4 Unique Approaches to Government Crowdsourcing

By John Kamensky

August 19, 2013

Is this a Golden Age for citizen involvement in government?  As dismayed as some may be with the political process, there are growing opportunities for meaningful engagement in many areas, thanks to growing social media tools and a willingness to participate by many ordinary people.

Gavin Newscom is California’s lieutenant governor, and was formerly the mayor of San Francisco.  He is a huge advocate of the use of technology to engage citizens, which he describes in his book, Citizenville.  But advocates of greater citizen engagement extend beyond political leaders to many frontline government executives at all levels – federal, state, and local.

At the federal level, President Obama has been an early advocate with his Open Government initiative, which encourages transparency, open data, and a willingness to engage citizens through multiply social media channels.  This has led to increased use of a range of strategies, including co-delivery, serious gaming strategies, and on-line prizes and contests.  Together, these strategies demonstrate the promise of the intersection of technology tools, problem-solving techniques, and the participatory spirit of citizen engagement.  One of the more prominent strategies is the use of “crowdsourcing.”   Crowdsourcing is an approach to public problem-solving that uses online tools to break a problem down into manageable tasks and engages people to voluntarily help produce those tasks. 

What Is Crowdsourcing?

A new IBM Center report, Using Crowdsourcing in Government, by Daren Brabham, University of Southern California, offers a nuanced understanding of just what is crowdsourcing and how government executives can use it to address specific types of public problems. Dr. Brabham says that an important distinction between crowdsourcing and other forms of online participation is that crowdsourcing “entails a mix of top-down, traditional, hierarchical process and a bottom-up, open process involving an online community.” 

The growing interest in “engaging the crowd” to identify or develop innovative solutions to public problems has been inspired by wildly successful efforts in the commercial world to design innovative consumer products or solve complex scientific problems, ranging from custom-designed T-shirts to mapping genetic DNA strands.  The Obama administration, as well as many state and local governments, have been adapting crowdsourcing techniques with some success. 

Four Strategic Approaches to Crowdsourcing

Dr. Brabham offers a strategic view of crowdsourcing and when it is useful to use to address public problems.  It also identifies four specific approaches, and describes why type is most useful for a given category of problem:

Dr. Brabham notes that crowdsourcing is not just a collection of technology tools but rather is a strategic process that should be implemented in a series of steps that he divides into three phases:  planning,

implementation, and follow-through. In his report, he also offers detailed advice on steps to take. 

He concludes his report, noting: “For a term that did not exist seven years ago, crowdsourcing has enjoyed quite an enthusiastic embrace by government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. . . .In the spirit of participatory democracy, this is no doubt a good sign.”

Image via Menna/Shutterstock.com

By John Kamensky

August 19, 2013