Crowdsourcing is a method for harnessing the collective intelligence of online communities to solve specific problems or produce goods. Largely known as a business model, crowdsourcing has begun to make inroads as a supplemental public participation tool for governance, as a way to engage citizens in the business of government functions. Validating a new typology of crowdsourcing cases, this chapter outlines the four urban governance problem types that the crowdsourcing model can successfully address. This chapter also discusses the right of free speech in online crowdsourcing communities and its relevance for urban governance crowdsourcing applications in free societies. Concluding the chapter is an examination of crowdsourcing’s place in the policy-advisory spectrum and the risks associated with bringing crowdsourcing applications into public participation programs.
The concept of crowdsourcing is underpinned by a larger, older academic discourse on collective intelligence and open innovation (Chesbrough, 2003; Lévy, 1995; 1997; Von Hippel, 2005), but it was not until Jeff Howe (2006a) coined the term “crowdsourcing” in a June 2006 Wired magazine article that scholars and practitioners beyond the disciplines of computing and business took note. Howe (2006a, 2008), Brabham (2008a), and others (e.g., Kleeman, Voss, & Rieder, 2008; Vukovic & Bartolini, 2010; Whitla, 2009) have each provided varying definitions for crowdsourcing, but in a recent article Estellés-Arolas and González-Ladrón-de-Guevara (2012) synthesized these many interpretations into a single integrated definition:
Crowdsourcing is a type of participative online activity in which an individual, an institution, a non-profit organization, or company proposes to a group of individuals of varying knowledge, heterogeneity, and number, via a flexible open call, the voluntary undertaking of a task. The undertaking of the task, of variable complexity and modularity, and in which the crowd should participate bringing their work, money, knowledge and/or experience, always entails mutual benefit. The user will receive the satisfaction of a given type of need, be it economic, social recognition, self-esteem, or the development of individual skills, while the crowdsourcer will obtain and utilize to their advantage what the user has brought to the venture, whose form will depend on the type of activity undertaken. (p. 197)