6 Ways to Crowdsource Government

Just a few years ago crowdsourcing was a novel concept, mainly untried. Now that the idea has gained traction, it could be used in any realm -- even in government.
by | September 28, 2010 AT 9:51 AM

This post was written by Scott Stadum, User Engagement Analyst at the Sunlight Foundation.

Just a few years ago, crowdsourcing was a novel concept, mainly untried. Now that the idea has gained traction, it's being used in everything from customer service to tagging data to microvolunteering to generating useful ideas. Crowdsourcing is an invaluable tool for producing fresh ideas quickly and inexpensively.

Crowdsourcing, according to Wikipedia, is "the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call." Usually, this is done leveraging the Web and often times there's no reward for the work done -- but this isn't always the case.

Below are six examples of crowdsourcing that show the potential of the concept.

Sunlight Campaign Ad Monitor: SunlightCAM "allows anyone to report information on the political advertising they see on TV, hear on the radio or view online." This site crowdsources the monitoring of political ads, regardless of medium, from all across the country. After the recent Citizens United ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money right up until election, we need crowdsourcing tools like this one more than ever.

Challenge.gov: A number of U.S. government agencies, in collaboration with ChallengePost, have created a portal called Challenge.gov which invites citizens to tackles problems posted by these agencies.

Programmableweb.com writes, "these problems or challenges are posted by agencies, and citizens are invited to participate in them by supporting them, spreading the word and even solving them to earn recognition and some significant prizes."

Earmark Requests: This project compiles all federal legislators' earmark requests. Users can easily capture earmark information and enter the data into a form which then shows these earmarks on a Google Map. Jim Harper of Washington Watch tells Ars Technica "the most interesting applications might well come from matching up the earmarks database with existing fundraising databases."

Library of Congress: The Extraordinaries, a web app that facilitates microvolunteering through crowdsourcing, has teamed up with the Library of Congress to tag hundreds of thousands of historical photos. Using their application "volunteers digitally label a few photos at a time. Just pick up your smartphone, look at a photo, and tag it. Repeat until bus comes. Within a few weeks of 1000s of people waiting for the #15 bus, entire photographic eras in world history could become accessible to the public."

Committee on Ways & Means Redesign: The U.S. House of Representatives teamed up with crowdSPRING to sponsor a contest to redesign the House Committee on Ways & Means website. Leveraging the crowdSPRING platform, citizens submitted their committee website redesigns and ultimately this design was selected and implemented.

Open Government Initiative IdeaScale and the Obama adminstration teamed up to solicit ideas from various government agencies for last year's Open Government Initiative. Over 4,200 ideas were submitted and you can see the submissions here.

With the right combination of platform and project we can tap the wisdom and creativity of the crowd to bring good ideas to fruition. What ideas do you have that could leverage crowdsourcing?