience in science or hacking is necessary, just an insatiable curiosity.

The mission of Science Hack Day is to get excited and make things with science! People organically form multidisciplinary teams over the course of a weekend: particle physicists team up with designers, marketers join forces with open source rocket scientists, writers collaborate with molecular biologists, and developers partner with school kids. By collaborating on focused tasks during this short period, small groups of hackers are capable of producing remarkable results.

If you would like to join DC’s Science Hack Day, or would like to know more about this exciting event, please visit the official website at: dc.sciencehackday.org


Sat May 16 9:00am – Sun May 17 4:00pm

Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004

RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dc-science-hack-day-2015-registration-15898702447
Directions to the Wilson Center

This event was made possible through the generosity of our sponsors, including the Alfred P. Sloan foundation, and the collaborative power of the Kennedy Center. SHD was created by Ariel Waldman and is an “open source” event, to be replicated in any city!

White House Recognizes Citizen Science, CSA Commitments, at Science Fair

This post is re-blogged from the Citizen Science Association. The original post can be found here

Washington, D.C. ­­(March 23rd, 2015)– Citizen science received some high level attention today when plans were unveiled to install a new rain gauge in the First Lady’s Kitchen Garden.

This rain gauge represents far more than just a Pennsylvania Avenue data point for the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow (CoCoRaHS), a citizen science network of over 20,000 active participants who serve as the largest source of daily precipitation data in the United States. Announced in conjunction with the White House Science Fair, this commitment points to high-level recognition of citizen science as a powerful platform for science education.

CoCoRaHS founder, Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken, was on hand for the White House Science Fair. Doesken, also a member of the Citizen Science Association Board of Directors, says: “This fair clearly shows how the youth of our national are exploring the frontiers of science.  But people of all ages and backgrounds are also helping advance scientific research, education and discovery.  Today, opportunities abound for any of us to be “citizen scientists” — contributing through our own back yard and neighborhood observations or helping scientists analyze and interpret complex systems.  There are so many opportunities and they help make science very real and relevant.”

The Citizen Science Association (CSA) is leading the charge to support excellence in education through citizen science. As outlined in a document released today by the White House, CSA is creating resources to help citizen science projects excel at supporting education in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

“Citizen science represents a transformative opportunity for both formal and informal science education,” says Sarah Kirn, from Gulf of Maine Research Institute and Co-Chair of CSA’s Education Working Group. “Through citizen science, educators have the opportunity to design experiences that immerse learners in the practices, concepts, and knowledge of science, but these experiences must be carefully constructed to achieve both scientific and learning outcomes.”

To this end, the CSA will work over the coming year to highlight projects representing exemplary practices in education through real-world research. CSA will also work withSciStarter to align 500 projects with standards for educational practices in science and engineering.

Some exemplary work is already receiving attention by the White House. In addition to CoCoRaHS, citizen science efforts highlighted in White House Science Fair exhibitions andannouncements include:

  • Work by 17-year old Tiye Garrett-Mills, a Teen Science Scholar at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, to develop low-cost instrumentation for leaf vein scanning and identification
  • Commitments by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to distribute Quest materials to help 4th graders and their families use eBird to connect to nature as part of President Obama’s Every Kid in a Park
  • An announcement of a new Citizen Science Tool lending library organized by SciStarter and Public Lab
  • The National Ecological Observatory Network’s “Project BudBurst” will offer a new online course to support citizen science at wildlife refuges
  • Esri will release a free open crowdsourcing app designed to help teachers, students, and youth groups easily create their own projects, report observations, and explore them on a dynamic map

Everyone is also encouraged to add their own young scientists’ citizen science projects to the White House Science Fair map:https://crowdsource.storymaps.esri.com/stories/science-fair

President Obama, commenting on the White House Science Fair, said: “There’s a reason so many young people love science.  It’s fun, it’s fascinating, and it helps us solve the mysteries of our world.   I want more boys and girls across America to get the chance to study science, technology, engineering and math – and maybe have the opportunity to go on to careers in those fields, too.  So I’m glad so many organizations are stepping up to support STEM education.  When we invest in our young people, we invest in our future.”

Want to get involved?

  • To find a project to participate in, check out a list of over 1000 projects on SciStarter.
  • To help advance education through citizen science, consider joining (for free) theCitizen Science Association.


Today’s event will be livestreamed, beginning at approximately 10am:www.whitehouse.gov/live

Follow on Twitter: #WHScienceFair