Open Government Initiative Blog

  • Designing a Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing Toolkit for the Federal Government

    In the 2013 Second Open Government National Action Plan, President Obama called on Federal agencies to harness the ingenuity of the public by accelerating and scaling the use of open innovation methods, such as citizen science and crowdsourcing, to help address a wide range of scientific and societal problems.

    Citizen science is a form of open collaboration in which members of the public participate in the scientific process, including identifying research questions, collecting and analyzing data, interpreting results, and solving problems. Crowdsourcing is a process in which individuals or organizations submit an open call for voluntary contributions from a large group of unknown individuals (“the crowd”) or, in some cases, a bounded group of trusted individuals or experts.

    Citizen science and crowdsourcing are powerful tools that can help Federal agencies:

    • Advance and accelerate scientific research through group discovery and co-creation of knowledge. For instance, engaging the public in data collection can provide information at resolutions that would be difficult for Federal agencies to obtain due to time, geographic, or resource constraints.
    • Increase science literacy and provide students with skills needed to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Volunteers in citizen science or crowdsourcing projects gain hands-on experience doing real science, and take that learning outside of the classroom setting.
    • Improve delivery of government services with significantly lower resource investments.
    • Connect citizens to the missions of Federal agencies by promoting a spirit of open government and volunteerism.

    To enable effective and appropriate use of these new approaches, the Open Government National Action Plan specifically commits the Federal government to “convene an interagency group to develop an Open Innovation Toolkit for Federal agencies that will include best practices, training, policies, and guidance on authorities related to open innovation, including approaches such as incentive prizes, crowdsourcing, and citizen science.”

    On November 21, 2014, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) kicked off development of the Toolkit with a human-centered design workshop. Human-centered design is a multi-stage process that requires product designers to engage with different stakeholders in creating, iteratively testing, and refining their product designs. The workshop was planned and executed in partnership with the Office of Personnel Management’s human-centered design practice known as “The Lab” and the Federal Community of Practice on Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science (FCPCCS), a growing network of more than 100 employees from more than 20 Federal agencies.

  • Help Shape Public Participation

    Public participation — where citizens help shape and implement government programs — is a foundation of open, transparent, and engaging government services. From emergency management and regulatory development to science and education, better and more meaningful engagement with those who use public services can measurably improve government for everyone.

    A team across the government is now working side-by-side with civil society organizations to deliver the first U.S. Public Participation Playbook, dedicated to providing best practices for how agencies can better design public participation programs, and suggested performance metrics for evaluating their effectiveness.

    Developing a U.S. Public Participation Playbook has been an open government priority, and was included in both the first and second U.S. Open Government National Action Plans as part of the United States effort to increase public integrity in government programs. This resource reflects the commitment of the government and civic partners to measurably improve participation programs, and is designed using the same inclusive principles that it champions.

    More than 30 Federal leaders from across diverse missions in public service have collaborated on draft best practices, or “plays,” lead by the General Services Administration’s inter-agency SocialGov Community. The playbook is not limited to digital participation, and is designed to address needs from the full spectrum of public participation programs.

    The plays are structured to provide best practices, tangible examples, and suggested performance metrics for government activities that already exist or are under development. Some categories included in the plays include encouraging community development and outreach, empowering participants through public/private partnerships, using data to drive decisions, and designing for inclusiveness and accessibility.

    In developing this new resource, the team has been reaching out to more than a dozen civil society organizations and stakeholders, asking them to contribute as the Playbook is created. The team would like your input as well! Over the next month, contribute your ideas to the playbook using Madison, an easy-to-use, open source platform that allows for accountable review of each contribution. 

    Through this process, the team will work together to ensure that the Playbook reflects the best ideas and examples for agencies to use in developing and implementing their programs with public participation in mind. This resource will be a living document, and stakeholders from inside or outside of government should continually offer new insights — whether new plays, the latest case studies, or the most current performance metrics — to the playbook.

    We look forward to seeing the public participate in the creation and evolution of the Public Participation Playbook!

    Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government for the U.S. CTO.

    Justin Herman is the SocialGov lead for the General Services Administration and is managing the U.S. Public Participation Playbook project.

  • 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.”

  • OSTP’s Own Open Government Plan

    The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) today released its 2014 Open Government Plan. The OSTP plan highlights three flagship efforts as well as the team’s ongoing work to embed the open government principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration into its activities.

    OSTP advises the President on the effects of science and technology on domestic and international affairs. The work of the office includes policy efforts encompassing science, environment, energy, national security, technology, and innovation. This plan builds off of the 2010 and 2012 Open Government Plans, updating progress on past initiatives and adding new subject areas based on 2014 guidance.

    Agencies began releasing biennial Open Government Plans in 2010, with direction from the 2009 Open Government Directive. These plans serve as a roadmap for agency openness efforts, explaining existing practices and announcing new endeavors to be completed over the coming two years. Agencies build these plans in consultation with civil society stakeholders and the general public. Open government is a vital component of the President’s Management Agenda and our overall effort to ensure the government is expanding economic growth and opportunity for all Americans.

    OSTP’s 2014 flagship efforts include:

    • Access to Scientific Collections: OSTP is leading agencies in developing policies that will improve the management of and access to scientific collections that agencies own or support. Scientific collections are assemblies of physical objects that are valuable for research and education—including drilling cores from the ocean floor and glaciers, seeds, space rocks, cells, mineral samples, fossils, and more. Agency policies will help make scientific collections and information about scientific collections more transparent and accessible in the coming years.
    • We the Geeks: We the Geeks Google+ Hangouts feature informal conversations with experts to highlight the future of science, technology, and innovation in the United States. Participants can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #WeTheGeeks and asking questions of the presenters throughout the hangout.
    • “All Hands on Deck” on STEM Education: OSTP is helping lead President Obama’s commitment to an “all-hands-on-deck approach” to providing students with skills they need to excel in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). In support of this goal, OSTP is bringing together government, industry, non-profits, philanthropy, and others to expand STEM education engagement and awareness through events like the annual White House Science Fair and the upcoming White House Maker Faire.

