GAO cites ECAST: “Practices to Engage Citizens and Effectively Implement Federal Initiatives”

By acrall | October 21, 2016 2:48 pm

In-person forums and online platform used by ECAST to gather data for the Asteroid Data Hunter Challenge

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) is the investigative arm of Congress charged with examining matters relating to the receipt and payment of public funds.  This week, the GAO published a new report on ways federal government agencies can engage and collaborate with multiple entities and individuals external to these agencies to address existing and future challenges facing the nation.  The report identifies and provides examples of best strategies for open innovation defined as “using various tools and approaches to harness the ideas, expertise, and resources of those outside an organization to address an issue or achieve specific goals.”  GAO identified five open innovation strategies currently practiced by federal government agencies: idea generation; open data collaboration; open dialogue; prize competition or challenge; and crowdsourcing and citizen science.  

One of the strong examples of open innovation initiatives cited in the report was the Asteroid Data Hunter challenge.  This challenge was a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the Expert and Citizen Assessment of Science and Technology (ECAST).  ECAST was cofounded by the following institutional partners who encourage public input on science and technology policy issues: Arizona State University, Loka Institute, Museum of Science, Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, SciStarter and Science Cheerleader.  For this initiative, ECAST held a number of in-person and online Asteroid Initiative Citizen Forums to gather information on individual preferences, priorities, and values relevant to asteroid issues.  NASA used these data to inform decisions on ways to detect, mitigate threats from, and explore asteroids.  The forums also assisted NASA in better understanding how to engage the public in the work that they do.  “It’s incredibly validating to have the US Government Accountability Office single out our approach in this report,” said Darlene Cavalier, one of the founders of ECAST. “I’m very proud of the collective efforts of the ECAST team, including those from Science Cheerleader and SciStarter.” Want to learn more about this and other open initiatives identified by the GAO?  You can read the full report here.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Space & Physics

Enter EPA’s Smart City Air Challenge!

By Guest | October 19, 2016 10:07 am


What if you had access to air quality data — minute-by- minute — from hundreds of locations in your community at the same time? How would you manage that data– and how would you share it with your local residents? The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering two communities $40,000 each to help figure that out.

Currently, environmental agencies evaluate air quality using stationary monitors that measure pollutants in a few locations selected to be representative of air quality in each metropolitan area. But new technology is rapidly developing that make the devices for measuring air quality less expensive – and portable. While they’re not yet suitable for regulatory use, these new sensors offer communities several benefits. People can use these sensors –which generally cost less than $2,000 — to easily collect highly localized, real-time data. In addition, low-cost sensors can become a part of the “Internet of Things” (IoT), streaming data to the Internet so people can access it in real time. With this data, communities can harness analytical tools to understand local air pollution levels and their environment.

A factory smokestack in New Jersey emits pollutants into the atmosphere. Photo Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A factory smokestack in New Jersey emits pollutants into the atmosphere.
Photo Credit: UN Photo/John Isaac (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Smart City Air Challenge invites communities to submit strategies that describe how they will deploy the sensors and manage the data. In order to qualify, a local government agency will need to partner with other parties that provide services, such as sensor manufacturers, data management agencies, environmental organizations, and citizen groups. Communities can range from neighborhoods to counties and tribes. Applications will have to describe the level of accuracy and precision of the sensors and how they will ensure these attributes.

Join the challenge today and use the power of big data and citizen science to understand local environmental conditions. The challenge launched on August 30 and applicants have until October 28 to submit their strategies. Winners will be announced in the fall of 2016. EPA will evaluate the strategies and award prizes of up to $40,000 each to two communities. After a year, EPA will evaluate the accomplishments and collaboration of the two communities and award up to an additional $10,000 to each community. To learn more, visit the Smart City Air Challenge website and submit applications by October 28.


Whenever, wherever, you and citizen science are meant to be together

By Eva Lewandowski | October 13, 2016 9:39 pm


If you can see this, you can advance scientific research right now!
Below, our editors highlight five, digital citizen science projects you can do online now!  Find more with the Scistarter Project Finder.
The SciStarter Team

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Saving California’s Seals and Sea Lions

By Sharman Apt Russell | October 11, 2016 9:58 pm

We tend to think of famine in human terms. But animal populations also experience wide-spread hunger, and the hundreds of emaciated young seals and sea lions stranded on California beaches in the past year were a poignant example.

Fortunately, a large team of citizen scientists at The Marine Mammal Center—an animal hospital and research institute north of San Francisco—were ready for the challenge. Twenty-eight crews of 15-20 people worked day and night shifts to rescue and rehabilitate the starving pups and yearlings. By July, 2016, about 1200 volunteers and 50 staff members had fought to save 380 sea lions, 220 elephant seals, 120 harbor seals, and 20 Guadalupe fur seals.  Read More

Citizen science pushes Hawai’i Department of Health to act on beach pollution

By Carolyn Graybeal | October 7, 2016 9:47 am

For the past seven years, citizen scientist volunteers with the Kaua’i chapter of the Surfrider Foundation Beach Watch Task Force have been testing the waters at 27 recreational sites along the Kaua’i coastline. This summer they achieved a victory when the Hawai’i Department of Health (HDOH) finally acknowledged the concerning levels of pollution in local streams and beaches. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment

Understanding the Rhythms of the Desert: Citizen Science, Committed Communities, Public Libraries and SciStarter

By Arvind Suresh (Editor) | October 6, 2016 9:25 am

A guest post from the Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT) community in Apache Junction, AZ.

