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Please note that key information required by senior managers to evaluate and rank all CDI proposals will be extracted from this page and copied into the required synoptic FY 2012 Proposals page for their convenience.


Engaging the public in scientific endeavors has a long history. Amateur ornithologists monitored birds in 17th century Finland, and in Victorian England, citizen astronomers participated in the great Transits of Venus to accurately measure the distance from the earth to the sun. The Audubon Society's Christmas Bird Count began in 1900 and has yielded long records of North American bird distribution (USGS volunteers have monitored the "Brooke Circle" in Virginia continuously since 1947). Citizen science is the term now commonly used to describe projects in which non-specialist volunteers collect observations and measurements or perform computations for use in science projects (Turnbull, et al., 2000). In recent years, the Internet, smart phones, and social media have revolutionized the way data can be collected by interested individuals and shared with researchers, resulting in a proliferation of these projects. While questions have been raised about the accuracy of citizen science data, research is beginning to show that, properly constrained and managed, citizen science can produce data that compare favorably to authoritative data acquired by professional researchers (e.g. Haklay, 2010). The engagement of citizen scientists is increasingly viewed as a critical means of extending the reach of the research community "on the landscape", particularly where there are insufficient staff resources to generate the baseline and on-going monitoring and other data required to address complex scientific issues because such activities are expensive, labor intensive, and time consuming (Lee, et al., 2006; Silvertown, 2009).

USGS and Citizen Science

The USGS has a number of well-known citizen science efforts. The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS), a well-known USGS program started in 1966, tracks the status and trends of North American bird populations.  Citizens collect important bird observations which are used to track abundance. Did You Feel It? is a website sponsored by the Earthquake Program that asks citizens to report ground shaking during an earthquake. Volunteers for the National Phenology Network monitor the life cycles of animals and plants and help digitize records of bird and animal distribution that date back to the 19th century. Many other USGS citizen science efforts, many championed by individual scientists in distributed centers, are not as well known to one another nor to the USGS at large. A forum for exchanging information could potentially provide immediate benefit to these projects and increase the visibility of these projects within and outside the USGS. Potential citizen science project leaders might need answers to these questions:

  • How does one design a project, recruit, train, and retain volunteers?
  • What types of data are appropriate candidates for collection by citizen scientists?
  • Are there best practices that can be inferred and shared from established projects?
  • What policy issues are encountered in citizen science projects, and how can these be addressed without undue burden on project participants and leaders?
  • How sustainable are citizen science projects? Can data collected by one group be reused for other scientific purposes?

The Citizen Science Working Group of the Community for Data Integration is proposing a USGS-wide meeting of citizen science project leaders inside USGS and in other partner organizations to raise awareness of citizen science and its potential uses and benefits, share best practices for establishing citizen science projects, working with volunteers, collecting and validating data, education, and communication. 

Workshop Outcomes and Benefits

An immediate and significant workshop outcome will be the formation of an ongoing community-based infrastructure for sharing ideas, data, and support. Additionally the workshop will provide a venue for:

  • Initiating projects that might span multiple mission areas;
  • Showcasing USGS tools, including new mobile applications, supporting field observations and data collection;
  • Exploring innovative techniques, such as whether mining data from social media can improve interdisciplinary scientific decision making;
  • Creating or strengthening partnerships and opening dialogue channels with existing citizen science focused working groups such as DataOne's Public Participation in Science and Research (PPSR), Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Citizen Science Central, and others.

Enhancing and expanding partnerships will provide important opportunities for the USGS research community to:

  • Foster cross group pollination, both internally and externally;
  • Exchange and communicate ideas, plans, and focus among groups;
  • Identify new avenues and approaches for research; and
  • Increase efficiency and effectiveness of their projects by leveraging activities and resources and minimizing overlap with partner groups.

In addition to directly supporting the USGS's internal program of research, the results of this workshop could have additional societal benefits including:

  • Making USGS science more approachable and understandable to students, teachers, and the general public;
  • Expanding science knowledge and scientific literacy among citizen science volunteers (Bonney, et al., 2009); and
  • Encouraging positive participation in the President's America’s Great Outdoors and DOI's Youth in the Great Outdoors Initiatives.

