Crowdsourcing: Definitions and Practical Uses (Part I)
In the next couple of blog posts we will be introducing you to the basic concepts of crowdsourcing with an emphasis on crisismapping. This will include three audio interviews with crisismapping experts and civil society practitioners.
Crowdsourcing is the term utilized to describe using the power of mobile and web technologies to reach out to and/or mobilize citizens. In other words using the power of the “crowd” to get information that is shared, most often, for free or to get people to act–all in real-time. Those participating can be offering knowledge, skills or information, or even donating things. Crowdsourcing can also take the form of mining data or using readily available information, on a specific topic or event, that is being produced voluntarily by users of a social media network such as, twitter or Facebook.
Crowdsourcing has therefore been described as, “ a form of universally distributed intelligence, constantly enhanced, coordinated in real-time, and resulting in the effective mobilization of skills”. It has been used by citizens, journalists and citizen journalists, governments and policy-makers as well as businesses gathering ideas for solutions or innovations, amongst many other uses.
Perhaps one of the first professions or sectors to make use of the huge amount of user generated content on social media was journalism. For example, during the 2009 Gaza war, Al Jazeera Arabic and English used a Ushahidi platform to crowdsource information about casualties because it was too dangerous for journalists to gain access to the Gaza strip. Al Jazeera English and other media outlets also played a major role of amplifying the diverse voices of citizens during the Arab Spring by having a media strategy that captured digital news in real-time that was collected from citizens witnessing the events on the ground and who were sharing the information on social media platforms. Al Jazeera then posted that information on their blog as well as integrated it with more in-depth news and verified analysis.
Crowdsourcing has also been used to support more practical citizen participation. An example of how governments crowdsource information from citizens to fix service-related problems is a US-based platform and phone application called SeeClickFix. This application encourages citizens living in towns and cities to report problems linked to service delivery or infrastructure, directly to their local administrators or Department of Public Works. By simply logging through their phones residents can send a description of the problem, the location and supplement that with photos. When a request is submitted, a confirmation number is sent to the citizen and to the appropriate department; and the request is placed in SeeClickFix’s database, which also eliminates duplicate requests. Once the issue is resolved, a status is updated and posted. Citizens can submit requests in several languages and the request can be anonymous.