25 05 2010

I am starting to see a growing number of discussions, uses and applications of crowdsourcing as it relates to public participation. I was first introduced to the concept by Daren Brabham, who wrote his doctoral dissertation on how crowdsourcing can be applied to non-profit problem solving. He examined for-profit sites like to see what motivates people to participate and the social reward for participating. Daren was also involved in a pilot study applying crowdsourcing to bus stop design. The winner for the second design competition at has recently been announced.

In the meantime, our friends in the northwest are applying crowdsourcing techniques to address sustainability issues and solicit citizen ideas to improve their city. Folks in the planning realm are finding crowdsourcing a compelling concept, including this firm dedicated to crowdsourced placemaking.

Crowdsourcing holds a lot of potential for active on-line communities. It relies on virtual communities brought together by an interest or topic. Without the virtual community, there is no compelling story to tell. However, the whole idea is to seek ideas from a multitude of people. The trick is to gain traction with a group of people who know you exist and facilitate this kind of problem-solving.

The beautiful thing about crowdsourcing is that not only do the ideas come from the “crowd,” but the solution can also be chosen by the crowd. You have immediate buy-in from a group of people who support a particular solution. Most government decision-making processes can’t fully turn over an idea to the populace, but there is still something to be learned here regarding the quality of input when people believe they are being listened to and truly making a difference in their lives and the lives of others.