Having covered the initiation of projects from the view points of citizens, knowledge institutions and companies, I would like to move forward to observe how governments utilise crowdsourcing to solve national problems. 

We shouldn’t limit ourselves to thinking that crowdsourcing has to happen in industrialised countries where data is rich and technology is advanced and compressed. Developing countries like Haiti, Libya and Kenya us crowdsourcing for the following reasons: coordination of natural disaster relief efforts, civil wars and detecting human trafficking movements [0]. The power of crowdsourcing stretches across so many spheres. However, in the following posts, I would like to focus on real environmental issues (e.g. threat to natural capital) and government’s response through crowdsourcing. This post will focus on the reasons why governments should crowdsource, problems that may arise and recommendations.

Why should governments engage in crowdsourcing?

  • As our society increases in complexity, governments are challenged to harness the power of user produced material, which fills the gap that tranditional institutions cannot fill [1]. Brabham summarised this same concept in his venn diagram to show that crowdsourcing is the corporation of the traditional and user production:

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.46.06 pm.png

  • Governments are now capable of mobilising the crowd to do a myriad of things. According to William A. (2013), some of the really interesting models governments can use that were not mentioned in the previous posts are: (1) Crisis Mapping, (2) Participatory Budgeting and (3) Citizen Science [2]. Crowdsourcing truly complements these areas of research and policy making because individuals, by their sheer numbers, are capable of supplying the government with millions of alternative perspectives and be carriers of valuable information [3]. 
    • These areas are not adopted by companies or citizens either because they are (A) not in their agenda or/and (B) too large of an issue that usually require support from traditional institutions.

Screen Shot 2016-03-15 at 1.49.35 pm.png

  • Including non-experts into the planning process can help explore more creative solutions beyond the box that professionals are often trapped into (Van Herzele, 2004).
  • Corburn (2003) acknowledges the importance of having local voices, even if they are not experts, because they provide insight to local context, cultural practices and narratives that professionals may not know of. 

Problems with governments crowdsourcing:

  • Government who are unwilling to listen due to political agenda or distrust in the opinions of the people
    • This will not only waste time and money but also cause people to lose trust in their government. 
    • My Prof once told me “never to collect data that you don’t use”. Similarly, governments should always act upon the information and proposals they collect and not portray themselves as snubbed or inefficient. 
  • Howe (2006) defined the term “crowdslapping” as “anytime the crowd turns against the crowdsourcer” [T].
    • Governments need to be wary that free speech, though necessary for fostering an effective crowdsourcing community, can backlash. 
    • Hacking and agressive “flaming” are but a few ways the public can express their anger or distaste for the government
    • Noveck (2003) also highlighted the immense damage the government’s reputation could suffer if participants ignore the project out of disinterest or anger. 
    • We should try to avoid this collaboration from turning into a “slapping dance”: 1248709222_slap-dance.gif
  • Clay Shirky (2008)’s 3 elements for successful mass collaboration: “the promise (why someone should join a group), the tools (overcoming the challenges of forming a group), and the bargain (what to expect from a group and what the group expects of the government)”
    • It is really tough to communicate all three elements effectively. 
      • For example: the tool or platform may not be user-friendly enough to encourage group facilitation



For the following two recommendations, refer to the following:


These are the steps to a government could take when crowdsourcing (suggested by Brabham, 2009). By following this model, governments can understand how to:

  1. Frame and execute their promise: Launch promotional plan, understand online community’s motivations and incentivise accordingly
  2. Use their tools: Choosing applicable platform and functions
  3. Communicate their bargain: Determine level of commitment to outcome
  • Determining level of commitment to outcome suggested by citizens [4]
    • As a Singaporean, its really evident that citizens always have their own opinions in government decisions. When we have CPF changes, people complain. When we have more foreign workers to fill the gap in our economy, people complain. Similarly, for a task like crowdsourcing that involves both the public and the government, governments should minimise the chances of misunderstanding. By aligning expectations from the beginning, citizens will have a better idea of the government’s rational for doing crowdsourcing.
    • One expectation that needs to be set right from the beginning is the government’s degree of willingness to commit to selected proposals. These are 3 degrees of commitment
      • (1) Implementation As-is: The government will implement the proposal fully and without doctoring it
      • (2) Middle Ground: The government will allow citizens to take part in the decision making process. 
      • (3) Consultative: The government main purpose is to get recommendations and may not guarantee implementing any proposal.
    • By setting the right expectations, governments can avoid the angry mob that may point fingers and blame the government for being hypocritical for controlling decisions so much that crowdsourcing becomes a gimmick. 
  • Craft policies that consider legal needs of projects’ participants and host
    • Earlier, one setback of governments getting involved in crowdsourcing is “crowdslapping”
    • Governments could minimise the damages by acting smart. I think that laws that promote transparency and accountability are important to ensure that the government is acting in the interest of its people. 
  • Besides crowdslapping, another concern is the system’s efficiency. Crafting an algorithms that best meet the needs of the people is not easy. Lawrence Lessig (1999), a legal theorist, suggested building a comprehensive system with a software code that protects the government.
    • By segmenting users, their votes will be given different weights according to the relevance of their vote to the cause.
    • For example: segmented by neighbourhood, my vote awarded to a neighbourhood proposal will have a higher weightage if I am a resident than if I lived in another neighbourhood. This also helps to remove voters who are “irrelevant” (e.g. foreign user).
  • Governments could engage in citizen juries to review ideas and produce reports. Firstly, this act in itself shows the government’s willingness to give up some power in decision-making to trust in the people. Secondly, the transparency and diversity in the juries help increase public’s trust in decisions as seen in Australia’s “Melbourne People’s Panel” [5]

This is a brief overview of the reasons for and against governments crowdsourcing and the recommendations to minimise potential issues. Governments who are not prepared to commit to providing support should think twice before jumping onto the bandwagon. Governments could start first by “passive crowdsourcing” through collection of data to analyse needs and proceed to active crowdsourcing when they have the right systems and understand the locals’ behaviours and motivations sufficiently. Not much have been covered about environmental sustainability here but will sure appear in the next few posts to come when we study various cases. Stay tuned 😀





[0] “Tactical Mapping,” New Tactics in Human Rights, (accessed July, 2011).

[1] Asmolov G. “Natural Disasters and Alternative Modes of Governance: The Role of Social Networks and Crowdsourcing Platforms in Russia”, in Bits and Atoms Information and Communication Technology in Areas of Limited Statehood, edited by Steven Livingston and Gregor Walter-Drop, Oxford University Press, 2013.

[2 ]

[3] Messina, M. J. (2012). Crowdsourcing for transit-oriented planning projects: A case study of “inTeractive Somerville” (M.A. Thesis). Tufts University, Medford, MA.




Noveck, B. S. (2003). Designing deliberative democracy in cyberspace: The role of the cyberlawyer. Boston University Journal of Science and Technology Law, 9(1), 1–91.

Van Herzele, A. (2004) ‘Local Knowledge in Action: Valuing Nonprofessional Reasoning in the Planning Process’, Journal of Planning Education and Research 24(2): 197–212

Corburn, J. (2003) ‘Bringing Local Knowledge into Environmental Decision Making: Improving Urban Planning for Communities at Risk’, Journal of Planning Education and Research 22(4): 420–33

Shirky, Clay. 2008. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.1st ed. Penguin Press HC.

Lessig, L. (1999) Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.

Brabham, D. C. (2008). Crowdsourcing as a model for problem solving an introduction and cases. Convergence: the international journal of research into new media technologies, 14(1), 75-90.

Brabham, D. C. (2009). Crowdsourcing the public participation process for planning projects. Planning Theory, 8(3), 242-262.


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