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White Paper: Practical Crowdsourcing for Civic Engagment


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Civic engagement is challenging to accomplish in a society where individuals no longer congregate around a few common public spaces, such as a town hall or church. However, crowdsourcing harnesses the ideas of large, disparate groups of people (citizens) to gather input and create awareness that leads to change.

This paper outlines how crowdsourcing can be employed to build participation in citizen engagement campaigns.

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White Paper: Practical Crowdsourcing for Civic Engagment

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  2. 2. 
 Engaging  the  Ci+zen  Diaspora   Crowdsourcing  &  Civic  Behavior   Low  voter  par+cipa+on   High  social  media  ac+vity   The  Best  of  Both  Worlds   Offline  Engagement   Online  Engagement   Prac+cal  Applica+ons  of  Crowdsourcing  for  Civic   Engagement   Crowdsource  to  Solve  Problems   Crowdsource  to  Get  the  Job  Done   Crowdsource  to  Increase  Par+cipa+on   Crowdsource  to  be  More  Transparent   Crowdsource  to  spur  change   Benefits  of  Crowdsourcing   Long-­‐Lived   Budget-­‐Friendly   Immediate   Transparent   The  Crowd  is  Talking.  Are  You  Listening? 3   3   4   4 6   6   7   7 8   9   9 9   10   10   11 11   11   12   12 Practical Crowdsourcing For Civic Engagement
  3. 3. 
 Civic engagement is challenging to accomplish in a society where individuals no longer congregate around a few common public spaces, such as a town hall or church. It is ever more difficult for governments, citizen-focused organizations and elected representatives to reach constituents who divide their discretionary time between a wide variety of specific social groups, various sports and hobbies, travel and more. But, social media does provide a cost- effective and efficient tool to reach this citizen diaspora. Through social media, individuals expand their social networks globally while bringing the entire world closer to them—making it a smaller, more accessible place. By taking advantage of the underpinnings of social media behavior and Open Source principles, crowdsourcing harnesses the ideas of large, disparate groups of people (citizens) to gather input and create awareness that leads to change. In this paper, I will demonstrate how of crowdsourcing can be employed to build participation in citizen engagement campaigns. Engaging the Citizen Diaspora 3PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT “  media  has  demonstrated  its  capacity  to  compel  social   movements  and  create  large-­‐scale  change  quickly.”     Citizen  Engagement  Laboratory  (Berkley)2 Reality talent shows and websites that enable viewer-audience voting have proven that individuals are naturally driven to give their input when they can see the immediate results of their contributions. Voting is a proven way of enabling participation and it is a yardstick of civic engagement—it is also a key component in many crowdsourcing activities. The American Psychological Association has defined civic engagement as, “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern.” The kinds of activities that comprise civic engagement “can take many forms, from individual voluntarism to organizational involvement to electoral participation...Civic engagement encompasses a range of specific activities such as working in a soup kitchen, serving on a neighborhood [sic] association, writing a letter to an elected official or voting.”1 Crowdsourcing & Civic Behavior
  4. 4. 
 4PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT Civic participation is critical to involving citizens in learning about, contributing to, supporting or improving issues that affect them, such as decisions about public spaces, large public expenditures, solving problems in communities, and accomplishing tasks through volunteerism. Crowdsourcing compliments these goals by providing organizations and governments with a means of engaging individual awareness and input on a large scale. It builds upon citizens’ natural inclinations towards creativity, competition and involvement to generate powerful ideas and solutions. Crowdsourcing is particularly relevant for civic engagement efforts because it bridges the divide between two current phenomena in civic behavior: low voter participation and high social media activity. Voter turnout in the most recent Canadian federal election and the United States presidential elections saw a slight increase over previous elections. Both campaigns engaged more social media elements than ever before, which may have contributed to the slight lift in participation. Yet, the number of voters is still too low: the 2011 Canadian federal election saw a voter turnout of 61.4%3, and the 2008 American presidential election saw a turnout of 63.7%4. With nearly 40% of the population not voting, the outcome of these elections does not necessarily represent the overall wishes of an entire population. Low voter participation The number of people using social media websites grows daily, including an increasing number of adults. Social media usage data from May 2011 collected by Ad Age indicates that nearly 36% of male Facebook users and more than 27% of female Facebook users fall between the ages of 30 and 54.5 These individuals are using Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to connect with family members, friends, people who share similar interests, or who work in the same industry. Canadians in particular spend a great deal of time online—more than people from 11 other countries (including the U.S. and U.K.), according to a 2011 comScore survey: High social media activity
