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Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program


A group of volunteers with clipboards sits in a boulder field between snow-capped mountains with coniferous trees.
2018 Awardee: Front Range Pika Project volunteers learn to do field research on American Pika in the the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Photo by Erica Prather.

The CitSci Fund

The USDA Forest Service delivers world-class science, technology, and land management to sustain the Nation's forests and grasslands in collaboration with communities and our partners. In 2017, the agency launched the Citizen Science Competitive Funding Program (CitSci Fund) to support innovative projects that address science and resource management information needs while connecting people to the land and one another. Together, partners, volunteers, and the Forest Service are using the data and information gathered to shape the management of forests and conservation of resources.
 

GOALS

  • Expand and strengthen the practice of citizen science in agency programs.
  • Advance science and resource management through sound citizen science project design.
  • Stimulate partnerships that address mutually beneficial outcomes, expand capacity, and leverage expertise and resources.
  • Provide opportunities for meaningful engagement by the public in agency activities.
  • Offer opportunities for peer-to-peer learning for agency and partners.

 

The CitSci Fund is a collaborative approach to resource management – each project will have one Forest Service Project Lead and one Partner Project Lead, and demonstrate how volunteers are meaningfully involved. The competition is open to all Forest Service units along with their partners. All recipients participate in a learning cohort intended to accelerate learning and success of projects.

The project incubator model is uniquely designed to nurture projects in different phases of development through coaching, training, and shared learning. Projects can enter the incubator at any Phase and then apply for the consecutive Phase during the next eligible funding cycle. Projects that successfully complete Phase 3, are considered “model projects” that could be replicated on other Forest Service units. Over the course of the incubator, projects are eligible to receive up to $60,000 over the course of 6 years.

The incubator has three phases of funding for projects in every stage of maturity:

  • Phase 1: Ideation and Design - up to $10,000
  • Phase 2: Implementation - up to $30,000
  • Phase 3: Ongoing Implementation and Knowledge Transfer - up to $20,000
     

CitSci Fund Awardees 

2020 Awardees

2019 Awardees

2018 Awardees
 

REQUEST FOR PROPOSALS

Update 10/27/2021 - For FY22, we hope to be able to revive the competitive CitSci Fund, but no firm decision has been made yet as of October 2021.  The 2022 request for proposals is still on hold.   If the CitSci Fund is indeed a "go", the competition will likely take place in early spring 2022. We will share an update when the official decision has been made.  Please subscribe to our mailing list for updates.

ALL APPLICATION INFORMATION BELOW IS FOR 2019 - FOR REFERENCE ONLY.

The 2017 Citizen Science Act (Sec. 402 of the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act), grants federal science agencies the direct, explicit authority to use crowdsourcing and citizen science and encourages it's appropriate use to facilitate broader public participation in the innovation process.

Project Criteria

  • Open to all Forest Service & partners
  • Each project must have a USFS Partner Lead and a Partner Project Lead with a partnership agreement ready to be put into place upon receipt of award
  • Have a genuine scientific and/or management outcome
  • Meet a Forest Service information need
  • Demonstrate meaningful volunteer engagement/collaboration
  • Can be on any subject area (biological, social, cultural, infrastructure, etc.)
  • Duration of one year or longer, involving volunteers multiple times over the course of the project (for funding Phases 2 and 3)

 

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

General

A citizen science project is any activity where volunteers (a person who donates time and talent to advance the mission of the Forest Service for no compensation) are involved in the scientific process in various ways, including formulating research questions, creating and refining project design, conducting scientific experiments, collecting and analyzing data, developing technologies and applications, making discoveries, and solving problems. With good training and quality assurance processes in place, anyone can be a citizen scientist and contribute meaningful data and information to the agency.

No, stewardship activities like volunteers building trails or planting trees will not qualify for the CitSci Fund. The volunteers must be taking part in the scientific process, such as collecting data.

