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News & Insights

News & Insights

Crowdsourcing Week DC Summit Takeaways

The Crowdsourcing Week DC Summit (their first US event) was a fascinating look at the broad range of work now processed by the crowd. From citizen volunteers collecting data for scientific research to Latin American homeowners collecting ambient sound data to train intelligent assistants such as Alexa and Cortana, the scale and variety this work continues to boggle the mind.

Presenters shared a consensus that speed (not price) remains crowdsourcing’s most important asset. They also agreed that crowds comprised of people with aptitude for particular tasks, but without any domain-specific training or experience, can offer critical insight on complex issues that can only be obtained from “fresh eyes.”

Other insights from crowdsourcing practitioners included:

More and more volunteers are successfully completing a wide variety of important “citizen science” tasks, including:

  • Analyzing NASA telescope data to identify stellar objects.
  • Sending anti-recruiting Facebook messages to young people targeted by terrorist networks.
  • Wading through public records to uncover anomalies in political donor data.
  • Reporting earthquake magnitude to monitoring agencies via Twitter.

Expert crowds are gaining traction, too.

  • GE uses a network of seven million experts to craft “agile front ends” to microfactories building prototypes of new manufacturing products in half the time it used to take.
  • Booz Allen found process improvement insight from employees in unexpected quarters.
  • TopCoders gamified software development for complex app projects used by NASA.

Crowd contests and challenges continue to yield results.

  • Biochem suit design. The Department of Defense cast a wide net in looking for improvements to their biochemical warfare apparel, and found all kinds of insight from a design contest opened up to people outside of their traditional vendor pool.
  • Dune buggy design. Arizona’s LocalMotors crowdsourced vehicle designs from both talented hobbyists and industry players.
  • Solar energy efficiency. Sensis Challenges helped the Department of Energy speed their solar initiatives by funding a “challenge” for solar array design improvement ideas.

Other interesting repercussions arising out of the growing maturity of crowdsourcing as a tool can be seen in:

  • Work interfaces. The proliferation of video and audio instructions that are effective and are coincidentally supportive of workers with auditory and/or visual disadvantages.
  • Corporate business models. Companies that crowds are disrupting are adapting their models more quickly and/or buying out the disruptors (e.g., WeGoLook’s acquisition by Crawford & Co.).
  • Industry jargon. Terms like “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” and “The Liquid Workforce” are drawing more attention to the promise of the crowd to redefine work.

IEI’s presentation to the DC Summit focused on another potentially transformative aspect of crowdsourcing: using designated crowds of workers for public open data projects. In other words, taking unemployed miners in West Virginia, retired school teachers in the Midwest, the jobless in rural Idaho or inner cities, students in work-study programs, etc. to perform data enhancement tasks for large public datasets. We continue to believe that crowdsourcing holds the key to making labor forces more efficient while fulfilling the goals of government transparency initiatives. We may be closer than we think to the explosion of these initiatives for two primary reasons: the amount of data requiring analysis and enhancement is increasing geometrically; and, the ability of governments to direct paid work to specific targeted cohorts of citizens will be too tempting for political leaders to ignore. This trend is well under way in developing economies like Malaysia and Kenya and we think that the model will find fertile ground in the US.

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