The proposed workshop project, associated costs, and resulting products are described in detail below. 


Bonney, R., et al. (2009). Citizen Science: A Developing Tool for Expanding Science Knowledge and Scientific Literacy. BioScience, 59(11), 977-984.

Haklay, M. M. (2010). How good is volunteered geographical information? A comparative study of OpenStreetMap and Ordnance Survey datasets. Environment and Planning B: Planning and Design, 37(4), 682-703.

Lee, T., et al. (2006). Citizen, science, highways, and wildlife: using a web-based GIS to engage citizens in collecting wildlife information. Ecology and Society 11(1).

Silvertown, J. (2009). A new dawn for citizen science. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 24(9): 467-471.

Trumbull, D. J., et al. (2000). Thinking scientifically during participation in a citizen-science project. Science Education 84:265-275.

Summary and Cost Matrix

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Assumptions (for Costing Purposes)

Size, Venue, Dates, Duration

  • Size: 50-60 on-site participants including select non-USGS partners, collaborators, or others; remote access via WebEx
  • Place: Denver Federal Center
  • Date: Late Spring 2012 (April-May)
  • Duration: 3 days (2.5 days workshop plus travel)


  • Workshop Report:
    • 50-60 pages;
    • USGS-series publication, e.g., an Open-File Report (OFR) or Scientific Investigations Report (SIR) or, if unfunded,
    • an informal summary report for limited distribution to workshop sponsors and participants
  • Website: USGS-hosted Public/Extranet/Intranet to
    • maintain and share key information & documents;
    • link to CDI Citizen Science Working Group and related communities in DOI and elsewhere
  • Workshop documents: Presentations, posters, white paper(s), etc.,
    • posted to CDI-CSWG wiki and/or proposed website, and incorporated in workshop report (as appropriate)
  • Presentation (Report of Findings) to Participatory Science for Conservation Conference (PSCC), Aug. 4-5, Portland OR (in conjunction with the Ecological Society of America's 2012 Annual Meeting
  • Action Plans laying out short-term goals of citizen science within USGS, DOI, and partner agencies.

General Thoughts and Suggestions

  • The focus should be on shedding light on existing projects within USGS and partners (including DOI), and educating others on how citizen science could help their studies/research
  • Provide WebEx access for folks who cannot attend the workshop in person
    • Include information in workshop summary/reports from projects/programs who are not represented in person at the workshop
    • Include abstract/summary of project along with contact information for each project/program - head start on this using Barbara Poore's inventory/survey
    • Goal to produce a document representing the current status of citizen science and research within the USGS/partner agencies
  • What can we glean/learn from existing projects in all the areas of interest?
  • Invite speakers from well established projects outside the USGS/partners realm (since many other groups are leaps ahead)
  • Those attending would learn how to set up new projects, technical aspects of citizen science projects (data management, standards adoption, technology choices, novel approaches), case studies of existing projects, dealing with challenges and breaking down barriers within the USGS and in the science world.
  • Create partnerships and relationships with other citizen science working groups and focus groups such as DataOne's Public Participation in Science and Research (PPSR), Cornell's Citizen Science Central, and others. Foster cross group pollination and share information:
    • Exchange and communicate ideas, plans, focus among groups
    • Leverage activities of DataOne's PPSR and Cornell group
      • Have two working group members (Jake Weltzin and Kelly Lotts) on the CDI CSWG who will act as liaisons with DataOne
  • Establish new CSWG focus groups and identify areas for future development and attention through the working group
    • Policy barriers
    • Best practices
    • Discovery/"Show and tell"
    • Training group

Other Workshop Ideas

Ideas for Sessions, Presentations, and Breakouts

Session Topic/Idea



Possible Outputs

Case studies of existing projects/Spotlight on established projects


  • Their project purpose, goals, reason for existence
  • Drivers behind starting the project
  • What are the data outputs?
  • Are there management decisions being made with the data?
  • Who are using the data?
  • How does it strengthen or integrate with USGS Science
  • Solicit expanded metadata/data survey ?
  • Typology of citizen science projects in USGS--active and passive (gathering data from social media)
  • Understanding citizen motivation
  • Detailed metadata records about the data collected (expand survey/inventory performed in Fall 2011)
  • How can CS data be assessed
  • How are CS data used, and by whom
  • Where the data are used, what standards it they utilizes, how it can be accessed, data sharing policy

Challenges, barriers, tough spots - what are the barriers you encountered establishing your citizen science project?