The CitSci Fund and other tools developed by the Citizen Science Core Team are intended to promote collaboration through citizen science and to demonstrate its benefits for the Forest Service and the communities we serve. Our hope is that over time, citizen science will become a common practice throughout the agency and that employees will have the tools they need to be successful. Based on the outcomes of the funding program, peoples experiences, and available funds, we hope to continue the CitSci Fund as long as it is needed to foment these activities.

The Forest Service Citizen Science Toolkit is available by going to the citizen science homepage. The Project Planning Guide has many resources that will be useful in preparing your proposal. The Project Plan that is a requirement for awarded projects is also available in the Toolkit.

 

Project Criteria and Eligibility

Both federally and non-federally recognized tribes are eligible applicants. In order to apply, you must be able to put in place a partnership agreement (participatory agreement or challenge cost-share agreement) with a Forest Service unit and be able to receive money through that agreement. We do not require a tribal resolution however, you may submit one to support your application if you like.

There is no restriction for who can partner with the USFS for this program. Please keep in mind that any entity wanting to do business with the federal government must register in the System for Award Management (www.sam.gov) and have a data universal number system (DUNS) number. More information can be found here. Learn more about Partnerships here: https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/partnerships

All Forest Service personnel qualify as a USFS Project Lead. This includes mission areas outside of the National Forest System including Research & Development, State & Private Forestry, International Programs, Business Operations, Job Corps Centers, etc.

No, the project does not necessarily have to be on National Forest System lands (i.e., National Forest, National Grassland/Prairie, National Monument operated by the Forest Service). The project either needs to take place on National Forest System lands or provide a Forest Service information need as determined by the Forest Service unit in collaboration with the partner.

It is the Forest Service unit you are interested in working with that will describe what their needs are. The goal of the information need requirement is that the project help the Forest Service fulfill some kind of information gap in the agency whether that be research based, land or resource management based, or some other form of data/science that helps inform agency resource management decision-making, research, or supports state and private forestry. Projects should be able to demonstrate how the newly acquired information will be used by the agency.

Here are a few ways to find Forest Service contacts:

The key is if the project is meeting Forest Service information needs. If the project is only serving NPS information needs, then the project would not meet the CitSci Fund criteria. It would qualify if, for example, the project is adjacent to Forest Service system land and is part of a landscape-scale collaboration that includes both the park and the forest.

No, if your project is a one-time event, it will not qualify for the CitSci Fund.

No, stewardship activities like volunteers building trails or planting trees will not qualify for the CitSci Fund. The volunteers must be taking part in the scientific process, such as collecting data.

Organizations that are currently being funded are eligible to submit a proposal for a different project (e.g. cannot be in the same location answering the same information need or question). It is okay to have different projects in any of the funding phases.

 

Funding and Partnership Agreements

No, there is no minimum amount to request.

No, we do not require that a partnership agreement be in place prior to knowing whether or not you have received CitSci Funds. However, those conversations should be happening with the Forest Service unit, grants & agreement and budget specialists, and partners so that your project will be ready to begin that paperwork process as soon as possible after being awarded. If your project has not been selected for the round two review, the project leads will receive an email notification of this by mid-late January.

Grants & agreements deadlines vary by region and by unit, this is why it is important to consult with your grants & agreements specialist early in the process to see what your options are. Deadlines at the national level have typically been around June 1st which is why the partnership agreement needs to be in place by May 1st at the latest.

The inclusion of funds from multiple partners is encouraged. The minimum requirement is that there needs to be one Forest Service Project Lead and one Partner Project Lead. In the case that multiple sources of funding and partners are part of an agreement, it is important to engage the Forest Service unit's grants & agreements specialist in the process to figure out what the best funding mechanism is. Please describe what funds you will have, how you will use the funds, and which partners are involved in the Budget section of your project proposal.

Below is a list of items that funding can be used towards. Final decision of what is appropriate will be determined by the Forest Service Project Lead and their unit along with the partner.

