4 Tips for Crowdsourcing in the Federal Government

Recently we’ve had several federal program managers and clients inquire about crowdsourcing options for different projects. It isn’t a new idea but it’s one that still has a hint of innovation about it. In many cases it’s also a relatively cheap or free way to do some stakeholder engagement and outreach, find some interesting new ideas, or enlist the support of a community to do some great things. But a lot of federal managers are still unclear about what crowdsourcing really is and whether and how they should use it. Crowdsourcing comes in a few different varieties. One of the most common types is crowd funding from sites like Kickstarter that help businesses and individuals raise funding. Federal regulators might be interested in this type of crowdsourcing but most federal managers won’t. There’s also the idea of enlisting a community to provide data that the government can’t otherwise get, like creating apps to spot and report potholes at the local level or NOAA using an app to crowdsource the weather.

The most common type of crowdsourcing that I think is the most useful to a wide variety of federal managers is the challenge competition or idea solicitation. Many agencies create competitions to gather new and innovative ideas from the public, review them internally, and then award winners. GSA set up challenge.gov to help agencies through the process. For example, GSA itself just announced a challenge on how to reduce federal travel expenses.

Another version of this approach is to ask a question or a set of questions of some group of people, allow them to propose solutions/provide feedback, and then vote those potential solutions up or down. IdeaScale is a technology that enables many of the federal sites that do this. Those types of idea solicitation efforts seem to work better internally to an organization as examples at the IRS and TSA’s Idea Factory show. Also don’t forget that social media sites like Twitter and Facebook are ongoing ways to get feedback from the crowd and to hear what people are saying about your organization.

No matter what you do, keep a couple of key considerations to keep in mind about any crowdsourcing effort:

1. You'll need to moderate or at least monitor the effort to keep things from getting out of control and to ensure your effort is active

2. You'll need to do a lot of outreach and marketing to get people involved at the outset and throughout the process

3. Think about what you'll do with the data before you start. Are you selecting a winner? Are you committing to implement something?

4. Think about the rewards. A lot of these challenges come with some monetary reward for the winning technology or solution.

What do you think the keys to crowdsourcing are?