A future where ‘the crowd’ helps solve government problems

2013_08_Screen-Shot-2013-08-20-at-5.52.49-PM A geocoded map created by USAID’s Development Credit Authority Office, through crowdsourcing efforts. (Image: USAID)

Crowdsourcing has taken participatory government to another level.

Though crowdsourcing is a relatively new practice, recent years have seen government leverage the collective intelligence of “the crowd” to solve problems in the public sphere.

A new report, “Using Crowdsourcing in Government” by Daren C. Brabham of the University of Southern California and released by the IBM Center for The Business of Government, outlines four different types of crowdsourcing strategies; all of which have been used by state and local governments as well as the Obama administration to some degree of success.

Brabham hopes the report inspires future crowdsourcing ventures in government. He offers some guidance on the four methods of crowdsourcing, which has enjoyed an “enthusiastic embrace by government agencies in the U.S. and abroad,” according to the report.

Ben Balter, government evangelist for online software development host GitHub, said crowdsourcing elevates the government past recruiting volunteer labor — that it is “helping to re-imagine the way government conducts day to day business.”


“It’s about growing vibrant communities around shared challenges, about the government, admitting, in some small way, that they may not know best in every single situation,” Balter said. “And that technology is pushing us to this tipping point where public-private collaboration is not only feasible, but may often be easier, more cost-effective and yield better results than traditional approaches.”

The responsibility now, according to the report, is in the hands of the White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park and his staff. It will be their responsibility to promote crowdsourcing information in government — holding crowdsourcing summits for elected officials and administrators, for example, to share information and solutions with each other.

The United States Agency for International Development launched its first crowdsourcing effort last year in an effort to clean up and map its development data. The event experienced such global participation that the project  — expected to last an entire weekend — wrapped in 16 hours. Stephanie Grosser, who oversaw the project at USAID’s Credit Development Authority Office, found the results from the crowdsourcing event were actually more accurate than the automated geocoding process.

“The government has only begun to scratch the surface of crowdsourcing’s potential to change the model of governance,” Grosser told FedScoop. “We can actually transform the role of the citizen from a passive recipient of government services and information to equal partner in making government more efficient and effective.”

To promote this agenda, the General Services Administration launched to serve as a workable platform for a wide range of government-sponsored innovation challenges and competitions. The site is available to all federal agencies to engage with the public and offer prizes for solutions.


The Federal Communications Commission also enlisted nearly half a million Americans to measure the range and quality of their broadband service through a crowdsourcing effort. Instead of a traditional survey, FCC asked people to download an app and give their feedback on broadband service quality.

These examples, according to Brabham, are a “signal that there is a sea change happening in the business practices of government and the way citizens engage with elected officials and public administrators.”

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