Wikipedia defines “crowdsourcing” as the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor to a large group of people or community (a crowd).
Why do it yourself, alone, if other people are interested in helping and have the necessary talent and skills to do so?
Crowdsourcing has become an increasing wide-spread and powerful tool to help solve problems in 'distributed' ways. My World Bank Institute colleagues, for example, are crowdsourcing some of the work on geo-referencing World Bank lending projects. Students, professors and researchers from some leading universities and communities of developers (including William and Mary, George Washington University (GWU), Georgetown University, Fletcher School, University of California, Los Angeles, BYU Geo-referencing, Oxford Aid Data and Students for Development) are working together to assign geospatial metadata to help 'map' World Bank projects. More than 12,000 Bank projects in 70 countries have been mapped so far and the list continues to grow. Here is a short video, shot by some of the participating students, that shows the level of enthusiasm and highlights their work.
Crowdsourcing in the World Bank started last year, when our Disaster Management colleagues in Latin America and Caribbean region teamed up with Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, NASA and FEMA to assemble developer communities in Silicon Valley to help tackle issues of communication (particularly early response) following natural disasters. Use cases were defined and put in front of software developers who came up with 11 possible tools to deploy in a disaster situation. One of these tools used to gather information from affected communities quickly and get information back out to them has been developed further. It was used in Haiti earthquake, which, by vicious coincidence, struck shortly afterwards. The community of developers 'crowded around' the crisis, applying their talent and skills to help with disaster relief efforts from afar.
A World Bank event on “Developers of for Development” highlighted this tremendous potential of developers' communities to help solve myriad challenges that developing countries are facing. It showed how innovative grassroots technology movements such as Crisis Commons, Random Hacks of Kindness, Ushahidi, Crisis Mapping, and the Global Earth Observation are changing the landscape of disaster response and governance. The software tested in Haiti was used in Chile earthquake, on the request from Chile government.
Can crowdsourcing be applied to solve other development challenges? At least in the opinions of many developers: It can. It can work anywhere there is technology and wherever there are communities. Crowdsourcing allows communities or groups of people to:
- submit a challenge or a defined need;
- find out information concerning the need or challenge;
- offer ideas and suggestions about solving a challenge;
- share experiences and collaborate in on-line discussions;
- rate and select a suitable solution.
How can governments take advantage crowdsourcing? During a World Bank Institute event earlier this year that looked at the Challenges of Government 2.0: Lessons for Developing Countries, speakers like Andrew McLaughlin, the Deputy Chief Technology Officer in Obama administration, discussed how crowdsourcing can help policy makers make better decisions, enhance the quality of service delivery and the responsiveness of government to citizens needs by offering a fundamentally new way of interacting with citizens.
How, you might ask, is all of this relevant to the education sector? In education, crowdsourcing can inspire new practices and creative solutions to systemic problems at both the local and regional levels. It could, for example, help reduce the school dropout by soliciting solutions to poor attendance, or help raise low reading, math and science scores by sending out requests for instructional success stories. It could also help connect education workers together and it can help find funders for innovations. As an example, the U.S. Education Department launched an Open Innovation Portal, employing crowdsourcing to tap collective wisdom through the Internet to help address educational challenges ranging from high school dropout rates to low reading, math and science scores. The initiative is a follow up on an effort of the White House effort to encourage innovative collaboration across all industry sectors.
Cynics may argue that this is a public relations exercise, but the preliminary results are encouraging. In four months, more than 4,000 people signed up and more than 80 useful and practical innovative ideas were submitted, as well as many new challenges. The solutions will be rated, selected, passed on to potential sources of donor funds and implemented by other participants.
This example is considered a notable success. Crowdsourcing encourages collaboration and removes the walls separating distant sectors and disparate groups. And the practical end goal is to find solutions in an efficient, non-redundant and expeditious exchange of knowledge through the tapping of collective wisdom. Citizens and communities are ready to deploy their time and expertise around any kind of real world problems. And ICTs are here to help them.
Guest blogger Galina Voytsehovska works in the World Bank's education sector anchor unit on ICT and education issues. Previously, she was part of the World Bank Institute's Innovations team.
Please note: The image used at the top of this blog post ("we're here to help -- if you let us!") of a crowd of people at a Hong Kong shopping centre is from Wikipedian KTo288 via Wikimedia Commons and is used according to the terms of its Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.