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 • 25  billion:  number  of  tweets   sent  on  TwiMer  in  2010   • 100  million:  new  accounts   added  on  TwiMer  in  2010   • 175  million:  people  on  TwiMer   as  of  September  2010 • 600  million:  people  on  Facebook   at  the  end  of  2010   • 250  million:  new  people  on   Facebook  in  2010   • 30  billion:  pieces  of  content   (links,  notes,  photos,  etc.)  shared   on  Facebook  per  month   • 70%:  share  of  Facebook’s  user  base     • located  outside  the  United  States   • 20  million:  number  of  Facebook   apps  installed  each  day • 2  billion:  number  of  videos   watched  per  day  on  YouTube   • 5  billion:  photos  hosted  by   Flickr  (September  2010)   • 3000+:  photos  uploaded  per   minute  to  Flickr   • 3+  billion:  photos  uploaded   per  month  to  Facebook “The  study  found  that  Canadians  spent  an  average  of  43.5  hours   online  in  the  fourth  quarter  of  2010,  nearly  double  the  average  of   23.1  hours  surfed  by  the  11  countries  surveyed…  The  study  also   tracked  Canadians’  social  networking,  with  Facebook  (seven  per   cent),  Twitter  (11  per  cent)  and  LinkedIn  (35  per  cent)  all  claiming   significant  increases  in  unique  visitors.”7 5PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT TWITTER FACEBOOK VIDEOS  &  PHOTOS Given these numbers, it is certain that citizens can be—and should be engaged with online, and that social media activity must be embraced and used to connect with and reach out to  citizens. Consider these additional statistics regarding social media use in 20106:
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 6PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT In order to improve citizen engagement, elected representatives and civic organizations must combine tried-and-true traditional methods of campaigning with more innovative approaches that reflect these changes in citizen behavior. Barack Obama’s campaign during the 2008 US presidential election was one of the first large-scale political campaigns to do this—I’ll discuss that campaign later in this paper. Organizations, government agencies and governments can engage with their audience through a number of offline and online mediums. The Best of Both Worlds The Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a study called The Current State of Civic Engagement in America, which outlines some of the various offline methods that citizens use to contact politicians at various levels8: • Contact a government official in person, by phone or by letter • Sign a paper petition • Send a letter to the editor through the mail • Make a political contribution in person, by phone or through the mail • Communicate with a civic/political group by face-to-face meetings, print letter or newsletter or telephone • Some of the offline methods that politicians use to reach out to citizens include: • Door-to-door canvassing • Mass mail-outs or flyer drop-offs • Town hall meetings, in-person Q & A sessions, public debates • Interviews These tactics represent traditional offline activities that are still important elements of citizen engagement, particularly among the over-40 voter population. Offline engagement
  7. 7. 
 7PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT The Internet has made way for new civic engagement opportunities. As Nicol Tuner-Lee notes9: “The Internet has become the new platform for freedom of speech, and the expression of civic ideas. With more than 66 percent of Americans online, virtual micro-communities, or niche web portals, have made it easier for people to deliberately seek out and sustain relationships with those who share similar interests, opinions, and backgrounds. Citizens can pick and choose both the online destination where they want to share, and the preferred format to communicate their opinions whether through a blog, video, podcast, or tweet. Before the Internet, these ideas were shared at community town hall and block club meetings.” According to research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, citizens are using these online methods to communicate with their local leaders: • Send an email to a government official • Sign a petition online • Email a letter to the editor • Make a political contribution on the Internet • Communicate with a civic/political group by email, text messaging, instant messaging, using the group’s website or using a social networking site Online Engagement Author Jeff Howe was one of the first people to coin the term, crowdsourcing. The practice applies Open Source principles to fields outside of software by taking a task traditionally performed by one person and outsourcing it to a large group of people. Crowdsourcing is like an open call for ideas. Practical Applications of Crowdsourcing for Civic Engagement
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 8PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT Crowdsourcing can engage audiences in projects, challenges and decisions. It gathers the collective wisdom of large numbers of people to arrive at outcomes and conclusions that are more accurate than, or otherwise superior to, the wisdom of any individual. James Surowiecki, in his 2004 book, The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, acknowledges that not all crowds are wise—for example, a crazed mob. He identifies these four attributes of a wise crowd: • Diversity  of  opinion—each contributor/source has private information or interpretation of the topic • Independence—contributors’ opinions are not determined by those of others • Decentralization—contributors can specialize by drawing on local knowledge • Aggregation—a mechanism is in place to