Alfred P. Sloan Foundation awards $600,000 grant to Commons Lab to continue mass collaboration work

November 20th, 2013
The Commons Lab of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars has received a two-year, $600,000 grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to continue its work on innovative governance in the age of open innovation and mass collaboration.

Established in 2011, the Wilson Center's Commons Lab seeks to understand how emerging technologies like mobile devices, social media, and sensor networks can help to unlock a greater potential for mass collaboration, like crowdsourcing and citizen science. The Sloan Foundation grant will allow the Commons Lab to work with government, academic, industry, and nonprofit partners, as well as volunteers, to study ways to improve the use of mass collaboration in data collection, analysis, and problem-solving.

According to Commons Lab director Lea Shanley, mass collaboration can produce accurate data with a wide range of uses, and can do so quickly and cost-effectively. It allows the public to contribute to scientific research and encourages civic participation in government and local communities. Yet even though "the crowd" has been mobilized to accomplish fascinating and important work—such as collecting environmental data, providing time-critical information to emergency responders, and discovering the structure of an AIDS-related enzyme through a protein-folding game—questions remain about the quality and utility of crowdsourced data.

In addition to these questions, effective mass collaboration faces significant social, legal, and institutional obstacles. To engage the public through open innovation, Shanley says, "the government must overcome numerous legal and policy challenges involving privacy, intellectual property, Paperwork Reduction Act restrictions, procurement regulations, cybersecurity, and liability. It can be quite daunting and time consuming."

"Researchers are already demonstrating how to use mass collaboration to advance the frontiers of knowledge," says Josh Greenberg, Director of the Sloan Foundation's Digital Information Technology program. "We're thrilled to be supporting the Wilson Center's efforts to further empower scientists, break down institutional barriers to collaboration, and unlock the transformative power of the crowd."

The Commons Lab will explore new ways to overcome these barriers and help make mass collaboration more trustworthy, efficient, and actionable. It will conduct legal and policy research to address current challenges, evaluate and suggest ways to increase the impact of collective problem solving on public sector policies and practices, and conduct pilot projects, such as mobile app and sensor development for environmental monitoring. In addition, the Wilson Center will help foster and sustain a community of practice by functioning as a non-partisan bridge organization.

On Nov. 20, the Commons Lab will host its first event under the new grant, "New Visions for Citizen Science," a conversation on open innovation and citizen science featuring Kumar Garg of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and Bob Perciasepe of the Environmental Protection Agency. For more information, please visit: http://bit.ly/1cdBZyp

A corresponding report will be released looking at seventeen case studies of federally sponsored citizen science and open innovation projects, from in-the-field data collection to online games for collective problem-solving. The report can be downloaded here: http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/NewVisionsInCitizenScience.pdf

Provided by Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars/Science and Technology Innovation Program

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