I’m really excited and honored to be speaking today at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, TX, on a panel with Beth Kanter, Dave Neff, Holly Ross and Kari Saratovsky.  We’ll be facilitating a conversation, more than doing a formal presentation, and will focus on the power of crowdsourcing (using our own case study from conducting the Social Media for Social Good case study competition) and the application of social media in nonprofit program delivery.

If you’re here in Austin, do join us!  If not, you can follow the conversation in real time on Twitter with the hashtag #crowdx.  (We’ll put up more notes after the session, too!)

Here are some of my thoughts going into the conversation and slides if you prefer engaging that way:

Crowdsourcing for Social Change

The competition we conducted as part of this panel surfaced a collection of case studies of organizations using social media in their program delivery.  You can see the full collection, and how they were voted on by the community here: http://nten.org/vote-sxswi-panel

The Value-add of Crowdsourcing: For me, the two biggest reasons to include crowdsourcing in your strategic design of community building or contests are:

  1. Crowdsourcing invites diversity by encouraging anyone with an idea or interest to participate
  2. Crowdsourcing levels the playing field so it isn’t just your “favorites” or those you already know that get to play

For the most part, I agree with the way the crowds voted – but, given that people were able to submit and vote at the same time, it means some groups only submitted on the very last day, not leaving much time for votes. There are also two major issues that groups need to consider when using the wisdom of the crowd voting approach:

  1. Crowds are susceptible to encouragement/asks/campaigning – meaning, a group that enters and has LOTS of followers or active community members can send out an appeal for people to vote and get a big response; some say this is just playing the game.
  2. Criteria is really important to consider: the crowds voting = who do you want to win this; the hosts/judges/experts voting = quality, value, innovation or alignment with competition/organizational goals

I think the most important part of designing a competition that leverages crowdsourcing is to strike a balance between too many voices, and too few.  I think you create balance by focusing the competition on the stages of:

  1. Open door policy for contributing/submitting
  2. Public voting process
  3. Public’s favorites put to expert judges for final selection

A process like this can ensure that lots of different ideas are included but that the competition can stay true to it’s purpose or the goals of the sponsoring organization.  For example, if the crowd voted in huge numbers on a submission that didn’t necessarily fit the criteria, it doesn’t mean it should win.

The most important way to use social media in a crowdsourced process is to allow the community to use social media anyway they want! Using tools that allow reposting, sharing, emailing and so on will give anyone the options they want to push your content around the web for you.

Convincing your executive team to use crowdsourcing shouldn’t take bribery.  There are lots of examples of projects that use crowdsourcing, even this one! Their hesitancy may come from not knowing what crowdsourcing means or how it works: so show them examples, but also show how the project you are working on could benefit from crowdsourcing and how the elements of crowdsourcing align with your project goals.

Sometimes what you want to do and the tools at your disposal just don’t match. Sometimes that means crowdsourcing. It isn’t right for every project or process.  Especially when you need things to be very specific or follow tight criteria, you are working very quickly or flexibly where communication with the crowd could be difficult or time consuming (or even confusing), and when you already know what you want (be honest).

Social Media in Program Delivery

The Seattle Free School is a really interesting case study for a number of reasons:

  • Social media is integral to the success of the program because it is online but it is also the mechanism for growth and community building
  • Collaboration via social media has enabled the program to come together and launch
  • Social media tools allowed for distribution of roles/responsibilities across the community (including garnering press coverage)

There are many ways to include social media in your work. But within the scope of crowdsourcing, there is still a range for how you can use the elements of crowdsourcing and social media tools. Three specific examples that are very different include:

  • Connectipedia: a wiki-based platform that allows anyone interested in philanthropy or social impact in the Pacific Northwest (or beyond) to share research, resources, information, or data about people, places and topics.  The value of the tool grows as people value the tool and add more content.  The crowd decides and creates everything that it is.
  • Ushahidi: most recently, Ushahidi adpated it’s platform for use in Haiti and Chili to let the crowd both in Haiti/Chili and outside share information and data in real time via mobiles or a web browser.
  • Nature Conservancy’s photo contests: The crowd, in this case it’s one that loves nature photos, shares the pictures they love about nature and in the process grow their community.  The contest attracts lots of participants and generates great content for the organization – but more importantly provides an engaging space for the community.

Measuring success of social media in your work can be a tricky thing to do, especially as we all explore and experiment with the tools every day and many tools and processes are still very new.  Here’s 5 key steps to mapping your work towards metrics:

  1. Problem: Be as specific as possible, focus on the problems you will be addressing directly (not just changing the world)
  2. Strategy: Highlight the strategies that specifically address the problems (this assumes you’ve already used a process to identify your audience and goals and chosen the corresponding/appropriate tools to match)
  3. Benefit: These are both tangible and intangible, and can also include things that you don’t see or expect at the beginning but develop later
  4. Value: These emerge from the Strategy choices and Benefits
  5. Metrics: You can identify the corresponding metrics of your tools and your actions based on what has emerged above; again some of these are basic numbers/data and others will have to be qualitative

How do you keep supporters engaged in creating change over the long haul? This is something that the 350.org campaign has done really well.  The basics include:

  • Show impact in real time
  • Create opportunities for iterations and involvement by community
  • Embrace storytelling

Crowd vs Community

When creating a competition or open call, or any other programming/process, designed to use crowdsourcing I think the biggest issue to explore in the designing/strategy and the implementation stages is the idea of community or crowd.

A community shares values, experiences, goals, or interests in a long-term way; the crowd may share those same things but usually for only a specific time period or around a specific event.  Introducing a crowdsourcing opportunity to a community means the call to participate, the value of participation and the way participation works all need to match the modes of operation or goals of the community already in place.  When creating a crowdsourcing event for the crowd, you match the elements of the event to only your own goals, hoping/expecting that the participants will self-select out of the crowd (and probably opt-out again after the event is over).

That sounds like it is easier to creating a crowdsourcing event or call for the crowd instead of a community; and maybe it it.  But, I think there can be higher expectations and more predictable value exchange when crowdsourcing happens within an already established community.  Why? For a few reasons:

  • the community has a shared context or starting place, there’s less to explain upfront
  • the value and practice of contributing back to the community is probably already in place
  • the community leaders or influencers have already emerged and can contribute to the crowdsourcing project’s success
  • the crowdsourcing event or project can add to the value and collaboration of the community’s growth and long-term goals

I’m really interested in the dynamics for both crowdsourcing and campaigning between communities and crowds.  Looking forward to exploring all these topics in the session today and in future blog posts!

What do you think?

Crowdsourcing: Community vs Crowd
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