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Crowdsourcing Public Policy - The NFP Challenge

7 May 2015 at 11:57 am
Xavier Smerdon
Crowdsourcing methodologies offer Not for Profits unparalleled influence in policy making, writes Bruce Muirhead as the CEO and Founder of MindHive.

Xavier Smerdon | 7 May 2015 at 11:57 am


Crowdsourcing Public Policy - The NFP Challenge
7 May 2015 at 11:57 am

Crowdsourcing methodologies offer Not for Profits unparalleled influence in policy making and crowdsourcing technologies represent a way for NFPs to lean on their broad base of support to compliment and augment existing capabilities, writes Bruce Muirhead as the CEO and Founder of MindHive.

As the Information Age continues to transform itself into the age of networked intelligence, crowdsourcing continues to bloom as one of the mega-trends of the future, uniting crowds with power and thereby, strengthening democracy.

Crowdsourcing foreshadows a new era in democracy with societies exploring open Government and business approaches – empowering the public to develop and improve innovative applications that would aid in the betterment of civic life.

“Born” in 2006, crowdsourcing carried with it implications which its intellectual progenitor Jeff Howe could not predict at the time of its conception. While Wikipedia and MySpace stood as the glaring examples of crowdsourcing during the time, Howe, a Professor at Northwestern University, predicted a future that would be designed and ruled by the power of the crowd, one which later turned out to be a reality. When the crowdsourcing movement began to take up its own pace, there were no more predictions as the world focused on analysing and interpreting the present developments.

Crowdsourcing passed through major evolutionary stages between 2006 and 2008, making a holistic entry into every domain of human endeavour and leaving intellectuals and analysts wondering about what the next big development would be. There was a day when Howe was asked, “What couldn’t be crowdsourced?” and he said, “A restaurant”. And there came another day when Howe was asked what he thought about a newly launched crowdsourcing restaurant. Since then, the answer to such questions has been pretty simple- Everything can be crowdsourced. And today, we can loudly claim that this ‘everything’ includes ‘policymaking’ within its purview.

This is the era of technological dominance and harnessing the power of the technological innovations remains one major way to boost citizens’ participation in policymaking.

Iceland used crowdsourcing in 2010 and 2011 to facilitate constitutional reforms. Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir and other bureaucrats solicited public participation and invited the citizens to join the movement. The citizens’ knowledge, expertise, and ideas were the key ingredients in the reform process and this helped the nation to bring new perspectives into its constitution which it might have otherwise overlooked if it followed the traditional way of policymaking.  

During this time, Iceland was witnessing a crisis situation, which had also invited democratic recession with citizens expressing their doubts on the abilities of the policymakers. This came as a landmark on the nation’s socio-political-economic front as it worked to re-build trust on the nation’s leaders.

Crowdsourcing is all about creative problem solving by harnessing the power of multiple minds (perspectives). The premise (and promise) of crowdsourcing is that it allows organisations to canvass the wisdom of the crowd by connecting to a large number of people who share a common goal. Early on, the most common crowdsourcing technique was in the form of a contest, miming a consumer test in a cost-effective way. It was also used when a job was too big for any one person or organisation, like NASA’s experiments with click-workers eager to classify the craters on Mars.

With the pervasive presence of social media we’ve become habituated to connecting with others across themes, issues and interests. Each opinion matters and through social media every voice has an opportunity to be heard. Whether it’s about generating new ideas for new product development, brand testing or product design or it is about promoting collaboration on socio-environmental and human development initiatives, crowdsourcing is all set to redefine the ways innovations are introduced in today’s world and in the world that is waiting ahead to even redefine what we mean by ‘crowdsourcing’ today.

The challenges and opportunities that crowdsourcing represents are not simply for Government, industry and academia to contemplate. Given its necessarily participatory nature, crowdsourcing presents the greatest opportunity to grass-roots movements and Not for Profits who can mobilise large numbers of people and leverage technology to channel this participation into positive policy outcomes.

Crowdsourcing methodologies offer Not for Profits unparalleled influence in policy making and crowdsourcing technologies represent a way for NFPs to lean on their broad base of support to compliment and augment existing capabilities. In order to translate this influence into action and take advantage of this emerging mega-trend, NFPs must engage with new technologies and embrace innovative solutions to sharing data and crowdsourcing expertise.

With its profound impact on almost every aspect of human intervention, crowdsourcing has made an epic entry into the field of policymaking, inspiring the beginning of a new democratic wave. The wisdom of crowds is viewed as a powerful, driving force that can shape modern-day policies. Whether the crowd is invited to devise an appropriate transportation policy or it is asked to ‘rethink’ urban planning, crowdsourcing sets high expectations in the minds of today’s population which upholds the value of democracy as an incredible tool that has the power to make a difference in how nations are governed.

Open process promotes citizen empowerment and this has the potential to fortify the political system of a nation. Use of crowdsourcing in policymaking allows citizens to earn ownership over the processes that impact their lives and allow NFPs to utilise their natural assets to great effect.

About the Author: Bruce Muirhead is the CEO and Founder of MindHive – a network of partners dedicated to developing ideas through collaboration to improve economic and social outcomes in the public interest. It works by applying shared intelligence to public policy challenges, crowdsourcing intelligence and building partnerships between universities, governments, businesses and other social partners such as not-for-profits. MindHive has been described as a public policy think tank encouraging the use of evidence and research expertise in public policy. Both contributors and organisations in MindHive are engaged in an open-innovation collaboration that adds transparency and acceleration to public policy


Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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