Eva Cabanach

Commons Lab Inventory: a Platform for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Projects


Amidst the growing number of civically engaged public events, federally led hackathons, and public development projects, the question has arisen, where can all these projects and information sources be consolidated?

Commons Lab Inventory, is a project with the mission of tackling global affairs and informing actionable ideas with an emphasis on issues related to science and technology. Their main goal is to support a growing community of federal agencies engaging the public through crowdsourcing, citizen science, and open source innovation.

For the first time researchers, government officials, and citizens interested in developing solutions through data can filter by project topic, agency sponsor or partner, geographic scope, participant age, or intended outcome.

“Our partnership with CartoDB began after we already had a prototype. CartoDB offered a complete re-design of the interface (as well as implementing important functionality) that was much more consistent with our brand,” said Anne Bowser, co-director of Commons Lab.

The main push behind this project is to get U.S. government agencies to identify the synergies between them and publicize and mobilize public participation and innovation in science, technology, and policy, through research development. Right now, there are 102 projects that belong to 19 agencies. Bowser has identified this as an opportunity, explaining, “We also see the inventory as a research tool, valuable for providing a ‘snapshot’ of what federally funded citizen science looks like in 2015. Here, the current database could be particularly valuable if it was expanded to an international scope — or, if federal projects were compared to projects in other databases.”

The Commons Lab database illustrates what is possible by highlighting existing projects, and shows what is successful by illustrating different aspects of project design. The database can show areas where where certain gaps may lie.

The platform is a web application based on HTML5 and Javascript technologies, using CartoDB as data and visualization backend. A CartoDB partner, iCarto, has worked jointly with the Commons Lab team in designing a new interaction scheme, developing an user interface more consistent with its brand and creating a data model to support its process and work methodology.

The Commons Lab project has been selected for inclusion by the White House in its Citizen Science Toolkit. “The inventory is currently featured on the landing page of the Federal Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Toolkit, and we couldn’t be happier,” Bowser says.

What’s next for the project? Sharing the open source code, so that others may build on CartoDB’s work directly. Bowser would like the Commons Lab to assist other agencies in their efforts to use existing code to create a database but are just as excited about a “project database that could be linked to actual datasets that the public could access and use.”

Happy data mapping!

About the author
Eva Cabanach

Eva earned a degree in advertising and PR in Madrid. She then moved to London, where she received a diploma in digital marketing and spent four years working at multinational corporations. She became member of the CARTO team in 2015.
She enjoys reading, shopping, and finding the best spots to enjoy good food.

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