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National Open Government Plan Released Today, includes Citizen Science, Crowdmapping

Advancing Open and Citizen-Centered Government, OSTP Blog

“Today, the United States released our third Open Government National Action Plan, announcing more than 40 new or expanded initiatives to advance the President’s commitment to an open and citizen-centered government.

The release is part of our membership in the Open Government Partnership — launched by President Obama and seven other heads of state — which in just 4 years has grown from 8 to now 66 countries. Member countries and their civil society partners are all working to increase public integrity, enhance public access to information, improve management of public resources, and give the public a more active voice in government processes. As a member of the Open Government Partnership, the United States issues Open Government National Action Plans outlining ambitious commitments to advance open government every 2 years.

The release of this plan coincides with the Open Government Partnership Summit taking place this week in Mexico City, where more than 2,000 open government reformers from member governments and civil society organizations are gathering.”


Citizen science was mentioned in the Third Open Government National Action Plan, released today, including

Open Science (p. 9-10):

  • Encourage Increased Public Participation in Open Science Using Low cost Scientific Instruments. One step that the Federal government could take to increase participation in citizen science and crowdsourcing is to develop hardware and software tools that are affordable, easy to use, and easy to improve.The Administration will kick off an interagency dialogue to identify best practices for how the Federal government can foster the development of low-cost scientific instrumentation and work with stakeholders through workshops and ideation challenges to identify opportunities for getting them into the hands of volunteers, such as air-quality monitors or wearables for monitoring personal health. Using these low-cost scientific instruments, volunteers can contribute their expertise to help advance a variety of scientific and society goals.

3. Engage the Public on our Nation’s Greatest Challenge (p. 12-13), including:

  • “The EPA will expand the use of citizen science approaches in environmental research by engaging amateur beekeepers to provie data to better understand the effects of environmental stressors and by engaging citizen scientists in research on harmful algal blooms using smartphone microscopy.”
  • “The USGS will roll out Science Cache, a web and mobile-based app for engaging the public in citizen science projects, such as finding huckleberry plants in Glacier National Park and taking pictures and recording data to inform research on climate change impacts.”
  • “The National Archives will expand its citizen archivist program that makes records more accessible online to include citizen-scanning of federal records in the agency’s new Innovation Hub.”
  • “Federal agencies will catalog their current open innovation activities including prizes, challenges, citizen science, and crowdsourcing activities…In addition, GSA will create a new project database that lists citizen science and crowdsourcing projects from across government.”

4. Collaborate with Citizen and Global Cartographers in Open Mapping (p. 13), including State Department, USAID, Peace Corps, and USGS will continue and expand crowdsourcing mapping efforts.

NEW US Govt Accountability Office Report on Geospatial Data

Geospatial Data: Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts (GAO-15-193, Released March 16, 2015).Federal agencies and state governments use a variety of geospatial datasets to support their missions. For example, after Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the Federal Emergency Management Agency used geospatial data to identify 44,000 households that were damaged and inaccessible and reported that, as a result, it was able to provide expedited assistance to area residents. Federal agencies report spending billions of dollars on geospatial investments; however, the estimates are understated because agencies do not always track geospatial investments. For example, these estimates do not include billions of dollars spent on earth-observing satellites that produce volumes of geospatial data. The Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have started an initiative to have agencies identify and report annually on geospatial-related investments as part of the fiscal year 2017 budget process.

FGDC and selected federal agencies have made progress in implementing their responsibilities for the National Spatial Data Infrastructure as outlined in OMB guidance; however, critical items remain incomplete. For example, the committee established a clearinghouse for records on geospatial data, but the clearinghouse lacks an effective search capability and performance monitoring. FGDC also initiated plans and activities for coordinating with state governments on the collection of geospatial data; however, state officials GAO contacted are generally not satisfied with the committee’s efforts to coordinate with them. Among other reasons, they feel that the committee is focused on a federal perspective rather than a national one, and that state recommendations are often ignored. In addition, selected agencies have made limited progress in their own strategic planning efforts and in using the clearinghouse to register their data to ensure they do not invest in duplicative data. For example, 8 of the committee’s 32 member agencies have begun to register their data on the clearinghouse, and they have registered 59 percent of the geospatial data they deemed critical. Part of the reason that agencies are not fulfilling their responsibilities is that OMB has not made it a priority to oversee these efforts. Until OMB ensures that FGDC and federal agencies fully implement their responsibilities, the vision of improving the coordination of geospatial information and reducing duplicative investments will not be fully realized.