  • Staff/personnel costs including volunteer or project coordinator (e.g. project planning, coordination and evaluation).
  • Recruitment and outreach for volunteers.
  • Development and printing of training and educational materials (e.g. cost to print field manuals, protocol documents, datasheets, etc.).
  • Project-specific supplies and materials (e.g. measurement equipment, tablets, software, etc. not large expenses like vehicles, or major lab equipment).
  • External project evaluation and evaluation of program impacts on volunteers (e.g., learning, conservation attitudes).
  • Data quality measures/evaluations.
  • Travel costs for USFS and partner project team members.
  • Costs for volunteer trainings (e.g. facility fees).
  • On-site costs (e.g. transportation, portable restrooms).
  • Postage/shipping (e.g. costs to mail volunteers water sample bottles and other supplies).
  • Analysis of samples (e.g. water quality samples sent to a lab).

For any question about the specifics of allowable expenses, please talk to the Forest Service Project Lead identified in your project proposal. Because they are the unit that will be working directly with the partner on the project, they will be the ones to determine the appropriate financial instrument to deliver the funds to the partner organization and how the funds may be spent. They will also be the ones administering the financial instrument and making sure funds are being spent properly over the course of the project.

Please keep in mind that any entity wanting to do business with the federal government must register in the System for Award Management (www.sam.gov) and have a data universal number system (DUNS) number. More information can be found here.

Providing citizen scientist participants with wages would not be an acceptable use of funds. However, a stipend may be. Keep in mind that by definition, citizen scientists are volunteers (a person who donates time and talent to advance the mission of the Forest Service for no compensation). A weekly stipend or some money to defray some costs to the students (such as food, lodging, travel) is okay. For example a "Field Rate" Per Diem may be issued to volunteers who are lodging at a campsite or using their own personal camping or recreational vehicles while on assignment. Funds may be used to purchase food for volunteers if the volunteer will be working in an area where access to normal sources of food supplies and/or meals is not available or reasonably accessible. Service Participants engaged through a Partnership Agreement, may receive a stipend for food, lodging, and travel if it is written within the agreement. Please consult with your Forest Service Project Lead to clarify which costs are appropriate based on the financial instrument being used. Learn more about our Volunteer program here: https://www.fs.fed.us/working-with-us/volunteers

A partnership agreement is required in order to receive the funds - the most common agreement instruments for citizen science are a participatory agreement or a challenge cost-share agreement. Both of these require a minimum 20% match from the partner. Projects with a larger partner contribution will be highly competitive. This year, volunteer hours can be used toward the partner contribution (see the Instructions section on Budget for more details). The specifics of the partnership agreement and what is appropriate match are to be decided by the partner and the Forest Service unit.

The funds go directly from the National Forest System Deputy Chief's Office to the Forest Service Unit in Work Plan. That is why the Forest Service applicant needs to have someone on their unit who understands the budget process and can prepare the acquisition plan and project and provide any necessary information to the Washington Office budget staff.

 

Proposal Submission

Yes, up to two projects per submitter. Each project must be unique – in other words, there should be a different methodology or information goal for each project.

To submit a proposal online, someone will need to first log-in and start a proposal. That person can be from the Forest Service or it can be a partner. Once that person is logged in, they can invite collaborators to also edit and fill out the proposal form. The proposal must have contacts for both Project Leads and the appropriate leadership approvals.

 

Project Selection

Two teams of Forest Service evaluators will review projects in two rounds with some overlap of reviewers. During the round one review each project will be assigned randomly to at least three reviewers who will score the project based on the review criteria. These scores are then normalized using Z-scores to remove bias from reviewers. From there, the top projects are determined by seeing where there is a marked drop-off in scores - this will determine the top 20% or so of the proposals.

In the round two review, all proposals will be reviewed by the entire team using the same criteria and again normalized using Z-scores. At this point, the top projects that are equal to or less than the amount of funding available are then looked at to take into consideration if they represent geographic, disciplinary, and deputy area diversity. Finalists will then be notified and a call will be scheduled with both project team leads to ensure that they can complete the Commitments and Outcomes as described in the Instructions.

https://www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us/citizen-science/competitive-funding-program