    OSTP looks forward to implementing the 2014 Open Government Plan over the coming two years to continue building on its strong tradition of transparency, participation, and collaboration—with and for the American people.

    Nick Sinai is the U.S. Deputy CTO and Corinna Zarek is the Senior Advisor for Open Government.

  • Continued Progress and Plans for Open Government Data

    One year ago today, President Obama signed an executive order that made open and machine-readable data the new default for government information.  This historic step is helping to make government-held data more accessible to the public and to entrepreneurs while appropriately safeguarding sensitive information and rigorously protecting privacy.

    Freely available data from the U.S. Government is an important national resource, serving as fuel for entrepreneurship, innovation, scientific discovery, and economic growth. Making information about government operations more readily available and useful is also core to the promise of a more efficient and transparent government.  This initiative is a key component of the President’s Management Agenda and our efforts to ensure the government is acting as an engine to expand economic growth and opportunity for all Americans. The Administration is committed to driving further progress in this area, including by designating Open Data as one of our key Cross-Agency Priority Goals. 

    Over the past few years, the Administration has launched a number of Open Data Initiatives aimed at scaling up open data efforts across the Health, Energy, Climate, Education, Finance, Public Safety, and Global Development sectors.  The White House has also launched Project Open Data, designed to share best practices, examples, and software code to assist Federal agencies with opening data.  These efforts have helped unlock troves of valuable data—that taxpayers have already paid for—and are making these resources more open and accessible to innovators and the public.

    Other countries are also opening up their data.  In June 2013, President Obama and other G7 leaders endorsed the Open Data Charter, in which the United States committed to publish a roadmap for our nation’s approach to releasing and improving government data for the public.

    Building upon the Administration’s Open Data progress, and in fulfillment of the Open Data Charter, today we are excited to release the U.S. Open Data Action Plan.  The plan includes a number of exciting enhancements and new data releases planned in 2014 and 2015, including:

    • Small Business Data:  The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) database of small business suppliers will be enhanced so that software developers can create tools to help manufacturers more easily find qualified U.S. suppliers, ultimately reducing the transaction costs to source products and manufacture domestically.
    • Smithsonian American Art Museum Collection:  The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s entire digitized collection will be opened to software developers to make educational apps and tools. Today, even museum curators do not have easily accessible information about their art collections.  This information will soon be available to everyone.  
    • FDA Adverse Drug Event Data:  Each year, healthcare professionals and consumers submit millions of individual reports on drug safety to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  These anonymous reports are a critical tool to support drug safety surveillance. Today, this data is only available through limited quarterly reports.  But the Administration will soon be making these reports available in their entirety so that software developers can build tools to help pull potentially dangerous drugs off shelves faster than ever before.

    We look forward to implementing the U.S. Open Data Action Plan, and to continuing to work with our partner countries in the G7 to take the open data movement global.  

    Steve VanRoekel is the U.S. Chief Information Officer.  Todd Park is the U.S. Chief Technology Officer. 

  • Open Government: Public Participation – we can’t do it without you!

    Public participation in government isn’t just a cornerstone of democracy, it’s how the United States government ensures that policies and practices reflect the ideas and expertise of the American people. Without public engagement, first responders and emergency response officials wouldn’t have access to certain important emergency information during a disaster, such as where power lines are down, or we wouldn’t know that more than 100,000 Americans believe the nation should declare Major League Baseball’s Opening Day to be a national holiday.

    As President Obama noted on his first full day in office, government is more effective when it gathers input from the public as it makes decisions. By harnessing input and expertise from a wide array of voices, we can continue to strengthen government.  Here are a few ways the public can participate in ongoing conversations surrounding open government:

    •  Open Government Working Group: Following the Administration’s 2009 Open Government Directive, agencies began monthly working sessions to discuss open government opportunities. These meetings give agencies a chance to collaborate and share best practices, while also providing an opportunity to raise awareness of challenges they have encountered. Earlier this year, civil society organizations asked to attend these working government meetings and we’re pleased that these meetings are now open to the public on a quarterly basis. These meetings provide a chance for the public to listen in on agency open government efforts and participate in discussions about featured topics.
    • Open Government Discussion Group: At our February Working Group meeting, civil society and agency participants discussed ways to improve participation in government — particularly outside of the Washington, D.C. area. One great suggestion we received was to launch a listserv that could facilitate discussions and engage a broader range of participants across the country. We’re pleased to have implemented this suggestion and hope you will join the conversation here!
    • Open Government Plan Engagement: Agencies are currently crafting their 2014 Open Government Plans, which are set to launch by June 1, 2014. A key component of these plans is stakeholder engagement. Some agencies have directly requested input online and others have received proactive suggestions from civil society organizations. The public can also participate in the plans by attending upcoming workshops in Washington, D.C. on May 1 and May 5 where stakeholders can sit down with agencies to share input on agency plans.

    These are just a few of the efforts underway to increase public participation in the conversation about open government.  If you would like to share information, offer a suggestion, or learn more about attending these meetings, please contact us via email at opengov@ostp.eop.gov. We can’t do this without you!

    Corinna Zarek is Senior Advisor to the U.S. Chief Technology Officer for Open Government.