Crowd Sourcing

Mar 29

Crowd sourcing the cephalopod

Victoria Baxter

The octopus is finally getting the attention it deserves.  Pandas are so last year.  The octopus, the smart but spineless creature, is the new star of the National Zoo. An octopus is surprisingly smart and curious, which can lead to some unfortunate mishaps and escapes from aquariums.  They are also extremely flexible, like the octopus in Boston that stuffed its entire 7 foot body into a 14 inch glass cube to get at lunch. 

But don’t just consider the octopus, name him (or her – they are not 100% sure of the little detail yet!).  The National Zoo is holding an online contest where people can name the zoo’s newest “charismatic cephalopod.”

Crowd sourcing has been a hot topic of late in social media circles. Our team recently attended a session on crowd sourcing at the SXSW Interactive Festival.  Does this contest count as crowd sourcing and does it add value to the zoo? 

The contest definitely fits into the broad category of crowd sourcing by allowing zoo fans to name the newest arrival.  One limit the zoo imposed is that you select one of four possible names. (Olympus, Ceph, Octavius and Vancouver, if you were wondering.)  The contest could have been more participatory by allowing people to suggest their own names.   But then again, the zoo doesn’t have to live with what would have been my well organized campaign to name the octopus Smarty Pants.  Even still, the contest is a way to build engagement with fans of the zoo. Not a bad move when trying to build excitement for an animal that doesn’t have a panda’s star appeal or its own TV show

Get your vote in before April 7th.  The winning name will be announced on Facebook and Twitter.

Mar 19

Crowd sourcing innovative social change

Paul Massey

Social Impact attended the SxSW Interactive Festival to listen and learn. We’re sharing insights from the experience on our blog.

The Crowd Sourcing Innovative Social Change panel, moderated by Beth Kanter, with Amy Sample Ward, Holly Ross, David Neff, and Kari Dunn Saratovsky covered a lot of material, including discussion of the definition of crowd sourcing and some creative examples of crowd sourcing from nonprofits including Open Green Map, Seattle Free School and Invisible People. Check out Marcia Stepanek’s blog post for a great recap of these examples.

The discussion I enjoyed most, however, focused on this question: Does crowd sourcing add value? In other words, do the ideas and input generated from the crowd contribute to a lasting outcome? Or is it, as some people have joked, an example of how organizations can get others to do their work for them? 

My take?

Crowd sourcing is appealing for a number of reasons – it surfaces new perspectives, invites people from nontraditional sources to contribute, and infuses real energy into the process of generating ideas and content.  It can also be empowering – creating opportunities and platforms for people to give voice to ideas and to contribute to social change efforts. It’s a way to build engagement and relationships with new audiences – to open up organizations.

Yet, above all, crowd sourcing only works when it’s used in service of the right outcomes. In other words, as several of the panelists noted, you can’t crowd source an organizational strategy.  (Amen.) 

Crowd sourcing works best if it:

  • Focuses on a well-stated challenge
  • Links to clear, well-articulated outcomes 
  • Balances input from non-experts with guidance from “experts”
  • Targets communities with particular perspectives or experience, rather than general crowds
  • Makes clear how participating will be valuable for the crowd



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