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Securing citizen engagement in civic crowdsourcing

01.07.2014
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Crowdsourcing is undoubtedly mushrooming in popularity, with a growing appreciation of the possibilities it offers for increased engagement with key stakeholders.  Nowhere is this more so than in the civic sphere.  Last year IBM released a report on the growth of crowdsourcing in government, with a focus on how civic institutions are tapping into the crowd and enabling much better civic engagement.  It outlined four main applications of crowdsourcing in government:

  • Type 1:  Knowledge Discovery and Management. Collecting knowledge reported by an on-line community, such as the reporting of earth tremors or potholes to a central source.
  • Type 2:  Distributed Human Intelligence Tasking. Distributing “micro-tasks” that require human intelligence to solve, such as transcribing handwritten historical documents into electronic files.
  • Type 3:  Broadcast Search. Broadcasting a problem-solving challenge widely on the internet and providing an award for solution, such as NASA’s prize for an algorithm to predict solar flares
  • Type 4:  Peer-Vetted Creative Production. Creating peer-vetted solutions, where an on-line community both proposes possible solutions and is empowered to collectively choose among the solutions.

It was interesting therefore to read recently about the City of Davis in America and how they’re planning to use crowdsourcing as part of their new innovation park project.  They hope to engage a much wider audience in discussions surrounding the park than would be possible via more traditional means of engagement, such as town hall style gatherings.

A new paper might make interesting reading for the people behind the project.  It looks at what civic engagement is, and in particular what it means for social innovation.  They outline four reasons why citizen engagement is so important:

  1. Engagement enables a better understanding of social needs
  2. Engagement enables diversity and provides a channel for new ideas
  3. Engagement can increase the legitimacy of projects and decisions
  4. Responses to complex challenges will be ineffective without some form of engagement

The paper went on to outline the typical involvement at various stages of a project.  For instance, during the development stage, citizens typically share their own experiences of how things currently are, and provide ideas for how things could be in future.

The benefits of greater civic engagement are well documented, but the paper also outlines some of the risks involved in crowdsourcing for civic purposes.  Whilst some engagement activities can lead to a greater sense of empowerment and agency, others lead to a feeling of disempowerment and a lack of agency among participants.

“Similarly, while some participatory activities do promote social inclusion, enabling the inclusion of new actors and issues in public spaces, others can reinforce social hierarchies and the exclusion of particular groups or individuals.” the authors conclude.

What seems inevitable is that this is part of a growing trend of greater civic engagement.  The UK innovation charity NESTA went as far as to say that 2014 would be the year of crowdsourcing in politics.  They named this as one of their main predictions for 2014

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