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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