Crowdsourcing is one of those evergreen buzz words that always looks good in a digital communications plan, but rarely gets used. Letting people review, rank and rate their own ideas is a difficult concept to sell within any organisation. If moderated in a fair way, you have very little control over the outcome, and people’s expectations of what will happen afterwards need to be managed.

A crowd with their hands raised

Making sense from lots of ideas can be tricky

There are some very good examples where crowdsourcing has proven popular and high profile, but it can be difficult to determine how the results have actually influenced a change or decision.

Despite these problems, crowdsourcing is a very exciting way to start a conversation on the web.

Crowdsourcing:

  • doesn’t ask for much: A few sentences, a vote or a comment.
  • is fun: Its like voting for the X-Factor winner, but without the stage smoke, nervous pauses and behind-the-scenes gossip.
  • provides analysis: Instead of wading through a mass of mixed up comments at the end of an engagement exercise to try and identify themes and trends, these can be identified as the exercise progresses.
  • helps manage comments in a more constructive way: Long comment threads on a blog post or forum mean that people end up duplicating the same points, or missing crucial information.

But crowdsourcing also demands:

  • time to moderate: Duplicate ideas still crop up, and they need to be merged.
  • promotion: It almost goes without saying that people need to know they can take part.
  • explanation: Crowdsourcing is quite tricky to explain to people, so you need to talk them through it.
  • objectives: If you don’t have these, then you won’t know whether 1, 100 or 1000 ideas is a good result.

These are just some initial thoughts, based on a few days’ experience with Maps and Apps. The Department of Health is asking people to nominate their favourite existing health apps, or share their ideas for health apps they would like to see. The maps bit relates to the fact that many will be based on geolocation or mapped data.

We are using Ideascale as the crowdsourcing platform. Its ready-made, cost effective (we’ve bought an annual license so can use it for other projects) and quick to set up, which is very important. So far, the support has been good and they were even open to a little bit of negotiation on the price of the licence. I have played around with it before, for small projects and demonstrations, so it is a bonus to finally use it properly.

Originally we were aiming for around 1000 ‘interactions’ with the site: votes, comments and entries. After just a few days we are well on track to meet this target, but we have to keep up the momentum in the coming weeks.

The fact that people are using the space to talk to each other, share links, debate and connect is probably the most pleasing result so far.

Take a look, and let me know what you think. All feedback gratefully received.

Image courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/ausnahmezustand/