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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...

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. 

Learn more about ASC on our website, the Field Notes blog, and by following us on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Google+

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Gregg Treinish
Gregg Treinish founded Adventure Scientists in 2011 with a strong passion for both scientific discovery and exploration. National Geographic named Gregg Adventurer of the Year in 2008 when he and a friend completed a 7,800-mile trek along the spine of the Andes Mountain Range. He was included on the Christian Science Monitor's 30 under 30 list in 2012, and the following year became a National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work with Adventure Scientists. In 2013, he was named a Backpacker Magazine "hero", in 2015, a Draper Richards Kaplan Entrepreneur and one of Men's Journal's "50 Most Adventurous Men." In 2017, he was named an Ashoka Fellow and in 2018 one of the Grist 50 "Fixers." Gregg holds a biology degree from Montana State University and a sociology degree from CU-Boulder. He thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2004. Read more updates from Gregg and others on the Adventure Scientists team at Follow Adventure Scientists on Instagram @adventurescientists, on Facebook @adventurescientists, and on Twitter @AdvScientists.