OMB guidance calls for agencies to eliminate duplication, avoid redundant expenditures, and improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the sharing and dissemination of geospatial data. However, some data are collected multiple times by federal, state, and local entities, resulting in duplication in effort and resources. A new initiative to create a national address database could potentially result in significant savings for federal, state, and local governments. However, agencies face challenges in effectively coordinating address data collection efforts, including statutory restrictions on sharing certain federal address data. Until there is effective coordination across the National Spatial Data Infrastructure, there will continue to be duplicative efforts to obtain and maintain these data at every level of government.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information—data linked to specific geographic locations—to help support varied missions, including national security and natural resources conservation. To coordinate geospatial activities, in 1994 the President issued an executive order to develop a National Spatial Data Infrastructure—a framework for coordination that includes standards, data themes, and a clearinghouse. GAO was asked to review federal and state coordination of geospatial data.

GAO’s objectives were to (1) describe the geospatial data that selected federal agencies and states use and how much is spent on geospatial data; (2) assess progress in establishing the National Spatial Data Infrastructure; and (3) determine whether selected federal agencies and states invest in duplicative geospatial data. To do so, GAO identified federal and state uses of geospatial data; evaluated available cost data from 2013 to 2015; assessed FGDC’s and selected agencies’ efforts to establish the infrastructure; and analyzed federal and state datasets to identify duplication.

What GAO Recommends

GAO suggests that Congress consider assessing statutory limitations on address data to foster progress toward a national address database. GAO also recommends that OMB improve its oversight of FGDC and federal agency initiatives, and that FGDC and selected agencies fully implement initiatives. The agencies generally agreed with the recommendations and identified plans to implement them.

For more information, contact David A. Powner at (202) 512-9286 or

PDF of Report and Full Recommendations can be downloaded here.

Read More…

Why Maps Matter

by Frank Konkel, FCW, March 17, 2014

And as mapping technology advances, it allows for far more than foolproof directions. Federal agencies now use geospatial data, geo-analytics and multi-layered maps for myriad purposes, including gathering intelligence, predicting disease outbreaks and sharing data pools with the public.

For full text of the article, please click here.

NEW US Gov Accountability Report on Geospatial Information

Geospatial Information: Office of Management and Budget and Agencies Can Reduce Duplication By Making Coordination a Priority

GAO-14-226T, Dec 5, 2013

The President and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have established policies and procedures for coordinating investments in geospatial data, however, in November 2012, GAO reported that governmentwide committees and federal departments and agencies had not effectively implemented them. The committee that was established to promote the coordination of geospatial data nationwide–the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC)–had developed and endorsed key standards and had established a clearinghouse of metadata. GAO found that the clearinghouse was not being used by agencies to identify planned geospatial investments to promote coordination and reduce duplication. In addition, the committee had not yet fully planned for or implemented an approach to manage geospatial data as related groups of investments to allow agencies to more effectively plan geospatial data collection efforts and minimize duplicative investments, and its strategic plan was missing key elements.

Other shortfalls have impaired progress in coordinating geospatial data. Specifically, none of the three federal departments in GAO’s review had fully implemented important activities such as preparing and implementing a strategy for advancing geospatial activities within their respective departments. Moreover, the agencies in GAO’s review responsible for governmentwide management of specific geospatial data had implemented some but not all key activities for coordinating the national coverage of specific geospatial data.

While OMB has oversight responsibilities for geospatial data, GAO reported in November 2012 that according to OMB staff, the agency did not have complete and reliable information to identify potentially duplicative geospatial investments. GAO also reported that FGDC, federal departments and agencies, and OMB had not yet fully implemented policies and procedures for coordinating geospatial investments because these efforts had not been a priority. As a result, efforts to acquire data were uncoordinated and the federal government acquired duplicative geospatial data. For example, a National Geospatial Advisory Committee representative stated that a commercial provider leases the same proprietary parcel data to six federal agencies. GAO concluded that unless the key entities determined that coordinating geospatial investments was a priority, the federal government would continue to acquire duplicative geospatial information and waste taxpayer dollars.

Why GAO Did This Study

The federal government collects, maintains, and uses geospatial information–information linked to specific geographic locations–to support many functions, including national security and disaster response. In 2012, the Department of the Interior estimated that the federal government was investing billions of dollars on geospatial data annually, and that duplication was common.