gather private judgements into a collective decision Effective crowdsourcing leverages these attributes to gain more accurate insights into problems and solutions than can be achieved through discussions with individuals or small local groups. These are some ways that you can engage a crowd to achieve civic engagement goals: Crowdsourcing is frequently used as a problem-solving tool and can therefore be a tool to improve results-oriented civic engagement. For example, some cities and communities have embraced crowdsourcing as a means of incorporating residents into decision making and getting them to help solve problems. Civic leaders may be hesitant to use social media tools because they are afraid they will be used as centres rather than remaining focused on the task at hand. Crowdsourcing is ideal for overcoming this concern because it can be highly specific. For example, it can be used to have citizens first vote to determine the highest priority problem to solve, then to have them vote on solutions to the problem—including solutions that they and others post. Crowdsource to solve problems
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 Crowdsourcing relies on social media behavior (such as sharing and liking) to build awareness among and get the members of the crowd’s own networks involved. Through increased participation, the impact of a crowdsourcing campaign becomes stronger. It can also be used to solve issues in a very cost-effective way compared to hiring market research firms, or in concert with traditional market research. Tapping the wisdom of the crowd brings new ideas to the table very rapidly and at low cost. It also attracts experts who can offer their services, expertise and advice to help get the job done in the way citizens want it done. Crowdsource to get the job done 9PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT Crowdsourcing is very accessible and makes it easier for individual citizens to be heard, because posting an idea or voting for an idea is very easy to do. Even busy individuals who are not able to participate in community organizations or attend interest group meetings can have a voice through crowdsourcing. It is also a viable tool to engage younger citizens who have grown up with the Internet and social media as an integral part of their day-to-day lives. Barack Obama’s 2008 federal election campaign in the United States offers one of the greatest examples to date of using social media and online collaboration to foster greater participation: “Most recently, the 2008 election demonstrated how the Internet could drive public opinion and voter participation. President Barack Obama’s campaign used online tools and social networks in a way that contributed to his victory as the first African American President of the United States. The Obama campaign used the Internet to raise half a billion dollars, the largest amount of contributions to a political operation ever received through online donations. His website,, gathered thousands of e-mail addresses and, in turn, nurtured a vast base of national volunteers supporting the campaign’s field tactics.”10 Crowdsource to increase participation Today’s consumers demand transparency from major corporations, governments and elected officials. Taxpayers want to know where their dollars are being spent and to ensure that public funds are not being wasted. They also want to be included in the decision-making process. Transparency is also critical to good governance—another quality that citizens demand from major corporations and our governing bodies. Crowdsource to be more transparent
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 10PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT Crowdsourcing can be used to improve access to information; it can ensure that information is timely, accurate, complete and relevant to citizen inquiries; it can disseminate messages very quickly to large audiences; and, it makes it possible to incorporate citizens in the decision making process. Some organizations use crowdsourcing as a customer feedback tool—the same concept can be applied to civic life as well, giving citizens easy access to the lines of communication and empowering them to contribute by giving them a voice. Crowdsourcing has applications far beyond the campaign moment: it can be used in everyday activities to continually engage with citizens and address real-time issues. Crowdsourcing gathers a wealth of information, ideas and opinions that leaders and citizens never used to have access to. As Diana Scearce writes: “Throughout history, social change has been possible only through the contributions and dedication of many citizens. Today’s network-centric engagement builds on existing know-how, drawing in particular on grassroots community organizing and the open-source software movement.”11 Crowdsourcing can be used to engage individuals and grassroots community organizations in meaningful change at any time. Crowdsource to spur change In addition to the capabilities discussed above, crowdsourcing offers a number of benefits over traditional methods of civic engagement, including: Budget-Friendly Crowdsourcing uses networks of people and social media tools to spread the word about campaigns, projects and ideas. This makes it possible to create a far-reaching effort that stretches campaign dollars. It can also be used to improve the return on investment of traditional campaigns. By bringing people’s attention to crowdsourcing campaigns in offline engagement activities (for example, calls to action to “go online and vote for the change you want” printed on campaign pamphlets or referenced in TV ads), the value and ROI of traditional engagement tools can be increased. Benefits of Crowdsourcing
  11. 11. 
