What is Crowdsourcing?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines crowdsourcing as the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.

Crowdsourcing is a participatory approach for gathering ideas, content, or services by soliciting contributions from a large group of people

The Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act confirms the role of crowdsourcing to solve problems while engaging the public:

“It is the sense of Congress that granting Federal science agencies the direct, explicit authority to use crowdsourcing and citizen science will encourage its appropriate use to advance Federal science agency missions and stimulate and facilitate broader public participation in the innovation process, yielding numerous benefits to the Federal Government and citizens who participate in such projects"

Active and Passive Forms of Crowdsourcing

      • Active crowdsourcing involves the manual curation of information. For example, Virtual Operations Support Teams (VOSTs) can support a Public Information Officer with detecting rumors, cataloging, and responding to those rumors. Another example would be users of the GasBuddy app manually reporting the price of gas.
      • Passive crowdsourcing involves the use of automated crowdsourced data. For example, Google Traffic data measures a drivers speed to provide real-time traffic data to any user on the app.

Difference between Social Media and Crowdsourcing

When people hear the word crowdsourcing, they tend to think of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Crowdsourcing leverages social media and more to curate information valuable to emergency managers. The network diagram shows just some of the sources crowdsourcing taps into to build a network of knowledge.

Misconceptions about Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourced data is not accurate, not vetted, and not high-quality

        • Many official agencies use social media to push out real-time updates
        • Data from the public is often more timely and can be validated with images
        • Digital volunteers often have verification protocols and leverage official sources

Crowdsourcing is just social media monitoring and listening

        • Crowdsourcing means actively engaging a crowd to conduct a specific task
        • More than just public outreach, two-way feedback direct engagement

Getting Started: Upfront Requirements to make Crowdsourcing work for Emergency Management

Credit: DHS SMWG

Crawl, Walk, Run Method

When deciding to adopt crowdsourcing as a means to enhance your emergency management capabilities, start with assessing your current capacity. The DHS Social Media Working Group (SMWG) for Emergency Services and Disaster Management Program (formerly the Virtual Social Media Working Group) and DHS First Responders Group published the guide From Concept to Reality: Operationalizing Social Media for Preparedness, Response, and Recovery. This Guide can be used to follow the crawl, walk, run method for growing your crowdsourcing capability.

As outlined in Table 2 in From Concept to Reality: Operationalizing Social Media for Preparedness, Response, and Recovery, a maturity model contains three key elements, People and Process, Governance, and Technology. Using the Crowdsourcing Toolkit for Emergency Management will give you examples for all three elements.


Business Case for Crowdsourcing

Understanding the legal concerns around crowdsourcing is an important first step. Excellent resources on law and policy can be found in the Citizen Science Toolkit.

Why do you want to use crowdsourcing at your organization? What problems are you trying to solve? DHS Science and Technology published Social Media Business Case Guide that can be adapted for building your crowdsourcing business case.


How to Use the Toolkit

Following the toolkit sections will walk you through building a crowdsourcing capability. Like everything in emergency management, you can not develop a comprehensive program overnight. Use the crawl, walk, run method as you move forward, gradually building the capability over time. Start first by working with your leadership and partners to set your agency’s goals and business case.