In November 2012, GAO reported on efforts to reduce duplicative investments in geospatial data, focusing on OMB, FGDC, and three agencies: the Departments of Commerce, the Interior, and Transportation.

This statement summarizes the results of that November 2012 report on progress and challenges in coordinating geospatial information and includes updates on the implementation of recommendations made in that report.

What GAO Recommends

GAO is making no new recommendations in this statement. In November 2012, GAO recommended that to improve coordination and reduce duplication, FGDC develop a national strategy for coordinating geospatial investments; federal agencies follow federal guidance for managing geospatial investments; and OMB develop a mechanism to identify and report on geospatial investments. Since that time, FGDC and several agencies have taken some steps to implement the recommendations. However, additional actions are still needed.

WEBCAST EVENT: New Visions for Citizen Science

Please note NEW DATE:
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
from 1:00 – 5:00 PM EDT
Woodrow Wilson Center
Ronald Reagan Building
1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC
RSVP to participate in person:
Watch the live webcast here:
Organizations can bolster their internal resources with contributions from outside volunteers. These contributions bring new and unique perspectives to advance science and technology or generate solutions to complex challenges. However, it is sometimes unclear which problems open innovation and science can solve, or which technologies and processes can support projects in federal agencies.
The Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars seeks to help federal agencies understand how open innovation and science can support community and agency goals. In collaboration with the Africa Program and ESCP, we are hosting “New Visions for Citizen Science,” the first in a series of roundtable discussions on open innovation and science, on Wednesday, Nov 20, 2013 from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. EDT in the 6th floor dining room at the Wilson Center in Washington, DC.
This roundtable will connect federal agencies hoping to initiate or expand open innovation projects with leaders from the field of citizen science, a well-established form of mass collaboration where volunteers contribute to scientific research.
Citizen science projects have demonstrated success with a range of methodologies and diverse groups of volunteers. Projects range from classifying galaxies and collecting environmental data to collectively solving the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme through a protein-folding game. These projects increase knowledge, support education, and influence management policies and practices.
By highlighting new approaches in citizen science, we hope to help federal agencies better understand these key considerations:
  • What technologies support volunteer data collection, analysis, and problem solving?
  • How can volunteer data be integrated with formal data sets?
  • How can open innovation and citizen science inform decision-making?
  • What are the science, management, and policy impacts of citizen science?
  • How do we measure success?
Speakers include:
  • Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (invited)
  • Dr. Tom Kalil, Deputy Director for Technology & Innovation, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (invited)
  • Dr. Jake F. Weltzin, Ecologist, U.S. Geological Survey, and Executive Director, USA National Phenology Network
  • Dr. Lina Nilsson, Innovation Director, Blum Center for Developing Economies, UC-Berkeley, and Founder, Tekla Labs
  • Erin Heaney, Director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York
  • Dr. Stuart Lynn, Astronomer, Adler Planetarium, and Zooniverse
RSVP to participate in person:
Watch the live webcast here:



Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities

As an undergraduate in physics many years ago, I asked my adviser about whether to pursue a career in GIScience. His response — “women are not as good spatial thinkers as men.” But research demonstrates otherwise — it’s nurture, not nature. This research, published in the highly distinguished Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reveals that the “gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society.” It’s about education, not gender.

Nurture affects gender differences in spatial abilities

Moshe Hoffman, Uri Gneezy, and John A. List

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences — Volume 108, Number 36 (2011) 14786–14788

Women remain significantly underrepresented in the science, engineering, and technology workforce. Some have argued that spatial ability differences, which represent the most persistent gender differences in the cognitive literature, are partly responsible for this gap. The underlying forces at work shaping the observed spatial ability differences revolve naturally around the relative roles of nature and nurture. Although these forces remain among the most hotly debated in all of the sciences, the evidence for nurture is tenuous, because it is difficult to compare gender differences among biologically similar groups with distinct nurture. In this study, we use a large-scale incentivized experiment with nearly 1,300 participants to show that the gender gap in spatial abilities, measured by time to solve a puzzle, disappears when we move from a patrilineal society to an adjoining matrilineal society. We also show that about one-third of the effect can be explained by differences in education. Given that none of our participants have experience with puzzle solving and that villagers from both societies have the same means of subsistence and shared genetic background, we argue that these results show the role of nurture in the gender gap in cognitive abilities. Download PDF Here


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