 11PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT While door-to-door and telephone campaigns provide representatives with immediate feedback from citizens, these methods by necessity reach only a small percentage of the population. Combining these activities with crowdsourcing provides governments and politicians with a more complete picture of opinions and preferences. Crowdsourcing campaigns can deliver a broad understanding of general opinions very quickly—information that can be leveraged during walk-abouts and phone campaigns to dig deeper into citizens’ opinions and to validate crowdsourcing campaign findings one-on-one. Immediate As discussed earlier in this paper, crowdsourcing provides citizens with a new kind of transparency into government. It does so by enabling greater access to information and decision- making processes, as well as providing a platform for citizens to participate in those processes. Transparent Everyday, citizens are having conversations about their government and its decisions. Being able to tap into those conversations and gather meaningful opinions that can be used for decision-making is critical to the effectiveness of governments, civic organizations and elected officials. Crowdsourcing—and other social media—are tools that ignite conversations and turn bystanders into active participants in government. Crowdsourcing is a key component in the digital democracy—a social reality in which “the divide between media [message] producers and consumers has dissolved and citizen [produced] media rules… While before citizens had to rally for mainstream media attention to catch the ears of politicians, now it is easier than ever before for citizens to launch awareness campaigns and get their message heard by the masses.”12 Through its participatory nature, crowdsourcing gives governments and elected representatives useful insights and valuable information that would otherwise be too costly or otherwise unfeasible to gather. Able to reach a more diverse citizen base than traditional methods of civic engagement, crowdsourcing can provide equally valuable input and direction and can be used to enhance the value of traditional tools. Perhaps most importantly, crowdsourcing expands the reach of a message or idea to networks beyond one’s immediate crowd. The Crowd is Talking, Are You Listening?
  12. 12. 1. American Psychological Association. ìCivic Engagementî webpage as of 03-05-11: undergrad/civic-engagement.aspx 2. Using Social Media to Organize Social Movements: A Look at Citizen Engagement Laboratory. http:// engagement-laboratory/ 3. story/2011/05/03/cv-election-voter-turnout-1029.html, CBC News, ëVoter turnout inches up to 61.4%í, May 3rd 2011. 4., US Census Bureau, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2008, May 2010 5. Carmichael, Matt. The Demographics of Social Media. AdAgeBlogs, May16, 2011: adagestat/demographics-facebook-linkedin-myspace- twitter/227569/ 6.  Coleman, Rebecca. State of the Union: Social Networking, citing Royal Pingdom blog post, Internet 2010 in numbers: state-of-the-union-social-networking-2/ 7. Barber, Michael. Survey finds Canadians spending more time online than those in other countries. The Vancouver Sun, March 9, 2011: +finds+Canadians+spending+more+time+online+than+those +other+countries/4408671/story.html 8.  Pew Internet & American Life Project. The Current State of Civic Engagement in America, 2009: Reports/2009/15--The-Internet-and-Civic-Engagement/2-- The-Current-State-of-Civic-Engagement-in-America.aspx? r=1 9. Tuner-Lee, Nicol. The Challenge of Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Age. The Future of Digital Communications: Policy Perspectives: http:// Lee.pdf 10. Tuner-Lee, Nicol. The Challenge of Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Age. The Future of Digital Communications: Policy Perspectives: http:// Lee.pdf 11.  Scearce, Diana. Connected Citizens: The Power, Peril and Potential of Networks., 2011: citizens-the-power-peril-and-potential-of-networks-/3490 12.  Campbell, Lisa. Dotmocracy: Crowdsourcing, mashups and social change: Dotmocracy.pdf 13 FOR  MORE  INFORMATION Global  /  Americas   +1  800-­‐549-­‐9198 New  Zealand   +64-­‐080-­‐099-­‐5088 Australia   +61-­‐02-­‐9037-­‐8414 United  Kingdom   +44-­‐0-­‐808-­‐189-­‐1476 PRACTICAL  CROWDSOURCING  FOR  CIVIC  ENGAGEMENT Ideavibes™ has developed the first hosted Crowd Engagement Platform™ that is designed to allow governments, civic organizations and elected representatives to frame engagement in a way that creates greater citizen engagement. It is also the first platform that delivers the power to create crowdsourcing or crowdfunding campaigns from a single, easy to use control panel. For more information, visit and Ideavibes  |  613.878.1681  |  |  |