  • Challenges encountered in establishing or running citizen science projects
  • How did you deal with USGS policies and issues such as PII, etc.
  • USGS Volunteer Handbook doesn't clearly address web-scale Citizen Science.
  • What other barriers had to be overcome?
  • Knowledge-base of challenges and solutions from various projects/perspectives
  • How to motivate volunteers in active versus passive projects
  • Use of gamification as approach to spur interest/participation by other user communities

How to establish a citizen science project


  • How did you establish your project - what was the driver/need?
  • Policy issues
  • How to engage the public
  • Training citizen scientists
  • QA/QC of data
  • Analyzing data
  • Outputs/effect/evaluation needs
  • Roadmap of needs and decisions, how to start a citizen science project within the USGS
  • Mandated limits on collection of PII, other information
  • Security
  • Collection ethics
  • Quality resources and help documents used as guides
  • Data acquisition and management best practices

Standards adoption in citizen science projects


  • What standards are used?
  • What protocols are available?
  • Biological data standards used?
  • What has the adoption of standards allowed in your project?
  • Has it expanded data sharing capabilities? 
  • Other benefits the adoption of standards can bring?
  • Novel uses of the data by other scientists or in other programs/projects?
  • Knowledgebase from existing projects:
    • Standards used
    • Protocols used
    • Biological data standards used
    • Exchange schemas used
    • Examples of data exchange or integration

Technical aspects/Technology diversity in citizen science


  • Knowledge-base from existing projects
  • Developments or examples from existing projects
  • Pros/cons to consider with each
  • QA/QC Benefits of mobile data collection (Sally Holl TWSC)

Future Directions in USGS/Partner Citizen Science - formation of new focus groups within the CSWG


  • Discussions and kickoffs for new focus groups
    • Policy Barriers group
      • Address continuing or upcoming challenges
      • Include folks who have some kind of power to push issue resolution (or establish contacts with those who do have that power)
    • Discovery group
      • Continue the discovery and sharing of new/existing projects, establishing document store/knowledge-base of their activities
      • Scheduling meetings for future CSWG meetings, inviting or outreach to other USGS scientists
    • Training group
      • Have presenters demonstrate various how tos
  • Organize new focus groups
  • Brainstorm ideas for new focus groups needed
  • Solicit membership

Staffing (Planning, Execution, and Follow-up)

Proposed Workshop Planning Team

  • Jake Weltzin - NPN/USGS/member of D1 PPSR WG
  • Barbara Poore - USGS/CEGIS
  • Megan Hines - UW/USGS
  • Dave Govoni - USGS/OEI
  • Sue Hazlett - USGS/ERGC
  • Kelly Lotts - Montana State University/Representative back to D1
  • Eric Wolf - USGS/CEGIS
  • Elizabeth Sellers - USGS/BIP

Proposed Workshop Report Development Team

  • Elizabeth Sellers - USGS/BIP
  • Dave Govoni - USGS/OEI (tentative)

Proposed Website Development Team

  • Megan Hines - UW/USGS
  • Dave Govoni (Information Architecture design)

Logistics to Consider

Stolen shamelessly from 2011 CDI workshop planning.

  • Auditorium/large meeting room
  • Request for large meeting
  • Hotel reservation block
  • Email announcement
  • Projectors/laptops
  • Internet/Intranet access
  • Audio bridge (if expecting virtual participants)
  • WebEx large meeting (if expecting (large number of) virtual participants)
  • Coffee, snacks
  • Lunches
  • Name tags
  • Printed materials - Agenda, Participants & Guest List

Current Contributors

Govoni, David L. 101111
Hines, Megan K. 4210
Benson, Abigail L. 200
Sellers, Elizabeth A. 200


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