Crowdsourcing, Government and Design Thinking

One of the most interesting parts of our 3rd Design Public panel (What is the role of media and social media in promoting governance innovation?) revolved around the overlap between crowdsourcing and Design Thinking.

There was some confusion between the two concepts, so briefly:

  • Crowdsourcing – using mass communication tools (like social media, blogs, twitter, email) to gather insight from a great number of people when trying to solve a problem, gain new insight, discover something new, etc.
  • Design Thinking – a design process that incorporates user input into all stages of the process.

Crowdsourcing is being used by more and more organizations all the time. We blogged about numerous examples in Indian government here.

But the question we discussed in our panel was: “Is Crowdsourcing Sufficient for Involving Citizens in Government?”

Vibodh Parthasarthi of the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance

Several of our participants lauded government attempts to incorporate crowdsourcing. Vibodh Parthasarthi of the Centre for Culture, Media and Governance said:

“I don’t think people have fundamental issues with the form of government. The issue is about the way it goes around doing its work. [Crowdsourcing] makes it possible to get that feedback instantaneously.”

But Sunil Abraham of the Centre for Internet and Society argued that there are limits to how much depth a crowd can provide, citing examples in the open-source world:

“Free, open-source software works brilliantly as a collaborative model, but the aesthetic design of open-source has suffered. So now there are companies that will do the aesthetic design while crowd-sourcing the feedback, not the design.”

Niels Hansen of MindLab

Likewise, Niels Hansen of MindLab argued that people don’t always know what it is that they need or want, which can limit the types of questions that you can actually answer through crowdsourcing. He argued that crowdsourcing is still an extremely strong tool for identifying what doesn’t work, and then you can use other tools to find things that do work.

Under that model, crowdsourcing acts as a tool that could be used to supplement a design process. For example, in design thinking, crowdsourcing can be incorporated into the initial data-gathering, to understand how people use a product or service. Their ideas can be incorporated into the idea-generating phases. And once you have a prototype, you can use their input to test how it functions.

But the relationship between crowdsourcing and design thinking is new, and is still being refined. One notable attempt to combine crowdsourcing and Design Thinking is IDEO’s OpenIDEO project:

Introduction to OpenIDEO / OpenIDEO.com from IDEO on Vimeo.

The success of OpenIDEO, and any crowdsourcing/design project, will be judged on whether it is able to take the often noisy, contradictory or half-formed information generated from crowdsourcing and translate it into productive, workable solutions.

For some further reading, New York Times blog Fixes has a good survey of crowdsourcing projects that mark the continuing evolution of crowdsourcing as it relates to government, commerce and design. Interesting stuff:

NY Times – Crowdsourcing a Better World

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