Those networks already securely provide an environment for microblogging, private messaging, profiles, administered groups, directories, and secure external networks of partners. Conversations may be fully archived and are searchable with tags, topics, and links to documents and images. The technology is accelerating rapidly and will surely be part of the expectations for the next generation of EPA scientists. As the new technologies are emerging, consolidating, and maturing, following such changes closely would help EPA to make anticipatory decisions for adopting the appropriate technology that provides the greatest benefit to the agency at the least cost.
Example of Using Emerging Science to Address Regulatory Issues and Support Decision-Making: Crowdsourcing
Massive online collaboration, or crowdsourcing, can be defined as the “sourcing [of] tasks traditionally performed by specific individuals to an undefined large group of people [or community]—the crowd—through an open call. For example, the public can be invited to help develop a new technology, carry out a design task, [propose policy solutions,] or help capture, systematize, or analyze large amounts of data—also known as citizen science” (Ferebee 2011). With a well-designed process, crowdsourcing can help assemble the data, expertise, and resources required to perform a task or solve a problem by allowing people and organizations to collaborate freely and openly across disciplinary and geographic boundaries. The emergence of crowdsourcing, such as citizen science, with widely dispersed sensors will produce vast amounts of new data from low-cost unstructured sources. This can inform multiple domains of environmental science, but may have the greatest potential for monitoring environmental conditions and creating more refined models of human exposure.
The idea behind regulatory crowdsourcing is that many areas of regulation today, from air and water quality to food safety and financial services, could benefit by having a larger number of informed people helping to gather, classify, and analyze shared pools of publicly accessible data. Such data can be used to educate the public, enhance science, inform public policy-making, or even spur regulatory enforcement actions. Indeed, there are many arenas in which experts and enthusiasts, if asked, would help to provide data or to analyze existing data.
EPA is no stranger to crowdsourcing. With such peers as NASA and CDC, EPA is a pioneer and visible leader in collaborative science. One example is its use of broad networks to engage outside environmental problem-solvers, for example, through the Federal Environmental Research Network, InnoCentive challenges, and the Challenge.gov Web site (Preuss 2011). More recent examples of using the public to gather information are discussed in Box 3-1. Broad community participation has led to a wide array of new data sources to provide a baseline for monitoring the effects of climate change on local tree species, for wildlife toxicology mapping, and for real-time water-quality monitoring.