Using Citizen Engagement to Solve National Problems

The government is working together with the public to solve national problems, and achieving amazing things across the country. This year, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is introducing the first Open Government Awards to recognize efforts by 64 member-nations, including the United States, utilizing citizen participation to improve government policies and to better serve their nations.

Government efforts are empowering Americans around the nation to contribute to public services in a variety of ways. Citizen researchers are enabling environmental scientists to track how trees adapt to climate change by monitoring when trees get their leaves in the spring, and when they change color in the fall. Citizen scientists have created platforms to collect and aggregate data on disease outbreaks and landslide tracking information, which provide warnings about diseases-spreading environments and landslide triggers. Web users are creating faster Internet services across the country by providing speed test data of their broadband performance. Citizen archivists” have increased the accessibility of American history by transcribing more than 132 million names from the original handwriting for the 1940 Census project.

These efforts are just a sampling of how the U.S. Government is using incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science to advance national priorities, collaborating with civil societies including companies, universities, foundations, non-profits, and the public. From the beginning of his Administration, President Obama emphasized the importance of more inclusive and open government, directing Federal agencies to “find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans.”

The Federal Government has drawn on the talents and interests of thousands of Americans, teaming up with citizens to solve some of the nation’s most challenging and pressing problems. 42,000 Americans have participated in more than 300 challenge competitions featured on Challenge.gov, and been awarded $35 million in prizes. Recently, $2 million was awarded to the winners of Rebuild by Design, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s competition to create redevelopment projects for the region affected by Hurricane Sandy

The United States recently featured these efforts along with others in a submission to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) — a global effort to encourage transparent, effective, and accountable governance. The OGP will highlight efforts from its 64 member-nations through the Open Government Awards being introduced this year. By shining a light on the Federal Government’s work in prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science, we hope to inspire more of this collaborative and innovative approach across the globe.

Cristin Dorgelo is Assistant Director for Grand Challenges and Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor for Open Government at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

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