Understanding the Rhythms of the Desert: A Citizen Science and Lending Library Program 

Presented by: The Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT), SciStarter, Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society,, & The Apache Junction Public Library

SALT citizen science apache junctionThe Superstition Area Land Trust (SALT) is aware of the importance and need for credible scientific information to guide wise land use decisions and management.  SALT understands that communities and citizens who live, work and play on these lands can benefit from a greater understanding and appreciation of the scientific method of investigation and scientific information.  Citizens provided opportunities to participate in the practice of scientific study, data interpretation, and integration of results into decision making processes will develop a much greater appreciation of the many benefits science offers societies.  

SALT is forming a partnership with SciStarter, City of Apache Junction’s Public Library, Arizona State University and others to develop a citizen science program to allow the citizens of the region to become involved in the study of the components, interrelationships and rhythms of the natural world within which they live, work and play.  SciStarter is a unique organization dedicated to aiding citizens in finding, joining and contributing to science through more than 1600 formal and informal research projects and events (

The program will offer a menu of modules that will allow participants to take on small study segments in the beginning and add more as their interests and curiosities increase. This program is designed to include people of all ages, from all backgrounds and experiences that are interested in science and want to become more knowledgeable of and experienced in its practice.

The base program will offer two modules: 1) The El Nino; and 2) The Garden Roots.  The El Nino is part of and shares environmental data with scientists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  The Garden Roots program, offered by the University of Arizona, is designed to Evaluate environmental quality and the potential exposure to contaminants of concern (COC) near resource extraction and hazardous waste sites. It provides results to participants, families and others in order to influence community prevention practices and environmental decision-making.

The program is designed with simplicity and participant involvement in mind.  Most training is available online from SciStarter at and  Equipment will be provided at the Apache Junction Public Library via SciStarter and ASU’s new prototype Citizen Science Lending Library and with  support from Youth Learning as Citizen Environmental Scientists (   New SciStarter El Nino Citizen Science Kits have been created as part of this pilot program. Citizen Scientists can enter their data online with personal computers, smart phone apps, and/or computers at the library. We hope to have everything up and running by early November, 2016

If you’re interested in learning more, go to  and leave your name, email address and phone number and we will contact you with updates on the program, information on how to register, obtain training and get started as a Citizen Scientist.

Meet SALT community members, learn more about this program, the tools, and the lending library at the ASU Citizen Science Maker Summit October 27-28!


Stall Catchers: A Citizen Science Game to Combat Alzheimer’s

By Guest | October 1, 2016 11:30 am

Guest post by Egle Marija Ramanauskaite

Some of you have been keen to hear more news about the project to fight Alzheimer’s – EyesOnALZ (formerly known as WeCureALZ), which we introduced in the earlier posts of this series. And guess what – we have big news to tell! And a brand new citizen science game to invite you to! Don’t worry if you’re hearing about the project for the first time though – we will tell you all about it! Read More

Protect Your Local Watershed: Become a Streamkeeper!

By Guest | September 30, 2016 1:59 pm

By: Nohra Murad and Jenny Cutraro

Maintaining clean waterways: it’s a challenge confronted at the local level by communities across the globe. Stormwater runoff, trash, even sewage overflow, often contaminate urban waterways, degrading wildlife habitat, reducing opportunities for recreation, and placing drinking water supplies at risk.

Stormwater pipe. Image Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Stormwater pipe. Image Credit: Chesapeake Bay Program (CC BY-NC 2.0)

To confront this challenge, citizen scientists across the country have come together to monitor and protect their watersheds. One such example is Tookany/Tacony-Frankford (TTF) Watershed, Inc., a partnership between researchers and enthusiastic Philadelphia-area residents working together to take care of the watershed, or network of streams, creeks, and other bodies of water, that drains into the Delaware River . The initiative exists to identify and service areas of the Tookany/Tacony Frankford Watershed that need cleaning up in order to provide clean water for recreation. Most of these areas are in suburban neighborhoods near the Takoony Creek in Montgomery County, which becomes Tacony-Frankford Creek when it crosses the border into Philadelphia. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Citizen Science, Environment

Make Some Noise for Citizen Science!

By Eva Lewandowski | September 29, 2016 11:45 am
Listen Up!

unnamedScientists need your help with a variety of audio-based research projects. Monitor noise levels near you; record sparrows’ songs to discover variations; track killer whales through audio recordings; and more!  Below, our editors highlight four citizen science projects focused on sounds.  Find more with the SciStarter Project Finder.

The SciStarter Team

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MORE ABOUT: noise, sound

Finding The First Project For Your Classroom

By Jenny Cutraro | September 29, 2016 11:31 am

In his second post, guest contributor Ben Graves shares his advice for identifying a citizen science project for the classroom. Ben Graves is a fellow with the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation, which supports a small cohort of early-career teachers across the United States with intensive professional development. He teaches AP Environmental Science and freshman environmental science at Delta High School, a rural school in Western Colorado.

This post is part of our Science Educator series. We encourage readers to continue the conversation by adding their own comments, question or concerns on our Facebook page. You’ll find the link at the end of this story. Read More


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Citizen Science Salon, brought to you by SciStarter, is where science enthusiasts can join forces with top researchers. We'll feature weekly collaborative, crowdsourced, and DIY research projects that relate to what you're reading about in Discover, so you can take science into your own hands. You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

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