5 Ways Crowdsourcing Serves Our Governments

Friedrich Hayek wrote in 1945: “The knowledge of the circumstances of which we must make use never exists in concentrated or integrated form.” Today’s networks enable institutions to gain access to the wealth of creativity and insights that exists in the wider society.

Crowdsourcing opportunities in today’s connected world.

In our previous blog post we talked about how the democratisation of expertise can help cities in solving contemporary challenges. Next to spotting who the citizen experts are, it’s as important to know how they can effectively collaborate and produce impact. In ‘Smart Citizens, Smarter State’, Beth Noveck shares five different forms of crowdsourcing, and how they can serve our governments.

1. Crowdsourcing of opinions

What? Polling, sentiment analysis and opinion mining are different types of opinion crowdsourcing. Traditional polling asks implicit participation from citizens. Thanks to modern technologies such as language processing and machine learning, sentiment analysis can go further than that. This kind of collaboration aggregates large qualities of data to infer subjective meaning from texts on a large scale. Sentiment analysis can identify which topics different groups talk and care about the most. For governments, crowdsourcing opinions present an opportunity to gauge the policy opinions of the public in a more sophisticated way.

Example? Twitter is a rich source of opinions. Following the U.K. riots in 2011, the National Health Service analysed data published by The Guardian that included over 2.5 billion tweets during the time of the riots.

Tool? Argu is a tool to have substantive discussions about politics, focused on the Netherlands.

2. Crowdsourcing of ideas

What? When public organizations crowdsource ideas, they are soliciting suggestions for creative solutions to specific problems. Via digital platforms, citizens are able to brainstorm collectively and respond to specific requests from officials. The input is often used in the policymaking and decision-making processes of governments. For the government, it’s a fast way to come up with creative solutions without requiring any long-term commitments. One of the key advantages is that it provides a rich curation of ideas, representing the diversity of ideas and leading to superior innovation.

With the help of the creativity of citizens, the Medellin government is already developing policies.

Example? The Colombian city Medellín has collected more than 2,300 (!) ideas on its platform MiMedellín.

Tool? CitizenLab offers city governments a ready-to-use, yet fully customisable citizensourcing platform to make urban decision-making more collaborative. (Little disclaimer: that’s us. :))

3. Crowdsourcing of funds

What? Crowdsourcing funding is better known as ‘crowdfunding’ these days. In general, small financial contributions are given by a large group of donors, in exchange for financial or non-financial rewards. Crowdfunding has many applications, amongst others it is used to collect funds for civic and public projects from other citizens. Civic crowdfunding, as it is called, is an excellent option to not only raise money to turn your idea into reality, but also to engage a community.

Example? The city of Ghent has its own crowdfunding platform called crowdfunding.gent on which citizens can collect financial means for their Ghent-based idea.

Tool? Citizinvestor allows you to crowdsource funds for your civic projects.

4. Crowdsourcing of tasks

What? Crowdsourcing tasks is called ‘microtasking’ and involves asking the crowd to contribute each a small bit of work to come to a big end result. This often happens in the context of repetitive tasks, but it can also take place in the context of a huge task that can be subdivided into microtasks, such as translation projects (e.g. Duolingo) or knowledge bases (e.g. Wikipedia).

Example? EVApp, Emergency Volunteer Application, is a smartphone application that, in case of an emergency, mobilizes professional volunteers to bridge the time between an emergency call and arrival of the emergency services.

Tool? Amazon Mechanical Turk is a task crowdsourcing marketplace enabling individuals and businesses to coordinate the use of human intelligence to perform tasks that computers are currently unable to do.

5. Crowdsourcing of data

What? Crowdsourcing data is to get a better understanding of the conditions in a community. It can help governments to get come to more evidence-based decision-making. Collecting, cleaning and analysing are initial steps to be taken to get there and it should be said that it requires a significant amount of resources to make the most out of the data.

Example? Street Bump is a crowd-sourcing project that helps residents improve their neighborhood streets. Volunteers use the Street Bump mobile app to collect road condition data while they drive. The data provides governments with real-time information to fix problems and plan long term investments.

Tool? Ushahidi (which is Swahili for “testimony” or “witness”) allows users to crowdsource crisis information to be sent via mobile.

The Power of Crowdsourcing

The examples above show that the application of the crowdsourcing model in government settings can successfully mobilise citizens. Crowdsourcing helps governments taking more evidence-based decisions through technology-enabled collective actions. Namely, the wisdom of the crowd mitigates the effect of individual biases by gathering and aggregating a huge number of viewpoints.


Originally published at citizenlab.co on March 24, 2016.