The impact of crowd-sourcing projects

I would like to add another comment on Patrick Meier’s blog post on a paper written by Ankit Sharma from the London School of Economics (LSE) titled “Crowdsourcing Critical Success Factor Model” (PDF).

One very interesting point of Ankit’s paper is coming from the concept that “crowd-sourcing has significant transformational power in the domains of collective action and content creation”. I am very much curious to analyze and understand the role of infrastructures and human capital in the participation of the crowd in a crowd-sourcing project.

The idea that pops in my mind here is that, drawing from the bi-directional functionality of those types of projects, there is the risk of an intrusive modification of social dynamics, especially as related to traditional systems of communications and social behaviors. Again, I feel the need to pay particular attention when designing a project of crowd-sourcing to the impact on the crowd.

To make a long story short, if information is power, and we give power to the crowd, we are also automatically making a distinction in the crowd based on the availability of different resources for different people inside it, i.e. education and availability of resources, basically what Ankit call infrastructure and human capital. I am looking here at the disparity in those two factors inside the crowd itself as elements that can heavily affect the existing equilibrium or disequilibrium in the social organization of the crowd, in a positive or negative way.

How do we solve this issue? The idea of the code of conduct for SMS for example is interesting and seems to be a good answer to partially solve the problem related to the impact of crowd-sourcing projects, but there is a broader spectrum that needs to be analyzed here. The M&E framework of a crowd-sourcing project needs to take into consideration also the not intended impacts of the project itself, and those impacts are very hard to find and to detect. We can take the example of an international organization (I will not mention it here) and its idea to give to children smart phone to ask them to report about their school attendance in Iraq.

Are we getting crazy with crowd-sourcing and not considering at all the impact on the social dynamics in the areas where we implement projects? And how do we evaluate the secondary effects of a crowd-sourcing project in terms of shift of power inside the crowd and in between the crowd and the government, for example? Can a crowd-sourcing project be detached by its political implications?

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