Tools for Transparency: 6 Ways to Crowdsource Government


Just a few years ago crowdsourcing was a novel concept, mainly untried. Now that the idea has gained traction, it’s being used in everything from customer service to tagging data to microvolunteering to generating useful ideas. Crowdsourcing is an invaluable tool for producing fresh ideas quickly and inexpensively.

Crowdsourcing, according to Wikipedia, is “the act of outsourcing tasks, traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, to a large group of people or community (a crowd), through an open call.” Usually this is done leveraging the web and often times there’s no reward for the work done — but this isn’t always the case.

Below are six examples of crowdsourcing that show the potential of the concept.

Sunlight Campaign Ad Monitor SunlightCAMSunlightCAM “allows anyone to report information on the political advertising they see on TV, hear on the radio or view online.” This site crowdsources the monitoring of political ads, regardless of medium, from all across the country. After the recent Citizens United ruling allowing corporations and unions to spend unlimited amounts of money right up until election we need crowdsourcing tools like this one more than ever. Challenge.govA number of US government agencies in collaboration with ChallengePost have created a portal called which invites citizens to tackles problems posted by these agencies. writes, “these problems or challenges are posted by agencies and citizens are invited to participate in them by supporting them, spreading the word and even solving them to earn recognition and some significant prizes.”

Earmark Requests This project compiles all federal legislators’ earmark requests. Users can easily capture earmark information and enter the data into a form which then shows these earmarks on a Google Map. Jim Harper of Washington Watch tells Ars Technica “the most interesting applications might well come from matching up the earmarks database with existing fundraising databases.”

Library of Congress BeExtraThe Extraordinaries, a web app that facilitates microvolunteering through crowsourcing, has teamed up with the Library of Congress to tag hundreds of thousands of historical photos. Using their application “volunteers digitally label a few photos at a time. Just pick up your smartphone, look at a photo, and tag it. Repeat until bus comes. Within a few weeks of 1000s of people waiting for the #15 bus, entire photographic eras in World history could become accessible to the public.”

Committee on Ways & Means Redesign The House Committee on Ways & MeansThe U.S. House of Representatives teamed up with crowdSPRING to sponsor a contest to redesign the House Committee on Ways & Means website. Leveraging the crowdSPRING platform, citizens submitted their committee website redesigns and ultimately this design was selected and implemented.

Open Government Initiative IdeaScale and the Obama adminstration teamed up to solicit ideas from various government agencies for last year’s Open Government Initiative. Over 4200 ideas were submitted and you can see the submissions here.

With the right combination of platform and project we can tap the wisdom and creativity of the crowd to bring good ideas to fruition. What ideas do you have that could leverage crowdsourcing?