Blog Post

Meet the Board: Anne Bowser

Anne Bowser pictureThe Citizen Science Association is a rapidly growing organization with many new names and faces. Some of those faces are volunteering their time to lead this organization as Board Members. This post is part of an ongoing series we call “Meet the Board”, where you can learn more about the great people guiding the organization.

In this blog, you’ll meet Anne Bowser. Anne works at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. She focuses on (1) supporting citizen science in US agencies, (2) helping get more citizen science data used in research and decision-making, and (3) learning more about citizen science tools and technologies.

CSA: Anne, tell us a little about you. How did you become involved in citizen science?

Anne: Like many others I stumbled into citizen science. In 2011 I started a project doing social network analysis (SNA) using a new tool called NodeXL. People typically use SNA to look at networks of people, but my project used SNA to analyze the flow of biodiversity data between repositories including the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) and the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). I remember being completely awestruck by the data sharing that was happening and the incredible amount of citizen science information being passed between research networks. From there I started learning more about the field, and meeting incredible people in the process.

CSA: You work with the Wilson Center, a policy institute in Washington, D.C. and the website, which is a database of 300+ federal citizen science projects. What do you think are some of the unique characteristics of federal citizen science projects?

Anne: The easy way out is to say that we have a database of federally supported citizen science projects so that anyone can go through and parse what is “unique” about the projects in our Catalog versus, for example, the projects in SciStarter. My hunch: not that much.

What’s unique about our database is the institutional culture that it signifies. The Obama Administration made great strides to support citizen science in and beyond federal agencies. Congress re-authorized the America COMPETES Act, which further sanctions CS in government. The General Services Administration (GSA) now has staff dedicated to supporting citizen science in US federal agencies. And before all this, federal citizen science started as a grassroots movement rooted in different agencies with numerous leaders and advocates.

So coming back around to your question, I think what’s “special” if not necessarily “unique” about federal citizen science is the diversity of the CS projects that are supported by the US government. Each agency has the challenge and opportunity of figuring out how citizen science and crowdsourcing align with their mission and fostering activities accordingly. This diversity creates resilience by linking citizen science to agency culture, rather than strictly relying on top-down encouragement.  

CSA: You are co-chair, with Greg Newman (CSA Board Chair), of the Data and Metadata Working Group of the CSA. I’ve heard that the group is working on a metadata standard called PPSR CORE. Can you tell our members what that is and how they can be involved?

Anne: A number of organizations started cataloging projects to offer support, network practitioners, and/or track outcomes. Up-to-date information is valuable to project leaders and researchers, but the task of entering and maintaining this information in multiple places is cumbersome. PPSR CORE was started to create a metadata standard, or a common vocabulary for describing citizen science projects in databases such as the Federal Catalogue for Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science, SciStarter,, and the Atlas of Living Australia.

These databases are now sharing information on citizen science projects using APIs. We will continue to work on the PPSR CORE metadata standard to cover different aspects of citizen science. For example, different groups organized in CSA and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA) are looking at expanding PPSR CORE to document things like the intellectual property and mechanisms used to described data quality. Building off of this, we hope to work towards a new observational data standard, PPSR DATA, which will help different citizen science projects produce interoperable information. People who want to be involved should join the CSA Data and Metadata Working Group!

CSA: Where can members learn more about PPSR Core?

Anne: This blog post lists some of the objectives we set in early 2016. Information about the evolving standard itself is hosted on (with APIs!) and the Wilson Center website.

CSA: You’ve mentioned that one of the key challenges for the Citizen Science Association is coordinating with across communities both within and related to citizen science (ie. makers, DIY biologists, etc) and determining our core community. As a member of the board, what new insight do you have about addressing this key challenge?

Anne: Unfortunately very little, but I’m trying to learn. In October I had the privilege of attending the first Arizona State University Citizen Science and Maker Summit, which was held to bring together “citizen science” and “maker” communities to find common ground. I came away from the summit believing that many collaborations between these communities will be grassroots and motivated by a shared sense of place.

For CSA, I think the challenge is making sure we provide support and resources to all communities who want to participate while also building relationships with communities who don’t quite consider citizen science or CSA their home. Individuals who identify with multiple communities—e.g., citizen science and environmental justice—will be crucial for helping CSA understand who we should reach out to and how.

CSA: You often use ethnographic methodologies such as interviews and focus groups, as well as participatory design in your research projects. Do you have suggestions about resources our members might explore to learn more about these types of methodologies for their work?

Interviews and focus groups are definitely ethnographic methodologies. But I haven’t really done any true participant observation in citizen science, which would involve looking at a project from the perspective of participant or volunteer. I would love to do this, but I need to find the right citizen science community and spend some time contributing to it first. Thanks for the idea!
There’s a lot of great participatory design in citizen science. In the US, Public Lab is a community that co-designs tools for a range of monitoring contexts. Across the ocean, the COBWEB project (Citizen Observatory Web) and the Sapelli app both use participatory design to customize mobile technologies for different local contexts.  

CSA: Thanks for sharing your stories with us Anne!
Anne: Thank you!

Introduce yourself to Anne on Twitter @annebowser and check out some of her work at the Wilson Lab.

Anne works at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC. She focuses on (1) supporting citizen science in US agencies, (2) helping get more citizen science data used in research and decision-making, and (2) learning more about citizen science tools and technologies. Before the Wilson Center Anne was a PhD student at the University of Maryland, where she studied methods for involving users in citizen science technology design. In her spare time Anne likes to read fiction, go to museums, and cook overly complicated things.

Interviews are conducted by Sarah Newman on behalf of the CSA Web/Communications Working Group. You can find Sarah tweeting about citizen science @snewman14 @CitSci and @CitSciAssoc

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