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4 Tips for Crowdsourcing Federal Projects

Kittikorn Phongok/

More federal program managers are considering their crowdsourcing options for different projects. It isn’t a new idea but it’s one that still has a hint of innovation about it. In many cases, it’s also a relatively cheap or free way to do stakeholder engagement and outreach, find interesting new ideas, or enlist the support of a community to do some great things. But a lot of federal managers are still unclear about what crowdsourcing is and whether and how they should use it.

Crowdsourcing comes in a few different varieties. One of the most common types is crowdfunding from sites like Kickstarter that help businesses and individuals raise capital. Federal regulators might be interested in this type of crowdsourcing, but most federal managers wouldn’t. There’s also the idea of enlisting a community to provide data that the government can’t otherwise get, like creating apps at the local level to spot and report potholes or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration using an app to crowdsource weather reporting.

The most common type of crowdsourcing that is the most useful to a wide variety of federal managers is the challenge competition or idea solicitation. Many agencies create competitions to gather new and innovative ideas from the public, review them internally and then award winners. The General Services Administration set up to help agencies through the process. GSA itself just announced a challenge on how to reduce federal travel expenses, for example.

Another version of this approach is to ask a question or a set of questions of particular group of people, allow them to propose solutions and provide feedback, and then vote those potential solutions. IdeaScale is a technology that enables many of the federal sites that do this. Those types of idea solicitation efforts seem to work better internally, which examples at the Internal Revenue Service and the Transportation Security Administration’s Idea Factory show. Also don’t forget that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are ongoing ways to get feedback from the crowd and to hear what people are saying about your organization.

No matter what you do, here are some key considerations to keep in mind about any crowdsourcing effort:

  1. You’ll need to moderate or at least monitor the effort to keep things from getting out of control and to ensure your effort is active.
  2. You’ll need to do a lot of outreach and marketing to get people involved at the outset and throughout the process.
  3. Think about what you’ll do with the data before you start. Are you selecting a winner? Are you committing to implement something?
  4. Think about the rewards. A lot of these challenges come with some monetary reward for the winning technology or solution.

What do you think the keys to crowdsourcing are?

(Image via Kittikorn Phongok/

Alan Pentz is a partner and co-founder of Corner Alliance, a Washington-based consulting firm that focuses on helping government clients build strategies to stay relevant in and capitalize on today's shifting technological landscape. He is a former Capitol Hill staffer and holds an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. Contact him at, or follow him on Twitter at @apentz

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