If Citizens Can Help Explore Galaxies, Unfold Proteins, Track Birds and Transcribe Texts, Why Can't They Help Analyse Government Data?

Craig Thomler | GovLoop | July 5, 2012

One area of Gov 2.0 I really think hasn't been thoroughly considered or adopted by many governments, including in Australia, is the process of having citizens help in the creation, exploration and analysis of data. Is it due to a lack of time, money, imagination or courage? I don't know, but I would dearly love to see more government agencies consider how they could engage citizens in crowdsourcing initiatives that could help society.

Let me give a few examples of what I mean. Galaxy Zoo is a collaborative effort from a range of universities and astronomers to classify galaxies in our universe. The site launched in 2007 with a paltry one million galaxies visualised. The site worked by allowing people to register to classify galaxies (as either spiral or elliptical), with multiple classifications used to verify that each classification was correct.

The team behind the site thought it might take two years to classify all million galaxies, however within 24 hours of launch, the site was receiving 70,000 classifications an hour. In total more than 50 million classifications were received by the project during its first year, from almost 150,000 people. This effort was so successful that the team took a selection of 250,000 galaxies and asked people to analyse them for more detailed information, calling this Galaxy Zoo 2. Over 14 months users helped the team make over 60,000,000 classifications.

This work has led into a number of lines of research and supported scientists in understanding more about how our universe works...