Earlier, I have examined briefly crowdsourcing with respect to Singapore and discovered that Singaporean home grown crowdsourcing sites are on a decline and lack the ability to meet demands often due to high cost, lack of infrastructure and even information management. Often, these crowdsourcing applications/ platforms favour microtask such as logo/website designing. Overseas platforms are seen to perform better and some Singaporean project hosts who have used these platforms have successfully raised the targeted amount.
Environmentally, we still see a lack in involvement of Singaporean startups or individuals. The government or the public sector initiates most of Singapore’s environmental care exercises. Given a larger budget, a dedicated workforce and a larger master plan, working on large environmental issues faced by Singaporeans such as haze, hike in temperature and more seem less daunting compared to individuals spearheading these projects.
To begin, I did a quick search of “Singapore, Government and Crowdsourcing” on my university resource portal and only one academic paper appeared. In a collaboration by Institute for Infocomm Research, A*STAR and Raffles institution, “Participatory Sensing for Government-Centric Applications: A Singapore Case Study” (2014) reviewed 6 main phone applications released by the government to tap on crowdsourcing. The applications are:
- National Environment Agency: MyEnv
- National Environment Agency: CleanLah
- National Environment Agency: WeatherLah
- Ministry of Manpower: Snap@MOM
- Land Transport Authority: MyTransport
- Singapore Police Office: Police@SG
Impressively, these applications have more than 130,000 downloads according to NEA’s Media Fact Sheet (2013). Authors R. Venkat, T. Divagar, T. Luo, and H.P. Tan (2014), identified first and foremost, the qualitative aspects of mobile reporting. This table clearly shows how complicated a mobile application can be when built for crowdsourcing:
Having these in mind, the authors did a study on users reviews for these applications in general and, unfortunately, the responses were not too optimistic. The poor performance in accuracy of information, poor user interface design, poor compatibility with phones, poor quality of information and a lack of two-way communication made these applications a big turn off to many.
In order to figure out how to better improve the applications, I decided to try a couple of the applications. The ones I explored are: MyTransport, Weatherlah and Cleanlah. After downloading and these are my takeaways:
- Lack of Publicity + Knowledge of Features
Cleanlah and Weatherlah were applications that were completely new to me. Even if NEA had publicity efforts, it sure did not reach me. Despite these applications being free and available for the public’s use, much of it goes to waste due to low usage. After developing a crowdsourcing platform, NEA should not forget about a good marketing strategy – for without the crowd, the application is useless. Some suggestions would to turn to social media and as well as personal selling through school events and more.
Furthermore, having too many features can confuse individuals (e.g. MyTransport). I used MyTransport for six months before but I never knew they had these features:
- Reporting road defects
- Viewing live traffic images
- Exploration of cycling towns, routes and park facilities and more
As for Cleanlah, I found little motive in having it take up a space in my phone because I am not actively looking out to report about a mess. Overall, these applications should seek to strike a balance between simplicity and purposefulness in function.
- Lack of two-way communication
After posting on the application, users will never know if the issue is being looked into. Its like talking to a wall… A good feedback system could be put into place such that users will be notified that their issue is being looked into. The system does not have to be very comprehensive but an automatic reply could be sent as the authorities look into issues (e.g. littering problem, road dents).
As a marketing student, I would suggest having a certain persona to interact with the participants. For example, Cleanlah’s “ambassador” will be GreenAunty who is particular about keeping Singapore clean and green. After a person’s report is looked into, GreenAunty could praise and thank the individual for his/her alertness and love for the environment through a short notification. This will increase participant loyalty and engagement.
- Poor accuracy of reports
Though it was awarded with multiple awards, MyTransport often reflect incorrect bus arrival timings. People who get frustrated and feel cheated will eventually switch to applications that are more reliable.
Cleanlah and Weatherlah may experience the same thing on the end of the administrator. How then do we increase the quality of the information? According to Vuurens, de Vries and Eickhoff’s (2011) paper on spam on crowdsourcing sites, they suggested having gold sets, or, questions infused in the participation process to increase the reliability of the information. For these crowdsourcing government applications, they could do the same too. Gold set questions could include a question on the severity of the issue, the estimation of time this issue has been (e.g. rained since approximately 2 hrs ago, road dent observed since March 14) and even photographic evidence that only allows camera real-time uploads. These can help users and administrators make more informed decision on the situation.
- Culture of entitlement
While typing all these, I realised I had my own reservations when it came to the Cleanlah application. It is basically an application that tells someone else to clean up the mess. I feel that Singapore has a culture of entitlement where the government and those cleaners on the street are responsible for all these areas of mess in our streets.
Singapore Minister for Foreign Affairs and ex-minister for Environment and Water Resources, Mr Vivian Balakrishnan said earlier in 2012 that we have “a wrong attitude that cleaners are there to pick up after us, and the misplaced notion that this is appropriate behaviour because cleaners are paid to do so. One alarming statistic from NEA’s recent surveys is that 36% of Singaporeans would only bin their litter if it is convenient to do so.” I do agree that the approach to this littering issue has to be communicated tactfully while protecting the image of cleaners- not as people who are less capable and responsible for the mess of you or your neighbour but a community that works towards a clean Singapore together. Education on proper waste management is one way to encourage a healthier culture.
For these projects, I felt that the ratings were as follows:
Though the government may have more resources, developing a crowdsourcing application for the whole nation requires a whole marketing plan as well. Without incentives, promotions and the right channels, these mobile applications will be left forgotten and unused.
On the bright side, the other two projects that I found by the government seem to have more hope and NEA and other authorities could learn from the older applications to build new and improved ones:
- Crowdsourcing for the development of a Haze map
Due to the recent haze issue in Singapore, NEA turned to the public to crowdsource for ideas to develop a reliable haze application. Mr Roland Turner has developed a sensor kit and got approximately 60 people to place these kits to test for the PM2.5 readings (Khew, 2014). This information will then be sourced and reported on the application to allow individuals to decide on their day’s activities. This initiative sounds great and is actually at a low cost. The success of the application will then have to depend yet again on the qualitative factors stated at the beginning of this post.
- Crowdsourcing to build and develop Jurong Lake Gardens
Wanting to become “a people’s park”, the park planning committee opened wanted to hear from the residents what they think should be included in the park. 17,700 suggestions were made which included having community gardens, vast greenery, water play area and more (Straits Times, 2016). This will surely increase the biodiversity in the area and is Singapore’s step towards a more sustainable nation. However, water sports, and other water-play facilities have to be well developed to prevent externalities like water wastage or harm of water life. In the development of this park, I hope that harm from materials used and its cost of transportation will not outdo the good in building an open green space for Singaporeans.
- Venkat, T. Divagar, T. Luo, and H.P. Tan, “Participatory sensing for government-centric applications: a Singapore case study”, Technical Report, Institute for Infocomm Research, A*STAR, Singapore, 2014.
Vuurens, J., de Vries, A. P., & Eickhoff, C. (2011, July). How much spam can you take? an analysis of crowdsourcing results to increase accuracy. In Proc. ACM SIGIR Workshop on Crowdsourcing for Information Retrieval (CIR’11)(pp. 21-26).